Devotional: August 23, 2021
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
James 3: 5B-6 NRSV
Our news this summer has been full of stories about forest fires. We have some very near to where we live, but fires are also raging in Oregon, California, and other places here in the West. The Chelan Falls Park was recently closed to the public, in order for a Fire Camp to set up on the site.
Fires may start small. Yet with the right fuel, they can take off in moments, causing devastating results.
If not put it out immediately, most fires will grow in size. The best time to stop a blaze is in the very beginning, when it is only a flicker. As the Old Smokey the Bear ads reminded us, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” My late grandmother Deal learned that fire authorities recommended everyone carry a shovel in their vehicles, to put out small fires. Even in her mid 80’s, she would travel to the family cabin with a small shovel in her car.
Here in this letter to James, Paul speaks of our tongues as a fire. Although small, misuse of the tongue can turn into a sort of word-fire. How many speculative lies or comments have we passed on? How many rumors have strained relationships? How many people’s reputations and livelihoods have been turned upside down, and even destroyed, by a rumor that wasn’t even true? Probably more than we even realize. As the saying goes, “you can’t un-ring that bell”.
Whether things are true or not, we are not to partake in gossip, and that is exactly what it is called. Yes, there are times when important information should be passed along, but that is where discernment comes into play. Focusing on the positive things when interacting with others will lead us to never question a prior conversation. Some years ago, I belonged to a Rotary Club. The Rotary organization asks four questions, which are good for everyone to ponder.
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
The tongue is not a muscle, but it is still something that we need to exercise carefully. The fruits of the spirit can be a guide for us when we speak. When we exercise our tongue, it should be with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Don’t set your world-our world- on fire by being careless with your tongue. Weigh your words carefully. You don’t want to “burn” people by saying the wrong words, at the wrong time, in front of the wrong people.
I live in a land where lies are commonplace, and gossip flourishes. Forgive me when I gossip or share things which are not pleasing to You. I know that the last thing you want from me is to misuse the power and gift of my words. May I recognize that there is a time for everything, including a time to be silent. When I cannot find the right words, help me to be comfortable with the silence. May I listen to Your guidance, and follow it through my actions. I pray this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.