You ever feel like you’ve got this Christian walk thing down? You’re coasting along, feeling like you’re doing pretty good when suddenly the Lord throws a celestial banana peel into your path. Then there you are, flailing wildly, and you turf it. Hard. And suddenly you can see that your footing was not nearly as securely planted as you thought. Ouch.
“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” James 3:6, NLT
I had a situation in my life recently that had me stressed out and discouraged. I was vocal about it. Not to the world at large, of course, but my family and those closest to me heard my opinions loud and clear. My negative thoughts, given life through vocalization, began infecting others. The situation grew worse.
I knew my mouth was out of control. Making a conscious effort to speak only words of encouragement, the situation did improve. However, I continued to feel snarky, cynical, and short-tempered. Prayers for relief seemed to bounce back from the ceiling. Disheartened, I sat down to binge-watch one of my favorite Netflix offerings, House, M.D.
Nestling into a soft blanket, warm bowl of popcorn on my lap, I hit the remote. The episode that day was sobering. Dr. House had a patient who had essentially lost his vocal filter. He suffered from disinhibition, an inability to exercise restraint. He couldn’t help but say everything that crossed his mind.
I was horrified.
Pondering the sorts of things that would fly from my lips if my filter were to break down, I cringed. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself standing on a smoke filled battlefield. Wielding only my tongue as a weapon, broken and bloodied bodies surrounded me. Looking closely, the faces of the dead became the faces of those I love most. A fog lifted from my mind and I could see how dark and critical were my thoughts. The suffering that would ensue if my thought life were to be made public was disturbing and shameful.
Here I had thought I was doing just fine. Look at me! I’m walking with Jesus. See what a better person I am today? The old me is gone and dead. See my amazing self-control?
I had curbed my tongue, true, but the damage had already been done. Allowing my negative thoughts to flow freely from my mouth had created a sort of self-replicating monster. With each critical comment, five even nastier thoughts were birthed in my mind. It was insidious.
More, this recent bout of verbal diarrhea had left me spiritually constipated. With a mind clouded by arrogance and criticism, clarity was impossible. I couldn’t connect with my Lord, and a spiritual malaise settled in. My tongue had indeed corrupted my whole being.
The Apostle Paul tells us, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11, ESV) I thought the old me was dead, then one small trial opens the floodgates of my heart and I find putrescence pouring out. The old me is resurrected and, like one of the relentless, walking undead, she wants to eat my brain. Shudder.
This one television episode laid bare the real me. And quite frankly, the real me isn’t a very nice person. I want to be more like Jesus. I want to profusely shower those around me with love and grace. I desire to esteem others more highly than myself. I want the fruit of the Holy Spirit to flow out of me in rivers; living water drawing others to Him. Yet I find that it is the poisoned ‘fruit of Rebeca’ that is manifesting instead, rotten and repugnant. Like Paul, I see this war inside of me and I cry out, “Who will save me from this body of death?”
It is in this broken and discouraged place that my Lord says, “Now I can work with you.”
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)
Isn’t our Father incredible? Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, He has compassion on us. When we run to him in repentance, he embraces us in spite of our filth, and clothes us in His righteousness. Though we painfully see our own unworthiness, He sees us as beautiful and complete even now.
The humbling truth of this makes me so grateful. I’ve told my old, zombie self to get back in her grave. Maybe she’ll actually stay there. And maybe not. As long as I live on this earth, she will likely try to wrestle control of my brain from time to time. For today though, this prodigal daughter will celebrate the love of her father in peace.
“For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8-9, NLT)
Photo from Creative Commons, by: Anderson’s All-Purpose