You have great power. And I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben said that in the movie Spiderman. Actually, Voltaire said it first, but these days more people know Uncle Ben.
When I first met God in my twenties, I wanted to help at the church. But I didn’t know how to talk Christian, and I didn’t know anything about the Bible. And well, I just didn’t know much at all. With all this newly discovered ignorance, I was sure helping real Christian adults wouldn’t work because I would be found out. The only people I thought I might help were teenagers, and the Lord knows they need help. So, I volunteered to help with the youth group.
It started slow . . . just being a listening ear or giving rides to the Pizza Hut. As I started learning the Bible, Youth Pastor Johnny did something really silly—he asked me to teach a Sunday school class. I was petrified, scared, and I was really sure I would destroy the spiritual future of the six students entrusted to my non-spiritual self. To the best of my knowledge they survived and so did I.
A couple of years into this “ministry,” Pastor Johnny got crazy and asked me to speak at a youth service. Wow. You might not know this, but there is an unwritten law of the universe that says when speaking to youth groups, you must use an object lesson. I decided for this big talk—my big test—to speak on “The Power of the Tongue.” James 3 talks a lot about it, and Proverbs says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I drove to downtown Nashville to the meat-processing plant and bought a whole cow tongue. For you city folk that have never seen whole cow tongue, two things are quickly apparent: One, they are gross. And two, they are HUGE—like over three feet long.
I put the tongue in a box and set the box on the pulpit. I think doing that can get you thrown out of most churches, but I got away with it. I told the kids that in this box is possibly the most powerful weapon for harm or for good. This weapon has destroyed lives, careers, marriages, and nations. However, this weapon when used for good has built lives, careers, marriages, and nations. Then came the perfect teenager moment: I pulled out the huge, gross cow tongue and held it up by a towel. Desired effect occurred. They all grossed out. I passed it around the whole room and they grossed out more. So much fun. Point made. The tongue is powerful.
Ten years ago at dinner with some good friends, my buddy stopped the conversation, looked across the table at me, and said, “I am proud of you.” He said, “You are a good husband, a good dad, and you are helping a lot of people with Financial Peace.” I almost cried. That was all he said, and after an awkward guy moment—“Uh, how ’bout them Titans?”—we went back to chatting about nothing. At that point in my life I had tons of accolades and success, but that simple “I am proud of you” by someone who really knew me filled my soul, and I still smile writing this thinking about it ten years later. Even you are smiling right now and you weren’t there.
We have great power. The power of the tongue. And with great power comes great responsibility. The interesting paradox is that when I get home at night, the more I have spoken life into those around me, the happier I am. On the days when I have chewed someone out or been just plain mean, I am drained and sad at the end of the day. As old as I am, I should have learned this lesson, but some days I haven’t. Even my dog Rufus the Shih Tzu starts his day with either a “good boy” or a “bad dog” from me. Even he is affected by my tongue.
You look great tonight. I am proud of you. I love you. Great job. Home run. Good idea. You killed that one. And a thousand other short sentences can make someone’s day, decade, life. There are so few times we look at each other or write a short note that says something true and at the same time something good. I spend too much time being right, too much time being a jerk, too much time making my point, when there are good folks doing good things all around me that go without the spoken recognition that would lift them.
Wonder what would happen if we all truthfully told people how cool they really are? We could try it with people close to us, but also with the cashier, the valet in the rain, the single mom working two jobs to feed her kids, the pastor after his sermon (all he gets is critique), the new sales guy, the leader, the media figure, the 19-year-old college football player booed by 100,000 supposed adults, the smiling guy working on your house who doesn’t speak English, your mom, your old teacher from grade school who taught you to read. Wow. I have a lot of powerful things to say today to folks who matter.
You have great power.
The power of the tongue.
With great power comes great responsibility.
By the way, I am proud of you.