God expects us to tremble at his words, and to tremble over ours.
We Christians ought to be the most careful speakers in the world. We are to heed God’s words ourselves and communicate them to others with care, and we are to speak our words carefully since we will “give an account [to God] for every careless word [we] speak” (Matthew 12:36).
This whole talking business is a very serious business. It’s life-and-death serious: “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). I would think that anything this serious would naturally be a focus of my regular prayer. But as I’ve examined my prayer habits as it relates to my talking habits, I’ve noticed that I tend to only pray about what I say when I’m aware that a lot is at stake in what I say. But Jesus says a lot is at stake when I’m not aware and speaking carelessly: “for by [my] words [I] will be justified, and by [my] words [I] will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
What does that mean — that we’ll be justified or condemned by our words? It means our words will witness for or against us when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What comes out of our mouths (or through our fingers when we type) reveals what fills our hearts. Our words reveal whether or not we truly have a “fear of the Lord” that “keep[s] [our] tongue from evil” (Psalm 34:11–13).
I must pray far more about what I say. And if you’re like me, I welcome you to join me. The following are ways I’ve turned biblical texts regarding speech into specific prayers that life, not death, will come from our tongues.
1. Teach me to tremble.
Lord, I fear I do not fear words enough. Forgive me for trembling too little over your holy words and too little over my unholy words. Teach me the wisdom of trembling, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
Lord, teach me to be quicker to hear and slower to speak, especially when I’m tempted to speak in anger (James 1:19). For if I do not bridle my tongue, my “religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Lord, teach me to use more restraint in all aspects of my speech, for “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). And, “whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).
2. Guard my mouth from speaking death.
Lord, I believe “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), and I do not want to speak death of any kind to anyone. So “set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).
Lord, help me put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice” so they will not pour out of me in words. Rather, help me be and speak what is “kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving” of others, just as you in Christ forgave me (Ephesians 4:31–32).
Lord, help me immediately discern when I am being tempted to be “puffed up with conceit” or have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions.” Prevent me from marring your glory or harming any of your saints with sinful speech (1 Timothy 6:4).
“Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” — especially my own! (Psalm 120:2) For “a lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).
Lord, deliver me from my evil propensity to slander others, for “whoever utters slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). You hate slander (Psalm 50:19–21), for it comes from selfish evil in our hearts (Matthew 15:19). So help me “keep [my] tongue from evil and [my] lips from speaking deceit” about anyone else (Psalm 34:13).
Lord, I know that my tongue has the potential to light a forest fire of sin (James 3:5–6), for I’ve ignited such fires in the past. And I also believe that “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). I need your Holy Spirit’s help to tame my tongue, so I may reap “a harvest of righteousness. . . sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
3. Release my mouth to speak life.
Lord, I believe that “a gentle tongue is a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4) and that “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11). Whatever it takes, “let the words of my mouth . . . be acceptable in your sight” (Psalm 19:14) and a source of nourishment and refreshment to your people.
Lord, help me “let no corrupting talk come out of [my mouth], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Lord, show me how to “let [my] speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [I] may know how [I] ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
Lord, help me to use my words to encourage others and build them up far more than critiquing or criticizing them (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Lord, open my eyes that I may see more clearly the injustice around me. Then help me “open [my] mouth, judge righteously, [and] defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9).
Lord, help me “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, [to] bless” those who mistreat me (1 Peter 3:9), remembering how you have blessed me incomprehensibly beyond what I deserve. Help me to trust you with all judgment, for you have said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19).
Lord, when situations arise requiring me to reprove or rebuke another, help me to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and with “complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
And when occasions require that I contend for the faith (Jude 3), help me refrain from engaging in “ignorant controversies,” to never be “quarrelsome but kind to everyone,” and to correct my opponents with gentleness,” praying all the while that you may “grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:23–25).
4. Give me wisdom and humility.
Lord, when I don’t know what I should say, help me be humble enough to admit it, to listen carefully (James 1:19) and to wisely “ponder how to answer” (Proverbs 15:28) so that I do not foolishly “pour out folly” (Proverbs 15:2).
Lord, when others bring a rebuke to me, deliver me from my defensive pride and help me listen carefully and humbly, since often “it is a kindness” and “oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).