The Power of Words

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

As someone who writes and speaks vocationally, I am well acquainted with the power of words and the dangers of tongue and pen. This awareness also guides me to weigh words carefully,  seeking to do no harm and whenever possible to lift up and offer hope. How I craft what I write and how I proclaim the good news in preaching and teaching is of great importance. I am also painfully aware that I fall pitifully short of communication perfection and have snarky, insensitive moments just like all human beings. But I do try to be judicious and sensitive to others’ views and thoughts.

So that’s why I’ve been particularly appalled by conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s recent toxic tweet and verbal vomit. If you’ve been blessed not to hear about it and want to know what I’m talking about click here. The comment is repugnant on several levels. First, it is a gross misuse of the word and an insult to the many courageous individuals who live meaningful lives and accomplish great things in spite of intellectual disabilities. Secondly, it shows a lack of respect for the office of president regardless of the opinion of the officeholder. And finally, it is simply in extremely poor taste. Peddling ignorance and fomenting hate is a pathetic way to try to get any point across.

Ms. Coulter is a bright, attractive, and generally articulate woman. She didn’t get to her current place in media land by being a slacker. That said, comments like this one strip her of all dignity, authority, and well, frankly, good manners. To make it even worse, apparently she doesn’t care, and that is sad because she is in a place to make a positive difference with her voice and to use her celebrity for good rather than as blatant self-aggrandizing commentary.

I wish Ms. Coulter no ill will and hope she is somehow brought to a place of humility and growth so that her gifts and talents can be used to build up and edify rather than to destroy and spread venom like some malcontent teenage “mean girl.” I suspect, however, that she does not care what I think, and that’s o.k., too. We are blessed with great freedom, including freedom of choice and voice.

Ms. Coulter, if you care at all how to choose and use words well, then please take to heart what John Franklin Stephens wrote in his open letter to you (click here). Mr. Stephens writes with clarity, compassion, and style–and he has overcome significant odds to develop his gifts and strong voice. We can all take a lesson from him.

Oh, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to remember the words of that old Sunday school song (and yes, I’m updating the language to be inclusive):

O be careful little mouth what you say

O be careful little mouth what you say

The Creator’s up above

And is looking down in love

So, be careful little mouth what you say

The pen and the mouth are powerful tools. May we all use them to the best of our ability and for the good and edification of all our sisters and brothers. What we say and write does matter. I am so thankful for the many people in positions of authority and power who do use their words for good.

I’ll give the last words to the first century orator and apostle Paul, who wrote to a young leader by the name of Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)

Photos by Alicia VargasGage Skidmore, Yoko, and The World of Special Olympics. Thanks!


Writing is habit forming. At least it should be. If you really want to write, make the effort to write every day. Put ink to paper or fingers to keyboard and spit out some words.

What you write doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or prize-winning, but it does have to show up on screen or page. The aim is to make your writing as natural and necessary as breathing, a necessary and needful part of your daily life.

How Many Words?

I’m not one to put forth a lot of hard and fast rules in answer to this question. Read a dozen books about writing and you’ll get at least half a dozen answers. Stephen King aims for 2,000 words per day (apx. 10 pages). I’m happy with a minimum of 500 and delighted with 2,000. If you need a number, grab one and go with it. If you don’t, simply make sure to write until you are satisfied or until your daily schedule dictates your company is needed elsewhere.

The more you write the easier it should be to up the word count. That said, some folks are simply slower or faster at the work of writing. Don’t force it; just do it.


The answer to this question is as unique as you are. My best writing is usually done between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fly very well in real adult life. I’m slowly working my way into afternoon writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those chipper morning folks who rise with the chickens and don’t need a pot of coffee to unclog the neural pathways. Find your best time, and if it is at all possible given the demands of your life, make that your regular time for writing.


My  writing desk is a wooden folding TV tray just big enough for my laptop and water bottle or mug. I sit on a Gaiam exercise ball chair. My “desk” sits right beside the bedroom radiator in a corner. An unused center table leaf serves as a shelf on which I keep essential books, printer paper, and other related items. It’s not ideal, but due to our current home space usage, it’s my space and it works. Find something that works for you–simple or elaborate, elegant or shabby chic–and claim it as your writing world.


Do you really have to ask that question? Because you have to? Because you enjoy pain and suffering? Because you love words? Because it brings you pleasure unlike anything else? Because you’re a little bit crazy? Because . . . (you fill in the blank)? Only you can answer that silly question, and if you really have to ask it, maybe you better try crocheting or golf instead.

Photo by runran used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  –Psalm 62:5-7

“Anyone who loves words will tend to let themselves be satisfied by them, and as a result stop short of true satisfaction. For true satisfaction…comes when I am silent and listen…. When God’s voice is drowned out by incessant clamor, whether inner or outer, in whatever shape or form, then continuous dialogue with God becomes impossible.”  — Esther de Waal, from A Life-Giving Way

I came across these words of Anglican spiritual writer Esther de Waal today and had to pause to think long and hard about them. You see, I am a lover of words. For all of my adult life my vocation has, in some way, been connected to the world of words. As writer, English teacher, pastor, public relations and university advancement professional, everything has in some way dealt with the power of words–both spoken and written. And yes, I find words satisfying. I labor over the right words, the proper shade of meaning, the order and style of the words on the page.

Our culture is changing and so is the way we use words. Images have more power, in many cases, than words. Tweets and texts morph the language from a thing of beauty and an art to a utilitarian tool. No wasted letters–much less wasted words–are needed. Yet despite the way our use of words is changing, we still fill the void with words and noise. We have little tolerance for silence, rushing to fill empty space with sound.

I see this tendency in worship, where the congregation often seems uncomfortable if the pace is deliberately slowed to allow time for silent space and thought. Several times I have tried a silence exercise with confirmation classes or youth group, challenging them to be silent for just one minute. Almost without fail giggles will erupt before 60 seconds have passed.

Even in my own daily meditation and prayer time I often do battle with the words that crowd my mind and clamor for attention. Simply being present in the moment and listening for GOD is hard work; it takes a deliberate effort for me to be present in the moment, to let go long enough to simply be still and wait on the LORD. Ah, yes, my soul may desire to wait in silence, but my mind is too much with this world and its cares and busyness.

Today I am thankful for de Waal’s words of wisdom. Tomorrow I will try again to leave my words behind and, as the psalmist says, to let my soul wait in silence for the One who gives me hope.

Thanks-Living Activity

Light your candle and let go of your words. Yes, that is easier said than done! Nonetheless, try to gently send all thoughts away for just a short while–10 minutes perhaps. Be still. Breathe. Wait in silence for the Divine Presence, your rock and salvation. Allow GOD to enter the conversation.

Photos by anoldent and mpclemens used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!