We are all familiar with the nursery rhyme “sticks and stones” and know that words can, and do, hurt. Even the “harmless” statements we say everyday can do as much damage to our spiritual journey as any insult or taunt. The Bible demonstrates the truly terrifying power of words and teaches us about the consequences of careless talk (Proverbs 13:3 and Proverbs 18:21).

God created the world by declaring light, sky and land (Genesis 1:3-10). Why would the omnipotent God speak the world into being when a Godly thought would surely yield the same result? There are other examples throughout the Bible of the value that God places on the spoken word. In Exodus 4 and Jeremiah 1, we see two prophets with a fear familiar to many of us - the fear of public speaking. One might expect God to suggest something else, however, his response to incidents separated by thousands of years is remarkably similar. God tells Moses he will teach him what to say and he places his words in Jeremiah’s mouth. In Numbers 12, God’s declaration that he speaks to Moses face to face is evidence of the high regard that he has for his servant. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is asked to speak to the dry bones of the house of Israel to bring them back to life.

Some words are so powerful that they delay or negate the will of God even when those words are not directed at God. This principle is restated in the New Testament when Jesus declares that all will have to account for their careless words on the day of judgment, and that their words have the power to save or condemn them (Matthew 12:36-37). From Exodus 15 to Numbers 14 the people of Israel grumble about the journey to the promised land. In Numbers 14:28 God declares that the Israelites will be condemned by the very words they have spoken over themselves. The story of Jephthah in Judges 11 ends in tragedy when a rash vow made by the mighty warrior results in the sacrifice of his beloved only child. Jephthah is held to his word even if the sacrifice is clearly against the will of God (Deuteronomy 18:10 and Psalm 106:37-40).

What does this all mean for us as contemporary Christians? We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) because our mouths speak what is in our hearts. The Bible tells us that we can only bring out good things if there is good stored within us (Matthew 12:34-35). It can be difficult to be filled with good things during this time of “Megachange”, a term used to describe “dramatic shifts in social, economic, or political phenomena”. It can also be difficult to believe that God is truly at work in the mess of our lives, our communities and our countries.

The power of words and their ability to shift mindsets is recognised in the secular world. An internet search will yield positive affirmations for industries as wide ranging as sports, business and the performing arts. As Christians, we have something more potent than the “power” of positive thinking. We are in the privileged position of receiving promises from a father that loves us and expects great things from the life that he has given us. We can unlock the power of these promises for any situation. You may have financial concerns (Psalm 23:1). Maybe you are struggling with mental health issues (Psalm 34:18). You may feel directionless or unable to discern the will of God for your life (Isaiah 30:21). Whatever the issue may be, there is true power for those who hope in the Lord (Psalm 147:11). Just as God asked Ezekiel to speak to the dry bones of Israel, he wants you to speak to the dry bones of your life and to speak what is right (Proverbs 23:16).

What does this mean in practice? We should focus on filling our hearts and minds with affirmations we have created using God’s word. For example, a person with sleep issues or insomnia might declare they will not be afraid and their sleep will be sweet when they lay down (Proverbs 3:24). Write your affirmations down and say them out loud even if it feels silly or you struggle with unbelief (Mark 9:24 and Romans 4:20). Meditate on your affirmations and repeat them throughout the day (Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2). Think about what your life will look and feel like when they come true. Ask God to open your eyes, ears and heart so you don’t miss out on what he is trying to say to you (2 Kings 6:17; Matthew 13:13-16 and John 12:40). Some might experience a miraculous shift. Others might make more gradual progress. Whatever our individual journeys may look like, God promises that he will give us peace (Philippians 4:6-7) and rest (Matthew 11:29).

Ede Ebohon is a Civil Servant on sabbatical to complete a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Westminster College, Cambridge.

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