Guarding and Guiding the Tongue

We should always seek to edify others with our speech.

Celtic Spiritual Poetry (21)

My speech – may it praise You without flaw: 
May my heart love You, King of heaven and earth.
My speech – may it praise You without flaw: 
Make it easy for me, pure Lord, 
to do You all service and to adore You.

  - Anonymous, Irish, 12th century[1]

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

  - Ephesians 4.29

Here’s a little prayer that can serve us throughout the day, helping us to remember that all our words are to be spoken to build others up in the love of Christ.

We don’t know the author of this verse, but we can imagine that he was like us in many ways, who sometimes let our words fly before we’ve thought about what we ought to say. Then it’s too late. Without thinking – or failing to guard against the unkind or unedifying things we mightbe thinking – our words end up being more hurtful than helpful. 

Like the Jesus prayer, which can be prayed in sync with the rhythm of breathing – “Lord Jesus Christ” (breathe in), “have mercy on me, a sinner” (breathe out) – this repeated line, breathed in and out during the day, can help make sure our speech is always directed at building others up in the love of God: “My speech” (breathe in slowly, as you think about what you might say), “may it praise You without flaw” (breathe out, just before you speak).

We should pay more careful attention to all our words and deeds, making the best use of them for the glory of God (Matt. 5.13-16; Eph. 5.15-17; 1 Cor. 10.31). Because our tongues – our words – are the hardest members to tame, we need to devote ourselves more conscientiously to making sure the words that come out of our mouths are words of love for God and our neighbors (Jms. 3.2-5).

Today you will distribute words here and there, to this person and that, much of the time without a great deal of thought or concern. “Hey, how you doin’?” “What’s up?” “Fine, just fine; you?” “How was your day?” “Please pass the salt.” “Will you hand me the remote?” “Did you hear about…?”

When we consider what a great gift it is to be able to communicate with words, in sentences adorned by emphasis, pace, carefully-crafted grammar, and appropriate volume, it seems a shame that we should ever utter even a single word without selecting it carefully, like a master bowman would an arrow, and aiming it at a consciously-chosen target. Speaking, after all, is a kind of art form, and one of those “whatever you do” areas where we have the potential for glorifying God throughout the day.

The words that pass from us to others are fraught with potential, either for good or ill. If we wish them to be the former, then we must nurture love for Christ and our neighbors in our hearts and make it our business to serve and adore the Lord with all our speech. But seasoning our words with grace doesn’t come naturally (Col. 4.6); we’ll have to work at this discipline, like any other. And making our words a matter of prayer is an excellent place to start.

Using this prayer at several times throughout the day – perhaps as you are going into a meeting, or know you’ll be talking with someone – can set your soul to guard and guide your speech, so that your words become a means of grace to the people who hear you.

We show that we love Christ in conversation when we devote our words as vessels of love to build others up in grace. And, like anything devoted to the Lord, we should try to make our words as spotless, faultless, and pure as we can.

“My speech – may it praise You without flaw.” This humble prayer, offered at various times throughout the day, can remind us of the goal of allour conversation, which is to minister grace to others through speech that edifies, words that attract others to Jesus and urge them to become more like Him. They who experience edification and uplift from our words will linger and pay attention when we speak, and this can make all our speech, no matter the subject or duration, part of an ongoing conversation about the grace of God and the Good News of His Kingdom. 

Let’s not be sloppy about our speech, but seek to “do all service” to the Lord and show our adoration for Him by the way we use our words to edify others. 

Devote your conversations to the Lord in prayer, and offer them up each day as sweet music to His and your neighbors’ ears.

Psalm 141.3, 4 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns!)
Lord, set a guard upon my mouth; let not my heart to evil bend.
Nor let me work iniquity in company with wicked men.

Thank You for the gift of speech, Lord. Help me to use my words today to…

A help for guiding and guarding your tongue

We have to work at this, and one way to work at it is to prepare well. Our ReVisionstudy, Seasoned with Grace: The Art of Christian Conversation, can help you learn how to use your words to build others up in love. It’s free and available at our website, and you can download itby clicking here.

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All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1]Davies, p. 260.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore