The Progress

John 6:63

Tap the power of the words.

Have you ever read the first novel written in the English language? That would be John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Published in 1678, Bunyan’s book isn’t exactly a John Grisham thriller, but it has a great deal more depth and staying power.

The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon once said of John Bunyan, “Cut him and he bleeds scripture.” Read Pilgrim’s Progress and you’ll see why. Bunyan peppers his description and dialogue into the text in a way that makes it clear he knew the Bible as well as he knew his own face. Perhaps better.

In the scripture quoted above, Jesus says that his words are spirit and life. What does that exactly mean? What does it mean at the beginning of John’s gospel when Jesus is introduced as “the Word.” The Word was with God in the beginning and was God. And yet God speaks words. It’s all very confusing.

Let’s be clear that there are no “magic words.” We can neither “name it and claim it” as the Word of Faith proponents would suggest nor utter incantations that put the powers of the universe at our beck and call. And in fact, those two things are really one–just described differently.

There are no magic words, but there are powerful words. And words are a powerful medium by which humans are differentiated from other animals. We cannot outmaneuver God by the use of words, but we can maneuver ourselves closer to Him with them.

Where could we be better positioned?

  • Do you tend to focus on your problems or on God’s promises?
  • How much time do you spend in the Bible and in prayer? Is it the sort of quality time it should be?
  • Pray this week that God will use His words and yourself to align you more closely to Him.


Want what enough?

Joel 3:10

Speak well of yourself.

“You can accomplish anything if you just want it badly enough.” Have you heard that before? Is it true? I recall, years ago when I worked for the Boy Scouts, hearing a colleague at a training event declare that he wanted badly to be the Chief Scout Executive, the absolute top dog in the BSA. “If I want it badly enough,” he smiled. “Then I can make it happen.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

So where did this guy go wrong? Did he just not want it badly enough? Did he not want it badly enough for long enough? Did he not speak enough positive affirmations into his mirror each day? Or was there something mistaken in his premise?

This last weekend, the field in the NCAA basketball tournament narrowed from 16 to 4. Did those 12 teams who lost just not want it it enough–or might talent and luck and coaching have come into the mix somehow? I have to believe that every player on every team wanted it. I think they believed they could win. They told themselves in the locker room they could win. But they couldn’t all win.

Words are not magic. Notice that Joel does not say, “Let the peasant say, ‘I am king.'” That’s not the point. The point is not to exalt ourselves through our words but to take advantage of the power that God offers through our words.

How much talent and power do we leave on the table when we do not claim the strength of God among our assets. Let the weak say, I am strong. Not the strongest, but strong. That’s plenty when it’s God’s strength.

  • In what areas of your life do you doubt yourself?
  • What areas of weakness could you strengthen by tapping into and claiming God’s strength?
  • Thank God for revealing His strength in your life, even if you haven’t yet seen it.

Words Matter for Good and Bad

Matthew 12:36-37

Bless your life with your words.

There are passages in the Bible that a lifelong Baptist struggles to read. Today’s verses would be one of those passages. Read it. (If you haven’t discovered this, you can hover your mouse over the reference to have it pop up.) Do you see what I’m talking about?

By your words you will be justified? Haven’t we been taught since slightly before birth that we are justified by faith alone? And wouldn’t words fall into the category of works?  So how is it that we are justified by our words?

It would take a more profound theologian than me to completely plumb the depths of this issue, but a piece of Simon Peter’s story pops in my mind to provide some clarity. We all know that when Jesus was arrested, Peter three times denied knowing Jesus.

Did Peter lose his salvation at that point? No, but was it important? Yes. After the resurrection, Jesus three times asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Did Peter gain back the salvation he hadn’t lost by virtue of his good answers? No, but was it important that he spoke those words? Yes.

What if, in the wake of his Christ-denying failure, Peter had simply withdrawn from the group? Would we have heard about him preaching on Pentecost? Would we have epistles bearing his name? I rather think Peter would have turned into a shriveled up, bitter man.

Words matter, for better and for worse.

  • Think of a time when you have said something that was clearly the wrong thing. What effect did it have?
  • Think of a case when you failed to save something that was clearly the right thing. Did that make a difference?
  • Start the good words flowing from yourself through your prayers in the coming week, blessing God and aligning your will with His.

The U-Word

James 3:9-12

Purify your language to purify your life.

I’m not a foul-mouthed person. It’s not that I don’t know the words, and it’s not as if they haven’t escaped from my mouth a number of times over the years. But throughout my adult life, I’ve decided that it was pointless to clutter up my language with words and phrases that do not reflect well on me and the God I serve.

As a teacher of English, I reject the idea that there are words that are somehow “dirty.” Words, by themselves, are just collections letters or sounds. What makes a word “dirty” or “impure” is what lies behind it. And when you think of most of the so-called “dirty words,” you’ll find that they’re mostly hurtful to people.

Sure, there is probably somebody who is driven to distraction by the word “person,” because it has the male-suggesting “son” in it. I can’t please that person, but I can try to avoid the words and the phrases and the sentences that clearly offend a wider range of people.

We have words that put down people because of their age or their race or their gender, because of their politics or their family situation or a dozen other things. We have them, and they can hurt. They’re ugly words, and the world has enough ugliness already.

  • What careless language do you allow to lurk in your speech?
  • Do you have a problem with words that offend the people with whom you share your life?
  • Pray that God will open your eyes to the changes that need to come into your language to edify rather than tearing down.

A Kind Word Keeps Giving

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Encourage others for what they are and can be.

It was in the spring of 1988 that I taught my first class, a single section of Composition I at UMKC. Other than the fact that I had pretty much no idea of what I was doing and got very little support from the person who was supposed to be shepherding me and the other graduate teaching assistants, everything that semester was great.

Somewhere along the line, each of us exchanged a set of papers with another teacher so that we could grade each other’s students and sort of regulate our evaluation. When I got my students’ papers back, I couldn’t believe the savaging that this other teacher had inflicted on papers that I saw as fairly decent. Suddenly, I found my confidence shaken. Did I have any idea of what I was doing? Did I really have any business in front of a college classroom?

Somehow I wound up in the office of Joan Gilson, one of the school’s more seasoned teachers. Joan looked over those papers. She was probably overly generous, but she assured me they were not as bad as my colleague had painted them.

I’m not sure I’d be completing my twenty-ninth year of teaching English if Joan hadn’t taken that twenty minutes out for me. Sometimes a simple act of encouragement can have a momentous effect.

  • Do you naturally see the weaknesses and failures of others or their strengths and victories?
  • Look around your life. Who can you encourage today?
  • Resolve to pray that God will open your eyes to the people who need your positive words in the coming weeks.