July 2, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 141:3 (NRSV)
Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Sometimes our mouths can get us into lots of trouble at work. Of course, the words that wound are not just spoken. These days, more often than not, they are delivered via email or text. When we join the psalm writer in praying for God to “set a guard over my mouth,” we’re asking for God’s help with our words, so that they might be truthful, gracious, and encouraging.
How many times have you said something at work that you wish you could take back? I remember as if it happened yesterday an event that is now several years in the past (thanks be to God!). I was in a meeting at work with a potential client. For several reasons, I was not at all pleased with what the client was proposing. Then they said something that really angered me. Rather than waiting until I calmed down to speak, I said several things in anger that were unhelpful (even if they may have been true). I embarrassed myself and my colleagues, not to mention angering my boss. Oh, how I wish God had “set a guard over my mouth” that day!
Workplace words can be hurtful in a variety of ways. Yes, angry expressions can do plenty of damage. So can gossip, complaining, negativity, and falsehood. How tempting it can be to falsely exaggerate in the course of our work, perhaps to make a sale, boost our reputation, or get in good with the boss. Moreover, these days we’re more aware than ever of how words can demean, belittle, harass, or abuse.
Remember that words have power, not just when they are spoken, but also when they are written. In my experience, some of the most damaging words have come, not from the mouth, but from the fingers. Spontaneous emails and text messages are particularly liable to the dangers of hurtfulness and falsehood.
So, no matter your work context, you would do well to join the writer of Psalm 141 in asking God, “Set a guard over my mouth.” In praying for our mouth, we are also praying for all the ways we communicate with others. So, yes, by all means, ask the Lord to keep you from saying and writing things that are hurtful, unedifying, and false. But, positively, you can also ask for God’s help to use words that are healing, encouraging, and true.
Gracious God, today I’m reminded of the power of words. As it says in James, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (James 3:5-6). With my words I can do so much good. . . and so much evil. I can build up or tear down. I can encourage or demoralize. I can speak the truth or say what is false.
With the psalm writer, today I ask you to “set a guard over my mouth, O LORD.” Yes indeed, “keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). When I am impelled to speak in anger, help me to hold my tongue. When I am prepared to brag about myself, help me to be humble. When I’m tempted to say what is false, help me to remain silent.
But I also ask you today to help me, not only to avoid words that hurt, but also to use words that help. Instead of speaking divisively in anger, may my words promote peace. Rather than boasting of myself, may I be quick to praise the work of others. When I’m tempted to lie, help me to speak the truth in love.
O God, you have given me the power of words. May I use this power for your purposes and glory in all of life, including my workplace. Amen.
Ponder Throughout the Day
God has entrusted to you the awesome power of words.
For Further Reflection
Read all of Psalm 101.
You may also wish to read James 3:1-12.
Banner image by Andrej Lisakov on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Avoiding the Sweetness of Evil.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.