Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:10, 11 NIV)
Years ago I worked in the banking industry, and my cubicle was in a back office, situated not too far from the call center. I had worked many different positions in customer service and knew how hard it could be to help people when they got upset. But that was nothing compared to what I overheard from the employees working in the call center. I felt so bad for them at the way many customers would treat them. It became clear to me that while a person might be a bit rude to someone face to face in a store, they acted far worse over the anonymity of a phone call. I’m now seeing the same applies to the Internet, where people daily use the written word to gossip, slander, and tear others down. Hidden behind a fake name and photo, lots of opinions are stated as fact, and trolls will spend lots of time and energy doing nothing but posting mean comments.
As Christians, we are instructed through scripture to always speak truth and life to those around us. There are numerous proverbs that remind us to watch our tongue because it has the power to destroy. But does this only relate to the audible words that come out of our mouths? I believe, as Christian writers, this applies just as much to the words we write. The written word has just as much power to cut others down; or to encourage them and point them towards God.
In society today, it seems our public and private lives are blurring together. People will post information online that just a generation or so ago, would have gotten them scolded by their family or friends for “airing their dirty laundry.” While I think it is important and healthy to speak honestly with those in our lives, and to not keep everything a secret or bottled up deep inside, we don’t need to take that openness to the extreme. Gossip is no longer whispered in the hallway at school; it is immediately posted online for all the world to see on Facebook or in a blog comment section. Self-centeredness abounds as Instagram feeds are filled with selfies and pictures of what everyone ate for dinner.
For those writers who mainly write books, this may not seem like a big deal. Your book has an important, God-honoring message. Through numerous revisions, there is no way any negative words would remain in the manuscript. However, most authors now have a website, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and are on Instagram. With practically the whole world being online, promoting a book through websites and social media is becoming the norm. How do you react if someone posts on Facebook that your book was so boring? Or gives it a one-star review on Goodreads? While it might be tempting to fire back a response full of righteous indignation, and put that unknown poster in their place, let’s pause. In all we say, and all we write, let’s not forget to show others the love of God.
The power of words is strong, and it may feel that anything positive we write is just a tiny drop in an ocean of negativity. But we need to remember we have a great God, and we should never underestimate what He can, and will, do with our words. I know I’m not perfect, and will mess up, and sometimes get discouraged when I think what I do doesn’t make a difference. However, I know God uses our imperfections. I remind myself this writing journey isn’t just about me and what I can do. First and foremost, I need to be in close relationship with God, and to make Him the focus of my every word. I may not see results from what I write; I won’t always know if my positive words touched a hurting person. And if someone says, or posts, something negative about our work it can be hard to just brush it off without replying. But when I’m writing from a willingness to give all the glory to God, I have peace it will make a difference.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14, ESV)