Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Did you know that your words can affect how others view Jesus? Dannah Gresh explains.

Dannah Gresh: It’s not just your relationship with that person you’re in contact with that’s at stake when you choose harsh words that cut and divide and cause pain. If you’re a daughter of Jesus, if your life is surrendered to Him, every single interaction is a representation of our Savior.

Nancy: Today, Dannah will help us see the amazing power of our words. This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast for July 26, 2021. I’m Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

If you scroll through your feed on Facebook or Instagram, or whatever social media you use the most, you’ll notice something pretty quickly. Some of the words you read are helpful, kind, and encouraging. But other words, sadly, a lot of words, come across as arrogant, destructive, or harsh. And we can say the same about the words that come from our own mouths, can’t we?

This month on Revive Our Hearts we’re focusing on how we can develop our kindness skills. And recently my co-host, Dannah Gresh, shared an encouraging message from Proverbs chapter 15, during our weekly staff chapel. Afterwards, I asked her if she would be willing to share it with the whole Revive Our Hearts audience, and she graciously agreed.

You’re in for a real treat, but first, let me just pray for us. Oh Lord, I need this message, and we all need this message. Our words have such power to give life or death, to heal or to wound. So I pray that You would give us ears to hear and hearts to receive what You have to say to us today. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Let’s listen now to Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: So let me ask you: Does anyone in your house loud talk during a Zoom call? (laughter) Before the swell of Zoom use in 2020, I think women had no forewarning of the reality that many men seem to have an inability to talk at a normal tone when on a Zoom call.

Yes, I am telling you that there is one person in the Gresh house who talks loudly on Zoom . . . and it’s not me. Yep. I’m throwing Bob Gresh under the bus today, friends.

Of course, it’s not only a man’s problem. I’ve had husbands come up to me as I’ve been sharing this and say, “Hey! In my house, it’s the ladies that talk loudly on Zoom.”

But here’s what I want to share with you about that today: When Bob would loud talk on a Zoom call, it made us loud talk after a Zoom call. If I’m honest, what I’m really telling you is this: I didn’t respond well. And Bob did. He really did. As I expressed my frustration, he would put his hands up at me as if he was flagging me down because I was driving too fast or running too fast, and he would simply and gently say, “Let’s take it down a notch, Baby. Let’s take it down a notch.”

The more he did this (and he had to do it quite often), I didn’t like my strong, loud reaction. I became more and more uncomfortable with it. It was such a reactive response to such a small and insignificant problem. So I began to pray about it. And the verse God brought to my mind is one I memorized many, many years ago in the NIV version: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1).

I felt the Spirit’s gentle tug to start to learn how to express my frustration with gentleness. And so I tried to say this verse under my breath every time Bob started talking loudly on Zoom. And guess what? It didn’t help. My heart wasn’t changed, nor was my tone when I inquired about the loud talking on Zoom.

Why? Because I believed somehow deep down in my spirit that my harsh answer was useful for me. I was believing the lie that harshness would serve me well. It could protect me, advocate for me, defend me. You see, friend, it was my belief, not just my behavior, that needed to be changed concerning the way I responded to Bob when life didn’t go my way. My mind required an inward transformation of the Holy Spirit, a total reformation of how I thought about how I approached bothersome interactions and conflict.

We all experience this in our lives, don’t we? And often, we end up on both the receiving end and the sending end of verbal blows. But here’s the thing: as believers, we shouldn’t be on either end. God’s Word teaches us that the power of a gentle answer can change the trajectory of a conflict and maybe even a relationship.

  • Do you need some help with a high-conflict relationship?
  • Is there tension in your marriage or with a roommate?
  • Do you struggle to control your tongue when you respond to your mother or maybe your daughter?
  • Do you experience high-conflict interactions with some coworkers or maybe someone in your church?

I want to invite you over the next three days to dive into the first four verses of Proverbs 15 with me. We’re going to discover what God’s Word says about the power of a gentle answer, the wisdom of a gentle answer, and the reward of a gentle answer. In fact, let me encourage you to grab your Bible right now, if it’s nearby. I have mine in front of me. I just believe that if you’ll look at this passage with your own eyes, you’re going to learn so much more from God’s Spirit that you could from me.

So, let me read Proverbs 15:1–4:

A soft answer turns away wrath,but harsh words stir up anger.

And here we begin to see the power of a gentle answer. And then we get to verse 2, the wisdom of a gentle answer. It reads:

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

And finally, in verse 4, here’s the good reward of a gentle answer:

A gentle tongue is a tree of life,but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Now, before we begin to dissect these first few verses of Proverbs 15, let’s consider who wrote them.

Of course, this chapter is written by Solomon. He’s the third king of Israel and the son of King David.

Now, David fought wars to build the nation, but God told him in 1 Chronicles 22:9 that his son, Solomon, would be a man of peace. And several commentaries I referenced as I studied Proverbs 15 stated that Solomon wrote these verses as the “conservator of peace.” Now, a conservator is one who repairs or preserves something of worth. Who would not agree that peace, in our world at large and in our interpersonal relationships, is worth preserving?

Solomon wrote Proverbs 15 as . . . I guess you could call it a tactical guide to quelling anger and repairing the peace when conflict arose in relationships. Now, let me remind you, as king, in that political position, with lots of other kings who were in opposition to the nation of Israel, well that would lead me to believe he probably knew something about solving conflict. He had experience with it.

So where does this man begin to guide his readers through conflict, his students? He starts with the power of a gentle word, or in the version I’m reading from, “a soft answer.” So let’s talk about that—the power of a soft answer.

Verse 1 reads: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” In other words, if you respond to your frustrations with a gentle answer, you will diffuse rage. But if you respond to your conflicts with sharp, cutting words, you’re going to make things worse. Just think about that. That’s the power of words.

Gentle words have the power to turn off wrath, and harsh words have the power to stir up greater anger. That’s no small thing.

I’ve been researching this, and anger stimulates more involuntary reactions in our bodies than any other emotion. That is, the sympathetic nervous system takes over. The brain shuts down blood flow to the gut and pushes it towards the muscles for reactivity. And that, of course, is part of our fight-or-flight response.

The heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, they all increase. Body temperatures rise. Perspiration increases. Maybe that’s why they refer to an angry person as “hot-headed.” An angry individual, in many ways, is not a controlled individual.

But God says a gentle word can change all of that. Well, just how powerful is a gentle answer?

Turn with me to Judges chapter 8. I hope you hear my Bible pages turning, because I’m going there along with you. Let’s see an example of a powerful and gentle word. Let me give you an overview of what’s happening in the passage I’m about to read to you.

Gideon led the Israelites into a battle against the Midianites, and God gave a resounding victory. But not everyone in Israel was happy with that victory. In fact, when Gideon and the Israelite army got home from the battle, Gideon discovered that he had some very angry troops on his hands.

Why? Well, because he had not told them about the battle beforehand. In the midst of the battle, when the outcome looked grim, he called them to help. So they joined in the fight, and victory was won. They won! So why were they angry?

Well, maybe they felt left out. I don’t know. But they were, to put it in modern terms, “ticked off.” And we see this in the first verse of Judges 8. Read with me.

Now the men of Ephraim said to him [that is Gideon], “What is this you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.

Can you picture the scene? Feel the tension? The tempers flaring? Well, let’s learn together how Gideon responded to these harsh words. It says the men of Ephraim accused him fiercely. Some versions say “vigorously.” I think he had some hot heads on his hands, don’t you? In other words, sympathetic nervous systems were on overdrive.

Now at this point, Gideon had a choice about how to respond. Right? Try to put yourself in his shoes. If you were challenged and confronted the way he was, how would you have been tempted to respond? Well, I can tell you how I would have been tempted to respond.

Now, I’ve never been a military leader. I’ve never had a soldier under me. So I have to put this into a different and practical setting. Sadly, that’s easy for me. You see, I have a fairly heavy heart today. I’m sad about how an interaction went between myself and another woman last week.

We both care very deeply about a mutual friend, and this friend is in a very, very difficult marriage. But we disagreed on how to approach helping her. Harsh words were spoken that day. She reacted to my thoughts poorly, and I held my tongue for as long as I could. And then, well, let’s just say I did not like how I showed up. A marriage is in a war, and we have the chance to fight for and with this couple, but this woman and I, we used harsh words.

Keep your fingers in Judges 8, and look back at Proverbs 15:1. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” That’s what we did that day. We stirred it up. We stirred up anger between ourselves.

I have to confess that I’m tempted sometimes to use harsh words when I’m confronted. And what does the word “harsh” mean? Well, it means “unpleasantly rough or jarring to the senses.” I was jarred that day. I wept after that meeting.

And how jarring might words be? Well, the Hebrew word used here in this verse has a primitive root that means “to carve.” In other words, harsh words cut. They cause pain. That’s their intention.

And that was the intention of these soldiers on that Old Testament battlefield. Now, Gideon on that field has a choice. Will he respond to his soldiers’ frustration with a gentle, soft answer and so diffuse rage? Or will he respond to this conflict with sharp, cutting words and add fuel to the fire that they’ve started?

Now, in a tense situation like this, words make all the difference. Let’s see how Gideon responded. Let’s look at verse 2. It reads:

But he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the great harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What was I able to do in comparison with you?” (vv. 2–3)

I want you to note two things: first of all, Gideon responded with gentle words. He compliments them. “Aren’t your leftover grapes better than my best harvest? God has given you, not me, this victory. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Rather than being reactive and talking to them with the same harsh way that they confronted him, which is so easy to do, he took the pathway of humility. He affirmed what they had done well. He let them take credit for the victory, let them feel that what they had done was so much more significant than what he’d done. He didn’t respond with harsh words.

He didn’t respond with words that most certainly would have turned up the temperature of their bodies and fueled their anger. Is that what you feel like doing when your coworker ticks you off? No, really, is that what you feel like doing when your husband’s loud talking on Zoom or someone on your church committee is presenting an opposing plan? Do you feel like giving them a compliment and building them up?

The other day Nancy and I had what could have been a really difficult conversation that could have left me at odds with her. She was mentoring me and suggesting some ways that I could improve as a Bible teacher. She was actually critiquing this teaching. She had some difficult things to say to me.

Some people might do what she did harshly, after all, it’s our natural inclination. But Nancy spoke softly and gently, and she gave me one of the sweetest compliments of my life. She said, “Dannah, you’re worthy of my time.” Ah . . . what a game changer a compliment could be. Anything in my heart that felt offended or ruffled at that moment just faded away under the sweetness of that compliment.

And compliments words for Gideon with his soldiers, too. In verse 3 it says:

Their anger against him subsided when he said this.

Said what? A compliment.

I’ve got to go back to that verse in Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

I’m not suggesting that you lie. I’m not suggesting that you make up hollow compliments, but that you dig down deep under your own ruffled feathers and find your heart. See that person as someone God values and loves, and find a truthful way to compliment them. Choose the gentle word. A genuine compliment, honest encouragement is just one way that we can infuse gentleness into a conflict, and it’s one way we can turn down the anger.

Going back to that conversation I had with a woman last week about a friend whose marriage we’re concerned for. Do you know what I did before I came into the studio today? I wrote an email to that woman, and I complimented her. And you know what? It was easy because she’s put so much into our mutual friend’s life. And, I apologized.

It’s okay to apologize, to repent, to admit when your words are not gentle, but they’re harsh. I used gentle words in that email, hoping that someday very soon we can have gentle words face to face.

Now, I know that it’s often very difficult. In the heat of the moment, it can be our own sympathetic nervous systems that are ramped up. That’s what happened to us that day.

Let me share something with you that I’ve discovered as I’ve been studying this passage. (I found this very fascinating.) Now, here’s a warning: Dannah Gresh loves the science of creation—animals, our bodies, all of it. And when I sniff out a reference to anything like that in Scripture, I tune in, and I do the research.

One commentary on Proverbs 15 that I read stated . . . let me read this:

The Old Testament was consciously linking emotional states and bodily changes many centuries before scientific studies documented the same phenomenon. Cheerfulness of disposition, whether it is natural inheritance [Oh, that the Lord would have given it to me that way!] or the result of personal discipline. [That’s the road the Lord has assigned to me—cheerful disposition through personal discipline. It says:] Cheerful disposition promotes and sustains positive feelings within yourself and others in your company.

When I read that, I needed to dig a little more deeply. I needed to know: “What was this commentator seeing that I was not?” I certainly didn’t see anything about our bodies in the English Standard Version, in my translation. I just saw something about our emotions here.

So I dug into the Hebrew, and it did mention something about our bodies—the nose. Okay, stick with me—stick with me.

The second line says, “A harsh word stirs up anger.” Now, anger in that verse, in the Hebrew, the word was a common word which meant—wait for it—“breathing with the nostrils”. Can you picture it? Fuming. Breathing with the nostrils. Think of a horse in battle ready to fight with flared nostrils, just wanting to get into that battle. We can be like that, can’t we? And the harsh words just puff out.

This is where something clicked in me. I do pilates three times a week, and it requires deep, slow, methodic breathing to facilitate all the benefits you can gain for your muscles. And after every single workout, I don’t just feel stronger in my body. I also feel very chilled out. You see, all of that working out and breathing, it changes my emotions.

So I began to contrast that feeling to the breathing with the nostrils—anger—in this verse. I did a little research. I discovered something really interesting: Navy Seals are trained to use what is called “box breathing” to de-escalate high-conflict situations. Essentially, when conflict arises, they mentally count as they breathe. Here’s how it works:

Picture a box in your mind with four equal sides. And with each count to four, these Navy Seals mentally follow one side of the box in their head until they’ve mentally drawn a box with their breathing: “In, two, three four. Hold, two, three, four. Out, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four.”

The breathing helps them take control of their parasympathetic nervous system. And the visual of that box helps them focus on something other than the ugly words that might have just been thrown at them. A Navy Seal is taught not to respond in conflict until they’ve taken the time to “box breathe.”

Did you hear that? In the military, I’m talking about Navy Seals. Google it. Trained soldiers breathe in order to contain conflict. Blood pressure slows. Autonomic nervous systems relax. Answers become softer, gentler. Problems de-escalate.

And here’s where we really begin to see the power of a gentle word: You see, when I began to apply this verse, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” well, my mind processed it as me being the stoic gentle answer, and the person on the other side of the conflict as the one in need of my help to de-escalate. They needed to change, not me.

But what I’ve learned about the true power of a gentle word is that it changes me.

Take for example my sweet Bob Gresh and his loud Zoom talking. I began to apply this verse over and over. Each time I felt my emotions flaring, I breathed. In that breath, I asked for God’s Spirit to control me, to control my response. And here’s the thing: My anger was quelled. The words that came out were gentle because what was inside of me was de-escalated.

When I search for a softer response, my own anger is quieted. Think about that. The search for a gentle answer changes me. It changes you.

And let me remind you: It’s not just your relationship with that person you’re in contact with that’s at stake when you choose harsh words that cut and divide and cause pain. If you’re a daughter of Jesus, if your life is surrendered to Him, every single interaction is a representation of our Savior. So you put their relationship with Him, Jesus, at stake if you do not represent Him accurately. Are you doing that?

Jesus describes Himself only one time in Scripture, in Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus was and is gentle.

Think about the backdrop upon which this was written. The expectation was that when the Messiah showed up, He would throw off the tyranny of Roman rule. The expectation is that conflict would escalate. Instead, Jesus rides a humble donkey—not a war horse with flared nostrils. He’s gentle. He’s lowly. And His presence brings rest for the souls that encounter Him.

Do you reflect that with your word? Do you represent Jesus well?

Can I ask you to think back over the last week of your interactions? Were your responses soft? Especially when you were in conflict, did you search for a gentle answer? Or would you need to confess that you’ve been breathing with the nostrils and huffing harsh words out in anger? Or maybe angrily typing those words out in response to something on social media?

Forget counting to ten when you feel fury, try some “box breathing,” and count to four, four times. And in those sixteen seconds, take time to check in with God’s Spirit. Ask Him to help you find a soft, self-controlled, gentle response. I invite you this week to experience the power of a gentle word.

Nancy: Wow! That’s a convicting reminder from Dannah Gresh, looking at Proverbs chapter 15.

You know, words truly are powerful. They can encourage and strengthen others. They can heal wounded hearts. They can honor God. They can bring Him and others great delight. But, as we all know, words can also be destructive.

That’s why I want to let you know about a four-week devotional study from Revive Our Hearts called, The Power of Words. It’s based on teaching that I’ve done from the book of Proverbs on the tongue. It will help you discover the connection between your heart and your words, as Dannah was talking about today.

This study on The Power of Words is our way of saying thank you for your gift of any amount to support the work of Revive Our Hearts. Be sure to ask for it when you contact us with your donation at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. And thank you so much for your support, especially during these summer months.

Well, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts, Dannah shows us that gentle words are something that we actually need to practice speaking. She’ll show us the wisdom and the skill of a gentle word. Be sure and be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Brought to you in part by the faithful support of our Monthly Partner Team, Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Host

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.