Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Power of Navigation

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do other people make you sin with your mouth? Here’s Mary Kassian.

Mary Kassian: What comes out of your mouth, what you say, and how you respond to circumstances—that's your responsibility. Your husband doesn't make you say nasty things. It's you!

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, January 20, 2015.

Nancy: Do you realize your tongue is like a steering wheel? Your words set a navigation for your whole day. Mary Kassian will tell us why today. If you’ve listened to Revive Our Hearts for any length of time, you know Mary Kassian is a dear friend of this ministry.

She’s written a book called Conversation Peace all about the way we use our words. I think that is one of the most important topics we can consider as women of God. I asked Mary if she would come and be a guest teacher on Revive Our Hearts and help us explore this topic about the way we use our words. Mary is from Canada, so occasionally you’ll notice she uses phrases like, “Hand to the tiller.” She means “hold on to the steering wheel.” Let’s listen as Mary challenges us to use our words for God’s glory.

Mary: A girlfriend of mine once told me that she had started using peppermint lotion on her feet so that when she stuck her foot in her mouth, as she was unfortunately in the habit of doing, it wouldn't taste quite so bad.

  • Have you ever stuck your foot in your mouth? I certainly have. 
  • Have you said something wrong?
  • Have you said too much or something in the wrong way?
  • Have you ever been at a loss for words? 
  • Have you had trouble getting your point across? 
  • Have you ever left a conversation feeling wounded and hurt and shredded, as it were, by someone's words?
  • Do you find it difficult to communicate and connect with others at deeper than surface level? 
  • Is it a challenge for you to address tough issues without going into battle mode, without defending and attacking? 

Today, we're going to start a series on what the Bible has to say about speech and communication.

Now, there are plenty of books available about communication. I checked on Amazon, and there are over 19,000 books available in the communication skills category. There are roughly 3000 in the parenting and relationships communication category, 1700 titles in the interpersonal relationships category, and another 6500 titles in the self-help, "I'm going to transform myself; I'm going to get my communication together" self-help category.

There are all together, at least 60,000 book titles on interpersonal communication! (And double that if you include all the books on communication that happens in the workplace.) That staggering figure tells me two things: First, how very desperate people are to learn how to communicate well. Second, that the answer is probably not found in those 60,000 books.

You can learn all the communication techniques and skills—and some are extremely helpful—but if you don't address the issues in your heart, the techniques alone won't cure your communication problems. At their deepest root, communication problems are spiritual problems. They require spiritual solutions. And for that, we must turn to God.

In this series, we'll be studying seven powerful speech-transforming elements that are based on the Bible. God sets a high standard for our speech and also for our thoughts and attitudes. Even more important, He reveals the secret for how to reach that standard. We reach it when we tap into His power. There are not magic words or formulas or phrases. There's not a right technique for communication, per se or combination of words.

It's about God transforming our speech by transforming our hearts . . . and changing us from the inside out. Today's element of transformed speech is the Power of Navigation. It's realizing and taking responsibility for the fact that our tongues determine the direction of our lives. "Where I go today depends on what I say today."

The Bible compares the tongue to a rudder of a ship and to a bit in the mouth of a horse. Though relatively small, all three of these-the rudder, the bit, and the tongue-have tremendous power.

A rudder turns a ship, a bit turns a horse, and our tongues turn our lives in the direction we will go. The Power of Navigation is the element of speech discussed in the book of James chapter 3. We're going to work our way through verses 1 to 12 today and make some observations about the tongue. Let me start off by reading verses two to four:

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

The first observation about the tongue that I want to make is that your tongue is your primary steering mechanism—it determines your direction. Remember: a rudder turns a ship, a bit turns a horse, and our tongues turn our lives in the direction we will go.

The comparison between controlling our tongues and steering ships reminds me of one of the worst nautical accidents in Greece's history. The captain of a Greek ferry had put his ship on autopilot. Captains are required to man the bridge for the last seven miles approaching port, but he had sailed this route several times a week without incident. Confident of the autopilot settings, the captain took a nap while the first officer and crew left the bridge to watch a soccer match on television. No one noticed when strong undercurrents caused the Express Samina to drift off course. Two miles from its destination, the vessel struck a rocky islet and sank. The islet was clearly marked with a light beacon; no attentive seaman would have missed it.

But the captain was sleeping and unaware that his autopilot was steering the ship toward disaster. Eighty-two lives were lost, most of whom were tourists. The Express Samina was shipwrecked en route to the beautiful Aegean island of Paros. The travelers' exciting and promising vacation ended in unspeakable tragedy and loss. The captain and crew were charged with murder, neglect of duty, and violation of maritime procedures.

How foolish of that captain to abandon the helm and neglect the wheel of his vessel. And yet that's precisely what we often do wiht our mouths when we put our mouths on autopilot and fail to pay attention to the words coming out of our mouths.

Your tongue is a steering mechanism. Your tongue navigates your ship.

The word "navigate" comes from the Latin words navis, meaning "ship" and agere, "to drive." To navigate is to plan, steer, and manage one's movement and course. James notes that although ships are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. If a ship is not directed, it will be at the mercy of the wind and currents and will be lost or shattered on the rocks.

Do you know the captain of the Greek ferry made all kinds of excuses about his behavior? He blamed the circumstances. He blamed the ship. He blamed the crew. But he was the captain. It was his responsibility to drive that ship. James says, "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs."

The challenge here is to accept responsibility for how you pilot your mouth. What comes out of your mouth, what you say, and how you respond to circumstances is your responsibility. Your husband doesn't make you say nasty things. It's you! You choose to say nasty things. Your children don't make you irritable and snappy. It's you. You choose to pilot your tongue that way.

And what about that quirky, aggravating coworker that gives you reason to complain? She's not responsible for your behind-the-back cutting remarks—you are. You choose to pilot your tongue onto the rocks of slander and criticism.

Your tongue is your primary steering mechanism. It determines your direction, so you need to pay attention and steer it in the direction you want  it to go. Let's continue reading in James chapter 3. We'll pick up where we left off at verse 5:

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (vv. 5–8).

Wow. There are some strong metaphors in those verses. The second observation I want to make about the tongue is that your tongue has tremendous potential—for good or for ill. It's either going to build up, or it's going to tear down. It's a relatively small part of your body, but it plays a big part in your life. 

The average human tongue is four inches long, it contains eight muscles to move up and down, side to side, and to talk. It weighs only two-and-a-half ounces. Yet this small part of the body gets us in to bucket loads of trouble. James compares the power of the tongue to a spark of fire, and to the power of an untamable wild animal. There's tremendous capacity—more power than we realize or can even begin to imagine.

Words are powerful. Words can heal, or they can cripple. They can cultivate like a plow. They can draw blood like a dagger. Words can make or break relationships—they can build up or tear down. They can bring peace or they can bring conflict. Words determine the destiny of individuals, families, communities, and nations.

Proverbs 18:21 says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." That's a lot of power—death and life. Words matter. They are not benign. They have consequences. They have personal consequences. The people of Israel, after being delivered from Egypt, grumbled and complained to God: "You brought us out here to make us suffer. We're going to die out here in the wilderness!"

And God told them in Numbers 14:28, "The very things that you've said out of your own mouths will happen."

That whole generation did die in the wilderness. Not because God wanted it. But because the people got what they themselves said.

Our words carry consequences for others. Even though Jacob tricked his father Isaac to get the blessing, once Isaac had given his blessing to Jacob, he couldn't retract it. Isaac said, "I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed." He couldn't take his words back. They were going to have an effect.

It reminds me of the story of Karen Carpenter, a singer who was so disturbed when a reporter referred to her as Richard Carpenter's "chubby little sister," that she started on a destructive cycle of anorexic behavior and eventually starved herself to her death. It's the whole principle of sowing and reaping. What we sow with our words has consequences for what we reap, and it also impacts what happens in the lives of others.

When you say to yourself: I'm a failure; I will never succeed. I'm a terrible mom." Or you complain, "I'm falling apart; I'm so stressed; I can't take it anymore!" Or when you say, "Nobody loves me." Your words have consequences

When you say to your husband, "You're such an idiot!" Or to your child, "You can't do anything right," or "You're so lazy." Or you say to your leader behind his back, "He's so incompetent!" Your words have consequences. They have an effect . . . and you can't control what kind of effect they will have.

The Chicago fire in 1871 was allegedly started by a cow knocking over a lantern. A seemingly small, insignificant event, but it burned down an entire city. James says that our words have that kind of destructive power. "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire."

Sadly, many of you listeners are living with the tragic destructive effects of words—words that you've spoken or words that have been spoken to you. You know just how powerful words can be.

James continues in chapter 3 verse 8:

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (vv. 8–12).

Here, James is addressing an inconsistency that he sees in the lives of his Christian friends. The way they talked to God was healthy and positive, but the way they talked to people was unhealthy and negative. They blessed God, but they cursed people; they praised God, but they criticized people; they built God up, but they put people down.

They express gratitude for God's actions, but for their kids' actions they only express disapproval. They use nice, clean religious language when they pray, but they cuss and use crass language when joking around with friends. They speak respectfully to God, but are sassy and disrespectful towards other authority figures. For God, they demonstrate courtesy, but toward the cashier at the till that's moving so slow, or the driver who cuts them off in traffic, they're rude.

James says, "This doesn't add up! It's a sign that something's not right." This ought not to be. The third observation about the tongue I want to make is that your tongue reveals what's under the surface. It's a marker of your maturity. When your words are snappy, unkind, impatient, critical, sarcastic, deceitful, or rude, it's an indication that something in your heart isn't right and that you have some growing up to do.

Your religious behavior may be impeccable. You may have devotions every morning, lead a Bible study, and go to church every week, but the way you speak to your family—your husband, your children, your mother-in-law, your parents—your coworkers, your neighbors, and your enemies, that's where the rubber hits the road in our Christian lives. That's the true mark of your maturity. Your mouth is like a spiritual barometer. It reveals what's really going on under the surface.

James says in chapter 1, verse 26:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.

James says if your relationship with God isn't impacting your mouth, in the way you relate and speak to others, your religion is worthless.

A problem with your mouth indicates that there's a problem in your heart. So to re-cap, we've made three observations about the tongue from this passage:

  1. Your tongue is your primary steering mechanism. It determines your direction. Where you go today depends on what you say today.
  2. Your tongue has tremendous potential. It will build or it will burn your relationships. What you say matters. It has spiritual consequences.
  3. Your tongue is like a barometer. It reveals what's going on in your heart. It's a marker of your spiritual maturity.

If you want to see how well you are doing in your relationship with God, take time to evaluate what's coming out of your mouth when you relate to other people. You can harness the power of navigation and steer your tongue in the right direction by putting things in order at the helm of your ship

I love the way James wraps up chapter 3. He says,

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (vv. 17–18).

If you want more peace in your conversation, you need to put your hand to the tiller and take responsibility for what you say. . . and recognize that you can't manage it alone. We don't have what it takes to control our tongues. We need the power and the wisdom that comes from God above.

As you rely on Him, He will change you from the inside out, transform your speech, and bring you more peace in your words. Perhaps you've felt convicted as we've been looking at this passage. You're going, "Ouch! That's me. I have not been using my words wisely. I'm like the captain of that Greek ferry, and I've just let my ship drift on to the rocks. I've just responded out of anger, and I've said things harshly, and I'm bearing the consequences.

The good news is, 

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him (James 1:5 HCSB).

Isn't that wonderful? God's giving generously to us without criticizing. So we need to ask for wisdom, and it will be given. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that it is so very practical. Thank You that You give us instruction on how to manage that muscle between our teeth that wields so much power. I pray that we may be reliant upon You to help us steer our vessel. Help us take responsibility. Help us not blame others for the way we speak.

I pray that I may be responsible in saying, "Yes, God, I am accountable to You, and I want to say what's right. I want to steer my ship in the right way.

Father, I pray for all the women in this room and the women who are listening to this broadcast around the world. I pray that they may examine their hearts; that they would step up to the helm that they have neglected for so long and put their hands to that tiller and steer their tongues and their lives in the right direction. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Nancy: That’s my friend Mary Kassian, challenging all of us to examine the words we've been using. Mary will be right back with some practical tips on how to use our words wisely. I hope that after hearing this important message you will take some time to follow up—not to just be a hearer of the Word but to be a doer.

Ask the Lord to show you if there is any area of your speech that needs to be brought under His control. I know that as I listened to Mary, there were things that came to my own heart. I realized that this was an area where I need God's grace and God's transforming power.

To help you study further on this important topic, we'd like to send you a copy of Mary's Bible study workbook called Conversation Peace. In that study Mary walks through the Scripture to help us see that life and death are in the power of the tongue.

In this workbook Mary also helps us think through practical applications of what we are studying. It's the chance to hear the truth of God's Word on the topic that comes up every day, with a lot of practical follow through.

You can find Mary's workbook, Conversation Peace, at Christian bookstores or online retailers, but for the next couple of weeks, we'd like to send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. When you donate to this ministry, you are helping to keep a door open for us to speak truth to women around the world. Without that support, this door would shut.

So be sure to ask for a copy of Mary's workbook, Conversation Peace, when you call with your gift. The number to call is 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at

Mary Kassian says that our words are like plants that are connected to the roots of our attitudes. Those attitudes are buried in the soil of our beliefs and attitudes. She'll explain more tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

To close our time today, here's Mary to talk about one practical way to follow up on the teaching we heard today.

Mary: One of the best ways to take responsibility for your words is to actually use "I" statements. That actually does work for me to take responsibility for my words. So instead of just saying, "You're rude." How could you say that better? "I was very hurt by what you just said," or "I feel that you are being rude." There's a big difference there.

Next time, especially when you are dealing with difficult situations, take ownership of your words and use "I" statements. "I think . . ." "I feel . . ." "I assume . . ." You can express the same thought and the same sentiment but take ownership of it when you speak those words.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture was taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Speaker

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian is an award-winning author, an internationally-renowned speaker, and a frequent guest on Revive Our Hearts. She has written more than a dozen books and Bible studies, including …

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