“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” the old adage goes, “but words will never hurt me.” It didn’t take getting past fourth grade to learn what a bunch of baloney that was. Have you ever thought about how powerful words are? They can build up or tear down. Act as a weapon or a wall. Attract or repel. Words are powerful! Much more powerful than sticks and stones.
I have to confess though, I rarely think of words as building walls. I think of them as destructive or instructive, but not as preventative. But it’s too true; we can use our words to patch together a beautiful barrier to keep from getting hurt or vulnerable. We’ll piece together “legitimate” excuses and fears with ourselves, justifying our hesitancy. We do the same with others. Relationally we keep others outside of arms-reach with the right words and phrases. No one ever has to know what’s going on inside; instead, we use words as a fence to our hearts.
I’m realizing that this problem has serious spiritual implications too. God says in Isaiah 29, “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” In other words, it’s possible to worship with a mouth and not with a heart. Words, then, create a wall to what’s going on inside. The ESV Study Bible sums this up beautifully, “Outwardly proper worship offends God if it is a way of evading him at a deeper level.”
Jesus quotes the passage above in Mark 7:6-7 when rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Jesus pointedly corrects them again, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” In other words, “You’re crafty, but still disobedient. Sure, you talk well and fool many, but you worship me in vain because you’re hearts are far from me. Your ‘worship of God’ is really self-worship. You want others to see your piety rather than truly engage God.”
Do you ever feel like your devotional life is a performance for God? Are you lips and heart having two different conversations? Maybe your words have created a wall between your mouth and heart. The great encouragement in Jesus is that he loves to bust down walls and rip veils. If your trust is in Him as Savior, Lord, and Supreme Treasure, confess your fickleness and inconsistency. Pray that He would create a one-way street from your heart to your mouth. May you live from the inside-out today!