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Avoiding Negativity

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Avoiding Negativity’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 1/11/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

Life and Death

Many of us grew up with an old adage: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” This was an attempt, by parents and teachers, to toughen us up and prepare us for a world where speech is uncensored and people can say anything they want. The truth is, however, that names – more generally, words – are far stronger than sticks and stones. Our words make a difference.

A man’s stomach shall be satisfied from the fruit of his mouth, from the produce of his lips he shall be filled. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. – Prov 18:20-21

The productivity of our speech – the fruit of our mouth – determines whether or not we will be satisfied (“filled;” v 20 above). We have the ability to speak life over our circumstances, our bodies, and our friends and family. Those who appreciate that fact will enjoy the reward of that understanding. Those who do not respect the tongue, however, are in danger of speaking out death instead of life.

In the Creation Story, God spoke the earth into existence. The Psalmist recalls this with reverence and awe:

For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. – Ps 33:9           

Everything around us is the result of God’s Word, spoken out into an atmosphere filled with His Holy Spirit (see Gen 1:2). Without God’s spoken word, everything we see around us would not exist.

Genesis 1:27 says that we are made in His image. In other words, our mandate is the same: speak life into circumstances and situations where His Holy Spirit is ready to effect change. Just as God’s words are incredibly powerful, so too are ours.

Mythbusters, a popular television show known for investigating scientific claims, conducted an experiment to determine if human speech could affect plant growth. The hosts of the show took 60 pea plants and divided them into groups. The soundtrack of a human voice was played over some of the plants, and others received complete silence.

This study[1] found that the plants that grew in silence produced smaller biomass (overall plant size) and smaller pea pods (seed size) than those that had been exposed to the human voice. So, what’s the implication?

Creation – our environment – responds to our words. When we speak, creation listens. Paul spoke about this to the Church at Rome:

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. – Rom 8:19-22

Creation, collectively, is waiting and groaning. But for what? For sons and daughters of God to understand the power of our words, and to rise up to the challenge presented by the responsibility we have been given.

God has given us the power of life and death in our tongues. Creation is waiting, ready to respond, for us to speak life and redemption into the world surrounding us. Are you ready to rise to the challenge?

Your Words Matter for You

The words you speak over yourself are incredibly significant. You have the power to speak life over your own body and situation, or death: through sarcasm and negativity. If you live in New York City like me, the pervasive attitude is negative speech; but that is a poison which we must avoid at all times.

The words we speak over ourselves have a direct effect on whether or not God’s blessings will materialize in our lives. God is a good God. He wants to bless us. In fact, the first thing God did after forming man was to bless him (Gen 1:28). That sets the precedent for His intent for all of human history. But we can actually prevent God’s blessings from reaching us by blocking them with curses we speak over ourselves. We can shut off the rivers of living water He intends to wash over us with negative speech.

When we speak negative words out over ourselves, we partner with negativity: we’re quite literally agreeing with everything Satan would have us proclaim for our life, instead of declaring what God wants us to assert. Do you see the danger here?

We see Saul fall into this trap. He makes a few mistakes as King of Israel, and is quite clearly no longer fit for the throne. Yet instead of repenting and asking God to bless him, he partners with Satan through negative speech. He recited the exact words Satan would love for him to say, and allowed destruction to enter his life:

So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. And Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” So Saul eyed David from that day forward. And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice. – 1 Samuel 18:5-11 (bold added by author)

As the women of Israel celebrated Israel’s military victory, they said something about Saul that he didn’t like. Instead of adopting an attitude of joy because of everything the women had spoken about David, he adopted an attitude of hate because their words about David were more spectacular than their words about him.

Saul’s first spoken response was a negative one: “Well, David might as well just take the whole Kingdom!” Instead of taking everything he had just heard to prayer, Saul agreed with everything the naysayers were saying about him. He partnered with negativity – with Satan – and allowed him into his life.

The result was terrible. First, the enemy controlled his speech:

And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit…came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house… – 1 Sam 18:10

“Prophesy” in this verse does not have the positive connotation it usually carries. The text specifically states that Saul “prophesied” under the influence of an evil spirit. Saul was not uttering speech from God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit; but from Satan, under the influence of a distressing spirit. He continued to speak out negativity.

But it didn’t stop there. The distressing spirit also controlled his actions. In verse 11 above, we see that Saul tries to kill David! This was an all-out war on Saul’s sanity, and the enemy gained ground as Saul partnered with him through negative speech.

The most pervasive example of negative speech is an acronym of which you’ve probably heard: FML. If you don’t know what it stands for, do a quick Google search. I see it on social media all the time; I also hear people speak the full-length version over themselves in public. I even see some people hash-tagging it! Don’t make this a trend in your life. In fact, if we know each other and I ever see you say this on social media, we’re going to have problems.

If you proclaim “FML” over yourself, rest assured: your L will be F-ed. It seems like a harmless saying, but this is the type of negative speech we’ve adopted. Instead of speaking blessing over our bodies and our lives, we speak curses. What seems like harmless sarcasm erupts into an invitation for negativity in every area of our lives. Instead, we should be saying “BML!”

When you’re encountered by negative circumstances, how do you respond? Our first words in reaction to negative circumstances are incredibly important. They set the tone for our emotions, and more generally determine God’s ability to work in and through our situation.

Gary Selman, from the Center for Christianity in Business at the Houston Baptist University, puts it like this:

“Words are the building blocks that pave the road to our destiny. Words shape and determine our thinking; our thinking shapes and determines our emotions; our emotions shape and determine our decisions; our decisions shape and determine our actions; our actions shape and determine our habits; our habits shape and determine our character and our character shapes and determines our destiny.” [2]

The words we speak over ourselves really do matter. The sooner we come to appreciate that fact, the better.

Your Words Matter for Others

The words we speak over other people also matter! David reflects like this:

“I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle, while the wicked are before me.” – Ps 39:1

David knew that he had to keep watch over his tongue to avoid speaking out negative things. He committed to watch his mouth, even against speaking out against wicked people.

There are two common applications for this principle. First, we must guard our tongue when somebody says something that offends us. The perfect example is getting cut off in rush-hour traffic; but it also might happen when you’re packed into a crowded subway car and you catch a random armpit to the face. What do you say? Do you condemn that person, or do you bless them? Do you speak out negativity, or breathe life into their bones (see Ezek 37)?

Second, we must refuse to partner in negativity with the people around us. When a friend, family member, or even a random person wants to share their dislike of someone else with you, don’t let them. When a co-worker wants to share lunch and talk badly about your mutual boss, do you change the subject? This is a great opportunity to avoid partnering with them in negativity.

Matthew 18:19 speaks to the power of agreement between two people. We should use that power for good, and not for evil. We must agree through prayer for heaven to come to earth; but refuse to agree to allow hell to move. Do you partner with the people around you in their negativity? Or do you refuse, instead speaking blessings over those very people they seek to curse?

Our Biblical responsibilities in cases like these are very clear:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” – Matt 5:43-44

First, we are to love them. Got it. Then, we must bless them. Fine; I guess I can make that happen. Then, we are supposed to do good to them?! Hold on one second. Finally, we’re supposed to pray for them! NO WAY!

When someone uses you, persecutes you, hates you and even tries to curse you, our response should be the opposite. Are you praying for the very people you would love to retaliate against? Are you picking random opportunities to bless them when they least expect it, either with kind words or unplanned gifts? What would your office look like if you bought your conniving co-worker a Starbucks gift card and told him God loves him?

Inevitably, we will fall short of our Biblical mandate to respond to hate with love. That reaction runs completely contrary to the tendencies of our flesh. But that does not mean that perfect love should not be our goal. We are supposed to respond with love, so that we may be,

“…sons of [our] Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matt 5:45-48

We are called to a higher standard because we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us. If we don’t show love, who else will?

We will be the only Jesus some people see. Are you making His name famous for the right reasons? Are you allowing people to believe that the Gospel message is true, or interfering with their acceptance of Jesus Christ? Are you maintaining an accurate representation of a God who loves all His children?

It is not your responsibility to respond in kind. God promises that He will take care of the people who rub you the wrong way:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Rom 12:17-21

We don’t have to bless the people around us; we get to. God promises He will take care of everything else. So, you really want to get back at someone? Bless them really good! Then let God take care of the rest.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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