“See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5b-6)

Words have incredible power. They can be used for good or they can be used to destroy lives. Unfortunately, we often use our words for the latter. We fail to consider the chain reaction of devastation that follows unmindful, spiteful, and even deceitful words. Take the following fictional account. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Imagine Mr. Kindle on his way to work on a Monday morning. He is running behind for his 9 a.m. board meeting. Some friends had been over the evening before and he was way past his normal bed time. So, he gently steps on the gas. “Five miles over the speed limit is alright,” he says to himself.

He checks his watch and his rearview mirror, and decides to make it 10 miles and then 15 miles over the speed limit. Unbeknownst to him, a police officer at the intersection clocks him at 20 miles over in a school zone! She pulls him over and gives him a tongue-lashing and a ticket to go with it. Mr. Kindle is furious: “Look at this cop giving me a ticket instead of catching some real criminal out there! Now, I’m really late!”

He rushes into the office, yelling for his secretary, “Mrs. Henderson! Where are the handouts for the meeting?” Mrs. Henderson is a little confused because he had to told her Friday evening not to worry about anything. She tries to explain, but he interjects, “Stop making excuses and get me those files now!” He mumbles loud enough for Mrs. Henderson to hear, “Maybe I need a new secretary.” Mrs. Henderson is now incensed. She stomps back to her office mumbling, “How dare he talk to me that way! Maybe, I need a new boss!” As she is turning on her computer, she notices the new temp Karen across the hall scrolling on her phone. “Karen!” she yells, “We did not hire you to play on your phone. Get busy or go home.” Karen is now furious: “I was simply trying to access Google docs to help her find the files faster! She can find it herself!”

Karen decides to take an early lunch, still fuming over the morning’s happenings. It’s only 10 a.m. but the line at the drive-thru is wrapped around the restaurant. Just then, Nick, the young trainee, comes over to take Karen’s order. This is his first week on the job. He is nervous, the sun is beating down, and he forgets to greet her properly. Karen is irate “These kids have no social skills!” she says to herself and gives her order in a demeaning tone, emphasizing, “And, I don’t want any salt on the fries. Did you get that?”

She snatches the bag at the window and as she is driving off, she notices that her fries are missing! She’s had enough. She stomps back to the window: “I need to see your manager right now! That young man over there was extremely rude to me and he purposely messed up my order! If you don’t do something about it, I am calling corporate!” Reluctantly, the manager sends Nick home for the day. Nick protests, “That is so unfair! I got her order right! I didn’t bag her food!” He screeches to a halt in his driveway. Just then the family dog Spot runs over to greet him, as always. But Nick is in no mood for that — “Leave me alone, dumb dog!” — and he kicks at him.

What Nick doesn’t notice is that as Spot jumps back, he turns over the charcoal grill in the yard. Even though Nick’s dad had put out the grill the evening before, there was still one smoldering ember and it rolls down into the patch of dry grass behind the house. That afternoon, hundreds of acres of woods were on fire.

Question: Who started the fire? Spot or Nick? Neither. The real verbal arsonist was Mr. Kindle.

Do you ever stop to think about the words you say to others, especially during unexpected and frustrating times? Have you ever considered the damage your words may have caused? As Jesus said in Matthew 12:34b, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If Christ and his words are in our hearts, then kind, uplifting, wise, and Christ-filled words will come forth every time.