I’ve mentioned many times in this blog how I attend a Saturday morning men’s prayer group and how it provides such great inspiration and encouragement and wisdom that I can use throughout the week. This past Saturday was no exception – and the one thing that made the greatest impression on me was a simple story a gentleman told of how, since his now two-year-old grandson was born, he has recited to the lad “You are a good boy.” Then this past week the little boy for the first time repeated those words: “I’m a good boy.”
This is something I too have tried to engrain in my own three grandchildren, in my imperfect way, encouraging them that they are good, that the little things they do are done well, that whatever they scribble on paper is beautiful, and that they are loved regardless of their behavior.
Of course many “realists” will point out, that man’s grandson and my grandkids are going to face many future challenges. They’ll be tempted from all sides: peers, things they’ll see and hear in the media, their liberal educators, even the public school curriculum which is designed to lead them down deviant paths. While that’s all true, it doesn’t take anything away from the spiritual law that I simply call the Law of Words.
About 3070 years ago, the Law of Words was recorded by a God-inspired King Solomon in what we now call the Book of Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 21: “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” The Law of Words is no less valid and operative a spiritual law than the law of gravity, the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics and the law of aerodynamics are valid and operative laws of our natural world. And finally, many 21st Century secular doctors and psychologists are beginning to recognize the Law of Words as a legitimate principle of life: that the words we speak and hear impact us physically, emotionally and mentally, and can even be manipulated to cause changes in each of these areas.
The World of Psychology (the Internet’s longest-running psychology & mental health blog) recently did a review of Words Can Change Your Brain, a book written by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman. These experts on neuroscience and communication contend that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” They explain the science of how positive words can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning and propel the motivational centers of the brain into action and build resiliency. Conversely, hostile or negative language disrupts specific genes that play a key part in the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress, increasing the activity in our amygdala (the fear center of the brain). Angry words even send alarm messages through the brain and partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes. According to the authors, using the right words can transform our reality: “… the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others; whereas a negative self-image will incline you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”
This is a highly scientific explanation for what the Bible states in simple language from cover to cover. The Word of God of course was not written primarily to enhance our understanding of science, but to prepare God’s people to live counter-cultural lives, and to be thoughtful, engaged lovers of wisdom, and lovers of God and neighbor.
A millennium after Solomon, Jesus cautioned His disciples as well as the people who were contending with Him: “… every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” His apostle James later said it a little differently as he talked about the power of the words we speak: “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” And the great 20th Century Christian author, university professor and lecturer C. S. Lewis put it in terms of belief, when he said: “We are what we believe we are.” As a student of the Bible, Lewis clearly understood that, by extension, we will say we are what we believe we are.
A Life Lesson: Preach to yourself what God intends for you to become
An amusing characterization of the Law of Words is the British medical comedy drama series “Doc Martin,” which just completed its sixth season on public television. The “anti-hero” of the show is a gruff, ill-mannered, cold and abrasive doctor whose lack of social skills offends many of the villagers who are also his patients. We eventually learn that his behavior is the result of his upbringing (or lack thereof) by parents who, though they sent him to the best schools and wanted him to succeed, always focused on his deficiencies and made sure he knew about them. His parent’s intentions may have been good, but the results were not.
Obviously it’s preferable that a person be taught this principle and be encouraged from childhood to see themselves as the person God created them to be and to strive to become that person. My friend’s grandson will never forget the words, “I’m a good boy,” even as he struggles through the temptations the world, the flesh and the devil bring before him. He’ll always know that his PaPa and his God are standing with him to help him get through them.
Yet even adults can benefit and change once they know the truth, that they were created in the spiritual image of their God. People who are taught to say, “I’ll never amount to anything” or “I’m no good” are right. Yet if those same people are taught to recognize and declare: “God created me for greatness, for a heavenly kingdom, even here on earth, and for an important purpose in God’s plan,” they are even more so right. Even if a person (like Dr. Martin Ellingham) didn’t have anyone else to encourage them in their childhood or adult life, once they learn the benefits of preaching to themselves the words and promises that God has declared over them, they will begin to see those promises realized in their life.
Progressives, especially Christian progressives are prone to ridicule the Law of Words as a far-out “name it and claim it” theological heresy or something that those weird “faith preachers” have made up. No! It’s right out of God’s written Word. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis states: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
What say you?