"Watch your words," the speaker at the ladies' retreat challenged us. Quoting from James 3, she described how our tongue can corrupt us and poison others. She encouraged us to seek God's help to become like the woman described in Proverbs: "When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness" (Proverbs 31:26). I know my words sometimes hurt others, so I silently asked the Lord to change me.
After the retreat, I thought about what I needed to work on. Just in the previous week, I'd spoken harshly to my friend Julie when she was late for our get-together.
"I've been waiting an hour! Where have you been? You're always late."
Julie winced, and I quickly regretted my angry outburst. I'd exaggerated the situation, which I do when I'm upset. I apologized, but I knew I'd strained our friendship.
That night after the retreat, I prayed, "Lord, please help me control my tongue. I want to encourage others with my words, not hurt them. Show me how to begin. I really want to change. How do I do it?"
I sensed God's reply: Begin by praising me.
I didn't see what praising God had to do with controlling my tongue, but I believed this was God's leading. My prayers had consisted mostly of requests for myself and others. They were genuine needs—not selfish or frivolous desires. But I needed to focus on the Giver of all good things, not on the things.
Starting to Praise
I decided to devote 15 minutes each day solely to praising God. During this time, I would honor God for who he is and thank him for what he's done, but I wouldn't ask for anything.
I took my direction from the psalmist: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name" (Psalm 100:4). I began by thanking God for my salvation, my family, and my health. Other things came quickly to mind: my church, friends, home, and job.
Reviewing the previous day's events revealed God's fingerprints in my life and added to my thank-you list. It also made me think about the many people who touch my life daily. My "often late" friend Julie had been a great encourager during some crucial times, but had I ever thanked her?
Each day as I began my time of worship, I had to fight distractions. Beginning with thanksgiving helped control my wandering thoughts as I focused on God's activity in and around me. Thanking God also prepared my heart for praising him. I found that recognizing who God is and reflecting on his character and attributes require a deeper level of relationship.