Monday night, as I was looking out the back door, I noticed what looked like a giant brown cloud floating across the sky. It had been so windy all day and so my first thought was that the wind had kicked up a large amount of dirt. However, as my wife and I drove across town that night we quickly learned that the brown cloud was certainly not just dirt. It was smoke. As we got closer to the beautiful Rocky Mountains we learned that the smoke was coming from a fire that had started a couple of miles into the foothills. It turned out that the fire, which had started out as just a few small acres, had quickly grown to over 100 acres and was still growing. The high winds were only causing the fire to spread faster and grow stronger. It was truly incredible how quickly the fire had grown.
That night, after making my way across town to the school, I read through the book of James (an assignment for one of my classes). Naturally, I stopped when I came to this verse in James 3:5-6: “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” I paused, considering what I had seen that night. I knew fires could spread quickly but after reading online about how fast the fire in the foothills had truly spread, I couldn’t help but spend some time thinking about how our tongue can be the same way.
Our tongue, when used improperly, can be just as dangerous as fire. It may not cause millions of dollars worth of damage or put anyone’s physical lives in danger, but it certainly can put our own spiritual life in danger and can be harmful to others. Just like a wildfire, it may only begin with a small spark. Before we know it though, that one small spark has erupted into a massive fire. Without meaning to, we can cause enormous problems in our lives and the lives of those around us because we refuse to show self-control when it comes to our tongue. “It’s just one small lie,” we tell ourselves. Then, that one lie grows into a series of bigger lies and deceptions. “It’s fine if I talk about this person behind their back,” we say, “they’ll never find out we said something.” That is until the individual we’ve been gossiping about hears what we’ve said and we have now hurt or destroyed a relationship. Or maybe we say, “It’s not a big deal if I cuss in front of them. They’re my close friends and they don’t mind.” Unfortunately, we’ve now set a bad example for those friends and the language of the group has grown out of control.
Anyone who’s ever camped in the Rocky Mountains has probably seen a sign in which Smoky the Bear warns, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Smoky’s words of wisdom carry far beyond good practices while camping in the woods. When it comes to the way that we use our tongue, only you can prevent the “wildfires” that your tongue can produce. It’s up to us as an individual to control the things we say. Take some time today to read all of James 3 and reflect on what you can do to gain better control of your tongue. Remember, it may only seem like a small spark, but before you know it that one spark can grow into a raging fire, destroying anything and anyone in its path.