When I was a senior at Berry College, I needed one more PE credit to graduate. I decided to take horseback riding. I had never ridden a REAL horse before, but I had watched a lot of western movies! So I figured it would be an easy “A.”
During our first class at the stables, I confessed to the instructor that I was a bit nervous due to my inexperience. She smiled with understanding and said, “Don’t worry, we have all sorts of horses. For experienced riders, we have experienced horses. For average riders, we have average horses. For people who have never ridden horses before, we have horses that have never been ridden!”
She found this much more amusing than I did. Then she assigned me to a horse that was over ten feet tall and weighed a gazillion pounds. It’s possible I mis-remember, but I think his name was Bone Crusher!
Over the next weeks, I learned to ride the monster. Maybe it’s a more accurate description to say the horse allowed me to sit on top of it; but I did manage to stay in the saddle at a gentle trot.
However, I never lost the wonder of controlling such a tremendous animal with a pair of reigns and a small bit in its mouth. Just a small amount of pressure directed the horse to go whatever direction I chose.
The New Testament book of James compares control of the tongue to a bit in a horse’s mouth:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. (James 3:3-5)
The tongue is very powerful. It holds within it the possibility of great good and terrible evil. Those who harness its power can accomplish great things. Unfortunately, few of us are skilled in controlling the tongue. Even the holiest of people regularly suffer from slips of the lips.
Our language both reflects and affects who we are as Christians. Changes in the way we speak can transform our lives. However, the task is a lifelong challenge. Begin taming the tongue with silence, listening, and thoughtful speech.
We are called to make the Psalmist’s prayer (Psalm 141:3) our own:
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.