The poisonous power of words

Today's devotional is penned by Dave Burke


Read: Psalm 3 and 69

A couple of years ago I went to a conference at Holy Trinity Brompton. A young blonde woman was taking my details at registration and asked how old I was. ‘Fifty-eight’, I said. ‘Wow’, she replied, ‘You’re looking great for fifty-eight!’

I have felt very different about myself ever since!

Sadly, negative words are far more common than encouraging ones and they exert more power. Slander, mockery and ill-judged criticism are toxins that linger in the soul and poison our minds – often for decades after those words were spoken. Psalm 69 is all about the toxic power of words.

David had many enemies, and often went in fear of his life. But on this occasion, denied the satisfaction of sinking an actual dagger into his back, his enemies did the next best thing; they poisoned his soul with negative words.

To his credit, he did not let this fester but talked it out – actually, he wrote about it and sang it out – before God. His angst became worship. Here’s what he actually said.

I am in pain and distress,

may your salvation, O God, protect me.

I will praise God’s name in song,

and glorify him with thanksgiving.

(Psalm 69:29-30)

The people who wrote the Psalms were pioneers of the therapeutic power of worship. We should try it sometime!

But David tries another strategy too, ‘the therapeutic power of cursing’! Read verses 22-28 here is a solemn, systematic request that God may blight every aspect of the lives of David’s enemies. This is very Old Testament, but it is not very Christian, is it?

John’s gospel uses Psalm 69 to describe how Jesus felt. Why not look up these verses:

‘Those who hate me without reason’ (verse 4 - John 15:25)

‘Zeal for your house consumes me’ (verse 9 - John 2:17)

‘They… gave me vinegar for my thirst’ (verse 21 - John 19:28-30)

Finding himself in a Psalm 69 type situation, Jesus could not have been more different to his ancestor, David. Where David fumes with poisonous curses Jesus says, ‘Father forgive them…’. This contrast, David cursing his tormentors, and Jesus praying for his, brings out the gulf between accepted attitudes in Old Testament saints and those in the New.”

There is nothing more human to answer toxic words with a poisonous response – at least, I find it to be instinctive. But Jesus knew a better way of healing, for the world as a whole and our own souls… “Father forgive…”

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