War of Wordsby Paul David Tripp
Length: Approximately 9 hours. To read (245 pages)
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Too often, speaking from the heart is like shooting from the hip: it’s hasty, dangerous, and inaccurate. How can we improve our communication? We need a heart transformation and we need it now. Rather than speaking from the depths of our selfishness, God can change us to speak redemptively to others.
[i]Who should read this? [/i]
Anyone who can speak; anyone who wants to help not hurt; anyone looking to reduce the frequency and severity of arguments. I’m guessing that covers nearly every single adult ever.
Words hurt. Words wound. Words kill. But words also bring healing, relief, and life. God used words to bring worlds into existence, and God will use words to condemn the judged to an eternity apart from Him. To say that words are important is an understatement. To say that we should be judicious in our word choice is obvious.
So why then is this book written? In the words of Mr. Tripp, “It is not a discussion of the techniques and skills for effective communication. Rather, it is the story of the great battle for our hearts that is the reason for our struggle with words.”
And stories he does tell, from the Bible, from his own life, and from his experiences as a pastor and counselor. These stories serve to illustrate the struggles we face in our wars of words. With frequent illustrations from his own life, we become aware that Mr. Tripp is not coming from a place of expertise, but as a co-journeyer, Mr. Tripp humbly offers practical explanations for why we war with words and how to fix the heart problems that arise.
Jesus says that words reveal character. He says that words reflect the heart of a person. When a person believes in Jesus he or she is given a new identity. Christians carry this identity of being little-Christs out into the world, so when Christians speak they speak not as themselves, but as the mouthpiece of Jesus. This of course does not mean that every word that comes from a believer’s mouth issues directly from God Himself, but it means that we represent Christ and should speak as if Jesus Himself is speaking. And how would Jesus speak? Lovingly. Redemptively.
Our natural inclination, when we are upset or hurt by someone else, is to lash out at them with our words. We condemn their actions, or themselves; we defend ourselves; we speak from our pain, woundedness, pride, and vanity. None of this is how Jesus would speak, but since we aren’t Jesus, we reason, our speech really isn’t that bad. We are, after all, saying the sorts of things everyone else says all the time.
But Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Father is perfect, and this perfection includes perfection of speech. Which is impossible. On our own, at least, which is why we need the Lord’s help to transform our speech from hurtful to helpful, always keeping in mind that we speak on behalf of Jesus and need to speak redemptively into the lives of the people around us.
The first step in speaking redemptively is to admit we make mistakes and repent of our hurtful words. Remembering that words flow from the heart, we essentially are repenting for our heart-set of pride and self-centeredness. “Real repentance always involves confession,” says Mr. Tripp, and don’t just confess to God but to the people we have hurt with our words. After confessing our sins we must commit to speaking redemptively into the lives of those around us. Confessing sin is a good start, but if it doesn’t lead to change it is not a redemptive confession. Committing to change our speech patterns will help our patterns actually change.
It is never too late to start; never too late to redeem our words, but we must start – the sooner the better. It won’t be easy – change usually isn’t – but if we commit to practicing speaking as Jesus would speak, slowly but surely our speech patterns will be transformed into ones of which Jesus is proud. Our goal is to speak like the King: redemptively. We must, as Jesus does, choose to speak the truth, in love, with restraint, while gracefully forgiving those around us. We must do this because we speak for the King and bear His name. Nothing less than perfection is acceptable.
My biggest complaint with this book is that the first section of the book didn’t really need to be written. In it Mr. Tripp tells us that words matter and we can hurt or heal people with our words, therefore, be careful. I’m stating the obvious to say that he’s stating the obvious. We all know that words matter and that we can hurt people with our words. How do we know that? Because we all have been hurt by the words of others, and, if we are being honest with ourselves, we all recognize that we ourselves hurt others with our words.
It’s fine to talk about this in a book, but it doesn’t take 60 pages to explain how hurtful words can be and that there is a war of words going on. Taking 60 pages to explain both Biblically and sociologically how damaging our words can be made for a slow start to an otherwise excellent book.
That said, the concluding part of the first section was insightful as Mr. Tripp delved into the root nature of our talk: selfishness, which he labels idolatry. It was fascinating to see ‘hurtful words’ broken down to a heart level, and that chapter was helpful in identifying motivations behind my own hurtful words and thoughts.
In the second section, Mr. Tripp builds his case that we are God’s ambassadors upon the logic of the first section, so there is a nice logical progression to the book. Still, the middle section runs longer than it needs to as some of what he writes about is pretty obvious once you recognize that there is a conflict within us between what we ought to say and what we actually say. Like the first section, there are some good insights scattered throughout – enough to keep my interest in the book, but not enough to make the book a must-read.
But the final section – oooo. The final section is golden! This section is what makes the book worth reading and why I recommend people to read it. I hate to urge people just to skip to the end and read the final section, but I think mature believers who already have examined their own talk-life can reasonably skip to the final section without being greatly confused or at a loss. It contains tips for gaining control of one’s tongue, and Mr. Tripp speaks to the heart – the heart we must have in order to gain control of our tongue and win the war of words.
Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is all the personal anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout the book. These often humorous stories illustrate the point Mr. Tripp makes and they show his own vulnerability and personal war of words. This not only is helpful, but makes the content more believable as it is field tested. First-hand experience doesn’t always assure the most reliable source of information, but when a pastor/counselor writes about the collected first-hand experiences of hundreds or thousands of people, the content is more believable.
But perhaps the greatest strength of this book lies in its approach. Most self-help or Christian living type books have endless lists, or helpful-but-all-too-often-cheesy acronyms for us to remember lists of things that we are to do or not do. If you can remember all 7 or 12 keys then you can level up in Christianity, but if not, there’s always the follow-up book that will be more helpful for your specific case. Thankfully, Mr. Tripp does away with most of that by focusing not on steps but on the heart. His approach is refreshing, insightful, and much needed.
Is it possible to win the war of words? Absolutely not! On our own strength, that is. We must rely on God to guard our tongue, stop tearing down others, and start speaking redemptively into the hearts and lives of those around us. Can we do this? Absolutely! With God’s help, of course.
This book points out what we all know and experience: words hurt. But more importantly, we are called to use our words to speak love, healing, and redemption into others. This is not just the job of pastors and counselors; this is the job of all believers. No it is not easy, but yes it can be done. No it will not happen overnight, but if we keep practicing our words can heal more than they hurt. We can and we must for the sake of Christ, whose name we bear and in whose name we speak.