Whip-poor-will Words

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. – Psalm 141:3 NIV



Growing up, my mother would tell me I talked like a Whip-poor-will’s rear-end in flight (though she used a more colorful word). It sounded strange to my young ears, and I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I guessed my lips flapped like a busy little bird’s bottom trying to get from one tree branch to another.


In other words…I talked too much.


Fast forward the years, and I haven’t changed a bit. For me, talking is as necessary as eating and breathing. And though I’ve learned to control myself most of the time, I’m still reminded of my tendency to be a Whip-poor-will.


But I’ve learned it’s not the bird’s backside that represents my talkativeness (though some may argue that point), it’s really the front end of the bird I most relate to.


Whip-poor-wills are known for their constant nighttime singing. Stories, legends, and countless songs have been written about them. Early Native Americans believed that the singing of these bird’s was an omen to death, and American author and humorist James Thurber, wrote a short story titled Whip-poor-will, in which the nonstop, nocturnal singing of this feathered creature caused such severe insomnia for the main character, that he lost his mind, murdered his household, and took his own life just to relieve himself of the irritating twittering.


Who would have thought such a small thing could cause so much discontent and torment?


It’s interesting God says the same thing about our tongue.


Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)


Did you catch it? Our tongue is a world of evil! A tiny morsel of God’s masterpiece capable of untamed destruction, perversity, and wickedness.


So what are we to do? How do we get a handle on this flaming torrent that praises and curses in the same breath?


We can be slow to speak (James 1:9), or promise to impart grace from our mouth (Ephesians 4:29), or toss a quarter into the potty mouth jar every time our lips defy our will.


We can try to say the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, but invariably a mashup of vowels and consonants wielding a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8) will escape our lips and wreak havoc before we even know what’s happening. Then we’ll be reminded that, “You are snared by the words of your mouth; You are taken by the words of your mouth”. (Proverbs 6:2)


Is there a cure, short of cutting the dastardly thing out of our mouth? I love what Bible commentator Matthew Henry said about the challenges of taming our tongues:

“No man can tame the tongue without supernatural grace and assistance.”


It’s difficult, but not impossible. It will take considerable mindfulness, pains, and prayer to keep it under wraps, but God is never far away.


Words are a reflection of our heart. What is burning in our heart will eventually escape our mouths. So as we pray for God’s supernatural grace and help to guard our lips, may we also ask Him to put out the flames of anger, bitterness, and strife deep within, and replace them a fiery passion for love, peace, praise, and joy for one another, and for Him.


Verses to ponder…

  • May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NIV
  • Let my mouth be filled with Your praise, And with Your glory all the day. Psalm 71:8 NKJV
  • But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. Matthew 15:18 NIV
  • A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, And a word spoken in due season, how good it is! Proverbs 15:23 NKJV

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