Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. – Psalm 141:3
That verse was pinned to my cubicle wall at my first job after graduating college.
As a proofreader, I dealt with written words all day, but I also dealt with office gossip. I quickly realized that this verse needed to be in front of me at all times.
I’ve long since graduated to a comfortable home office, but that verse has become so ingrained upon my thoughts and prayers that I don’t need to post it anywhere.
While I’ve always understood its basic meaning – shut your mouth before you say something you shouldn’t – I hadn’t considered until recently its full meaning according to the culture of the Psalmist’s time.
A watchman stood guard in a tower atop the walls of ancient cities; a rotating guard was often posted, all night, every night. A city’s walls were its first and best means of protection, and if the watchman failed in his duty, an enemy could breach the walls, destroy the city, and enslave or kill its inhabitants.
Within every city wall were gates fitted with stout wooden doors. Though open during the day – not only for people to pass through, but as a meeting place and center of official activity – the doors were closed and barred at night against would-be attackers.
Nobody in, and nobody out.
The Psalmist certainly recognized the power and influence of the spoken word, and he asked God to guard his word-gate. Without the Lord as watchman, the Psalmist knew that his words could destroy his own reputation or be the death of others’ reputations. He could leave people wounded and defenseless, perhaps hurting them in a way from which they might never recover.
Or, his words could protect and shelter others, as God intended.
With that in mind, he strove to keep his mouth closed when it should be; and when it was open, he asked that it be guarded and guided by the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that I might take to heart the meaning of this verse. I don’t want any words to escape my lips that should remain unsaid. Instead, I want my words to encourage and strengthen others.
What other verses about the power of words inspire you?