“Their tongue shall be their downfall.” (64:9)
Sir Walter Scott wrote, “O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” One lie builds on the next and on the next. Eventually, the whole ungainly pile falls down under its own weight.
Sometime in the first half of the 19th century, a Reverend Mr. Stuart, advised three questions to be put to ourselves before speaking evil of any person: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Whether it is the tongue or the fingers we are exercising, we would be wise to heed Mr. Stuart’s advice.
“The mouth of liars will be stopped up.” (63:12)
We first tell a lie to avoid making ourselves look bad and then to make ourselves look better. A successful lie is an ego boost, causing the spotlight of adoration to swing our way. Lying becomes habitual when we feed our ego a series of little lies. The now overfed ego can no longer survive on a normal humble diet, but demands constant stroking and feeding. At this point, bending the truth is a way of life and we no longer notice whether people believe us or not, we thrive on the volume of their attention. The solution — close up the mouth, turn off the lies, and starve the ego into submission.
“My tongue is the pen of an expert scribe.” (45:2)
To be a mesmerizing public speaker may be an art, but Dale Carnegie taught that anyone can learn to be an effective speaker. A scribe does not become expert without practice, and neither does a speaker. By listening to great speakers one can learn to use language well and by watching great comedians one can learn to use silence, pauses, to good effect. But the real secret is to speak from your own experience; in other words, to share your own story. Those who speak with sincere conviction, focus on the important points, and summarize the story by relating the lesson they want the listener to learn will be compelling speakers.
“I did not withhold my words.” (40:10)
There are several ways that the Psalmist’s sentence could end. The conclusion could be regret, futility, or success. I did not withhold my words and I regret having said things that I cannot unsay; or I did not withhold my words but I am glad that I spoke truth to power, even though nothing has changed; or I did not withhold my words and the person or organization I was addressing has changed because of what I said. The first harms relationships and feels bad, so it was better left unsaid. The second feels good but accomplishes nothing, but might have a positive influence on witnesses. The third effected positive change. Before you open your mouth, consider in which category your words are likely to fall.
“No one endures longer than but a breath.” (39:6)
Compared to the tens of thousands of years of modern human history, the life of any individual is no more than a moment. In the scheme of human history, our individual troubles are transitory and trivial. This doesn’t mean that our suffering isn’t real, but it does mean that we should contextualize it with the question, ‘how much is my pain today going to matter in 100 or 1000 years?’ When you get frustrated and feel compelled to strike out, first take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Do this five times, ten times, or twenty times, until the urge to strike has passed. You now have the proper mindset to decide whether and how you should take action.