oul language, or profanity, is becoming increasingly widespread in our society. A 2008 study of Internet users found frequent vulgarity on the Web, and a 2006 study revealed that people type obscenities in chat rooms about once every two minutes.1 An Associated Press/Ipsos poll2 from 2006 showed that “74 percent of Americans acknowledged they encountered profanity in public frequently or occasionally and 66 percent agreed that, as a rule, people curse more today than 20 years ago.”3 Field studies “indicate that those who [swear] utter 80 to 90 taboo words per day, out of an average of 15,000 to 16,000 words [people] speak daily.”4
McKay Hatch, a California teen who got tired of students at his school constantly using profanity, started a group called the No Cussing Club in 2007. Some people have targeted McKay with harassment, pranks, and even death threats. But McKay says that he doesn’t want to take away people’s right to free speech; he just wants to challenge them to speak words that don’t offend others. Plenty of people agree with him. Now the No Cussing Club has more than 30,000 members in 50 states and 30 countries worldwide.5
Jesus warned people in Matthew 12:34-36 about the impact of the words they speak: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”
Those who profess Christianity usually don’t go around spouting obscenities, but if we let a few profane words slip out of our mouths from time to time when we get upset, we still need to get our speech under control. What do you say when you accidentally stub your toe or slam your hand in a car door? Are you surprised by what comes out of your mouth during an argument with your spouse?
Our words aren’t just casual expressions that don’t really affect those around us. Words have incredible power. They can either build up or destroy nations, families, churches, careers, or businesses. While negative words can hurt other people and dishonor God, positive words can bless others and honor God. God in His Word calls us to join in the prayer from Psalm 19:14 that urges: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Here’s how you can use your words for blessing, not cursing:
1. Confess and repent. Admit the times you’ve spoken words that don’t please God and that hurt others, acknowledge that profanity is wrong, and decide to stop cussing once and for all.
2. Ask God to help you control your speech. Don’t unleash destructive power through negative words. But rather than just avoiding negative speech, strive to speak positive words as often as possible. If you allow your mouth to become God’s servant, there’s no end to the good He can accomplish through you.
3. Check your thoughts. Remember that Jesus said the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. Take an honest look at what attitudes are lurking in your heart. Every attitude in your heart begins with a thought in your mind. Examine what tempts you to use profanity, and pray for God to give you the strength to confront and overcome those temptations. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind by getting rid of negative thoughts and filling it with positive thoughts. Pay attention to how you think in different situations, and try keeping a record of your thoughts for a while so you can go back to it and study it later to better understand what goes through your mind. Pay special attention to how physical or emotional stress affects your thoughts, and be aware that you’re especially vulnerable during times when you’re hungry, tired, or upset about something.
4. Consider what you’re allowing to come into your mind through your senses. What are you listening to, looking at, or reading? Does it honor God, or does it contain profanity that dishonors Him? If you’re drawn to something that dishonors God, why are you drawn to it? Ask God to help you choose better words, sounds, and images to feed your mind. Your mind is a spiritual battleground. Although evil forces want to bombard your mind with negative thoughts, the Holy Spirit offers you greater power to think positively. Be patient and thorough as you deal with negative thoughts, taking each one captive and making it obedient to Christ. Monitor your thoughts and continually ask yourself if they align with God’s truths expressed in the Bible.
5. Read the Bible often and meditate on what it says. Ask God to help you absorb the truths in His Word so they begin to transform you—including the way you speak.
6. Ask a trusted friend who has a mature relationship with Christ to help you be accountable for the way you speak. Meet with this person regularly to candidly discuss your process of overcoming profanity, and pray together to keep growing.
7. Pray for people you have hurt—either purposely or inadvertently—by speaking profanity. Also pray for people who have hurt you in the past through their negative words. Forgive them and ask God to let them be aware of His loving presence.
8. Be bold when confronting people who speak profanity in your presence. Remember that the consequences of listening far outweigh the awkwardness of taking a stand against the negativity. The speaker’s feelings may temporarily be hurt, but you will be helping the person more than hurting them.
Whitney von Lake Hopler is a full-time freelance writer living in Virginia. This article was published June 17, 2010.