Words matter. They really matter. So much so they can affect the destiny of a city. That’s what Proverbs 11:11 says: Through the blessing of the upright a city is blessed but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.
The success of a city is influenced and shaped by many things including its sociological, economic, geographical, historical and cultural background. But God says there’s something else that’s crucially important that many don’t see. It’s the importance of our words. That’s because words have impact. The word-smith Eugene Peterson agrees, saying: Words are not mere words – they convey spirit, meaning, energy, and truth.
Prov 11:11 says that if we get our words right a city can be exalted. It can be lifted up. And flourish. But get our words wrong, and it can flounder. Fail. Fall. In that stark way that Proverbs work, we’re confronted with a simple question: will we use words to bless, or to destroy?
According to one dictionary, to ‘bless’ is to: invoke divine favour on. To confer well-being or prosperity on. To endow with talent. To honour as holy. Use words like that and our city will be exalted. So how does this happen? When I spoke at St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer (YHOP) on this recently I mentioned 5 kinds of words spoken to us and by us that can have impact:
1) words we RECEIVE from people
2) words we SPEAK to people
3) words we WRITE to people
4) words we PRAY
5) words we DECLARE
We need to take care with what we do with all these words. Words spoken about us and over us (especially as children) shape us more than we realise. The way we speak to others and write (especially in emails and texts) has the capacity to encourage or discourage, to build up or tear down. And our prayers in particular reach the heart of God and can change circumstances and lives. When praying with someone our words are particularly important, having the capacity to speak hope to challenge hopelessness and truth to counter lies.
Words of declaration are also important. These are statements of truth and can be spoken not only over individuals but also over communities and nations. Declarations can bring transformation, because (whether people realise it or not) they can be a form of prophecy. You declare into being that which in time comes to pass.
John F Kennedy famously declared, on 25 May 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That was an impossible thought for most. But what happened? On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, taking ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’.
Some declarations are evil and destructive (as Prov 11:11 says). Think of Hitler’s proclamations about the Jews in the 1930’s. He spoke into being that which later took place – with terrible consequences.
The Church Fathers knew that declarations were powerful. That’s why they produced creeds. Creeds are not just doctrinal statements – they’re made to be declared! In proclaiming them, truth is spoken into lives, cities and into heavenly places. When we declare over our city that most basic creed that ‘Jesus is Lord’ we’re not only expressing truth, but prophetically declaring that Christ is and will be Lord over our city. We are speaking and declaring blessing. And we can do that over individuals, families, streets, villages, towns, cities, regions and nations. Over churches, organisations, businesses, councils, governments.
The House of Prayer at Fald-y-Brenin in Wales has been doing this for a number of years now, and as a result are seeing signs of wonderful transformation in their community. Here’s how they describe it and how they pray:
Every week we speak blessings over our neighbours and immediate locality. In Luke 10 we read that Jesus taught the disciples to declare peace over a village or town before entering it… There is a strong tendency for Christians to criticise and judge people and behaviours we term sinful… We are going to change all of that and have a heart to love and to bless, to see good and trust God to deal with the bad. We are going to speak light into darkness and life to the dead, not in judgment but in compassion and love for the sake of Jesus.
Imagine what could happen if not just a few isolated individuals but many people choose to speak words like that? Kind words. Good words. Words of blessing. When God’s people use words like that, cities begin to change.
Our words are much more powerful than most of us realise.