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“See how great a forest a little fire kindles!Andthe tongueisa fire, a world ofiniquity.” (James 3:5b-6a)

Wildfires are terrifying and tragic.

No one yet knows for certain the origin of the horrific fires earlier this month in Lahaina, Maui.* Drought and windy weather set the perfect stage for a small spark to turn into a raging inferno. The dry grassland added fuel, and the ensuing catastrophe left hundreds dead or missing.1

The Maui fire is reminiscent of the November 2016 fire at Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains near us. (That deadly blaze caused 14 deaths, with 190 people injured.2) In both situations, the explosive firestorms gave people little time to escape and cost millions of dollars in property damage, involving a long recovery. 

This summer’s wildfires in Canada have burned nearly 34 million acres of forestland and killed four firefighters. The smoke has wafted over much of the eastern half of the United States for months, resulting in dismal air quality, especially in urban areas.3 Even as far south as we live in Appalachia, I can look out our windows this evening and see the haze of smoke from Canada on our nearby mountain ridges. 

Fire can be a blessing. It warms our homes in winter, cooks our food, and illuminates our surroundings from candles. These recent fires, however, point us to its intensely destructive power as well. A little flame can grow into a monster that burns, consumes, and kills.

The same can be said for our tongues. 

James, the brother of Christ, uses fire as a metaphor for the outpouring of our thoughts into words. He describes the tongue as a “world” of wickedness, ignited by hell itself: The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell…no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God…. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:6b8-910b)

That’s a real tongue-lashing from James, isn’t it? 

Unfortunately, he is correct in his assessment of God’s truth for us. We are prone to blurt out critical or angry words before thinking of the consequences. That’s especially true for those of us (like me) with impulsive mouths! These volcanic eruptions begin in our hearts. If we have poisonous thoughts, we’ll have venomous words that are painful and deadly. 

Once something is said, you can’t easily take it back, like the proverbial toothpaste squeezed out of the tube. When our words attack, whether in writing or verbally delivered, they have a powerful impact on those who fall under their assault. It’s not easy to have skin thick enough to withstand their effects. James is right to compare the resulting emotional damage to the aftermath of a blaze.

The Gatlinburg firestorm destroyed many homes, acres of woodlands, and 14 lives.

How do we avoid falling into this firetrap? Here are a few “fire extinguisher” ideas for you:

  • Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to start in your heart. Ask Him to drive out all critical spirits that may have taken up residence in you.
  • Pause. Breathe in Jesus, breathe out Satan. Count to at least five before speaking. Or say nothing.
  • Plan ahead. Gather your thoughts before an encounter, and be prepared for what you should say. 
  • Positive-ize your phrases. Take the words you wish to say (or write), and turn the negatives into positives. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t neglect again to take out the garbage,” change it to “Remember to take the garbage out…I’ll write you a note.”
  • Put on the full armor of God. Grab the shield of faith with which you can extinguish the “flaming darts” of Satan. Recognize that hurtful words are the work of the devil; forgive others.
  • Praise God. Let your tongue be a fountain of praise to God as well as a source of warmth, provision, and illumination for someone else. Make your speech a complete joy for everyone. Thank Him in advance for the help and comfort of His Holy Spirit.

James doesn’t leave us hopeless. He guides us toward the reward of true repentance, telling us to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord—with the promise that He will lift us up (James 4:10). And, he affirms that God is “very compassionate and merciful,” ready to pour out His grace upon us (James 5:11).

My prayer this week is that you and I may be more like Jesus in our thought life and words. As we focus on Him, may we lift up our voices and prayers for Him to fuel a wildfire of revival! 

Lord Jesus, I confess that I too often speak before thinking…and that my heart, full of selfish attitudes or fear, has generated a firestorm of damage. Please forgive me for the times when my words have been hurtful to others. Fill me with the healing, positive phrases that will bless those around me and lead them to You. In Your name, Amen. 

(*Please pray for those who have lost loved ones in Maui, for those who have nothing left but ashes. Pray that God will uphold them, turn their eyes toward Him in their grief, and help them with their recovery effort.) 




#lahaina #gatlinburgfire #canadawildfires #smokefromcanada #smokemap #mauifire #tamingthetongue

© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Republished with permission from, featuring inspiring Bible verses about The Privileged Life: “Fire Extinguishers” for Our Tongues.

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