Understanding intent and impact

How often have you been in the midst of an argument with someone because the impact of your words was different than your intent?  If I’m honest, I have often looked at the pain in my wife’s face and responded with the lame, passive-aggressive answer of, “But that’s not what I meant!”

So many of us use this as our “get-out-of-jail-free card”.  As long as we didn’t mean to hurt someone, we should be good.  Right?  Not so much.  You and I are responsible for the wake our words and actions leave behind us.

Two summers ago our family went up to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  My middle son was turning six so we decided to rent a boat and go swimming on Pactola Lake.  It is a beautiful lake tucked into the heart of the Black Hills.  As we were cruising out to the main section of the lake, my oldest son kept telling me to “Go faster Daddy!”  He could not understand why we weren’t gunning it immediately.  It was tough to explain how the impact of going fast this close to the dock and shore would create a wake that could be destructive.  He couldn’t make the connection.  His focus was on what was in front of us—the wide-open lake—not the wake our choices were leaving behind.

Though I like to think I’m much more mature than my eight-year-old son, my actions frequently say otherwise.  I speak my mind and expect others to clearly understand me.  I pull up anchor; push off from the dock and gun it for what is in front of me.  Unaware and seemingly uninterested in the wake I have left behind.  I want the intent of my words and actions to trump the impact they may leave behind me.

This cannot continue though.  As a man who believes I am called to a higher standard.  James 1:26 offers a strong admonition to all of us regarding how we control our words—or “tongue” as it states.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  NASB

Without getting into all the original Greek this passage was written in, the bottom line is this:  You and I may say we honor and respect God, we may demonstrate all the external practices of a mature believer but if we do not control and take responsibility for the words of our mouths then the practices of our faith are without purpose or truth—they are worthless.

As men who believe we are responsible for both the intent of our words and the impact they leave in the lives of others.  This is not easy.  It will require more of our time, energy and patience.  The upside is that it will add weight, power and integrity to the faith we are living out in our daily lives.

Joel Thomas


How might your relationships be impacted if you began asking, “How does that make you feel?” after a discussion?

Are there some relationships that have been unintentionally negatively impacted by your words?  If so, make a commitment to seek those people out and resolve those issues.

Suggested Prayer

Father help me to be aware of the impact of my words and to have the courage to lean into conversations where there has been misunderstanding.

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