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Reflections: Who's putting your bridle on?

It would be hard to rank the importance of different parts of the Bible, since it all works together, but studying the book of James, I think it’s certainly one of the most practical! Chapter 3 hits hard, about the power of the tongue—a small part of the body, but one with enormous power to do either harm or good.


James uses different imagery to illustrate that power—a comparatively small rudder that steers an enormous ship; a small spark that starts a forest fire; a small metal bit in a horse’s mouth that controls a large animal.


When I was little, my dad plowed our garden with the help of a horse named Dolly. Gentle and well-trained, Dolly knew a lot about plowing and even allowed me, a fumbling 4-year-old, to help put her bit and bridle on, likely because she knew my dad was really in charge. She followed his verbal commands, but if we left the familiarity of the garden to go further from home, either on her back or in our hay wagon, the reins were there to guide her if something unexpected arose. Dolly accepted the bit in her mouth because she knew she could trust the person who also brushed her, kept her harness and feet clean, and made sure she was well-fed.


Like Dolly’s bit and bridle, the Holy Spirit is there to guide us in what we say—but we must open our hearts to God’s prompting and listen. Jesus cautioned his disciples about choosing words carefully: “But I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36, ESV). And in teaching about character, he reminded his followers to examine their heart motives, because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).


Much of what is said in today’s world seems to illustrate James’s continued comments in chapter 3, as he points out that blessings and curses can’t come from the same source. It tends to make me wonder who, or what, is putting the bridle on some of the voices in today’s culture—students spending more time protesting and demonstrating than in their classes; politicians whose voting record doesn’t line up with their campaign rhetoric; the list could go on. 


A great example of a changed heart followed by changed speech is the Apostle Peter, who went from denying Christ to preaching a Holy Spirit-inspired sermon on the Day of Pentecost. And James himself, as Jesus’ half-brother, had plenty of opportunities to observe, but he truly believed and put his knowledge into action when he realized the truth of the resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit, becoming a leader in the early Church.


When we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts, and our speech, we will speak encouragement to friends and fellow believers, choose appropriate ways to confront wrong, and graciously say the hard things when necessary. Spending quiet time in prayer and Bible study each morning is an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to put our bit and bridle on.

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