FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Power of the Tongue

with Dave and Ann Wilson | September 12, 2019
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Words can encourage and give life, or they can destroy and kill. Dave and Ann Wilson tell how they learned this principle the hard way in their marriage and family.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Words can encourage and give life, or they can destroy and kill. Dave and Ann Wilson tell how they learned this principle the hard way in their marriage and family, on “FamilyLife Today.”

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The Power of the Tongue

With Dave and Ann Wilson
September 12, 2019
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Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 12th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue. So, have you been using your tongue to promote life in your marriage or death? We’ll hear more about that today. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I heard you guys share a story; in fact, we were at an event together. You were speaking to the audience. I think I’ve heard this story before, but it is such a great story. The moral of the story is: “We’ve got to watch our words, because our words are powerful in our relationship”; right?

Dave: Yes.

Bob: But the story that gets us there—I want our listeners—[Laughter]—to hear this today.

Dave: We’re laughing, because it wasn’t—it didn’t end the way I thought it would.

Ann: Oh, boy.

Dave: In fact, I’m pretty embarrassed at how it ended.

Ann: Yes; you’re going to realize who the true Dave and Ann Wilson are after you listen to this.

Bob: This winds up being one of the chapters in your book, Vertical Marriage; right?

Dave: Yes.

Bob: We’ll share this with our listeners—they are going to get a chance to hear you tell the story.

I need to, first of all, remind our listeners—if you have any interest, and I hope you do—in coming to one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways this fall, this week is the week to get in touch with us. The reason is because, this week and next week, if you register for the conference, you pay for yourself; and your spouse comes free. It’s half off the regular registration fee for you to attend a Weekend to Remember getaway.

Dave: That would get me right there. I mean—

Bob: You’re in thrifty mode; right?

Dave: Yes; yes.

Bob: So, here’s a chance to get a weekend away together and to save some money doing it. We do this at the beginning of the fall season, just to encourage listeners: “Find a weekend that you can get away; find a location that’s near you or a location that you want to travel to, and invest in your marriage—

Dave: Yes.

Bob: —to take the time and cordon off a weekend. Everybody ought to be doing that every year, whether it’s a Weekend to Remember or whatever—a weekend away, focused on marriage every year. Don’t you think?

Ann: Absolutely. We talk about that in our book, actually; and we have done that every year. I think that’s one of the most important deposits we’ve made in our marriage.

Dave: And all you guys, thinking, “It’s the fall, and I’m going to miss NFL football.” You’ll be home in time for kickoff; trust me. [Laughter]

Bob: Well, it depends what time zone. If you’re on the West Coast—

Dave: That’s true.

Bob: —you may miss the early game.

Again, you can go to to find out about the special offer we’re making this week. Register now; save 50 percent and attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.

Now, let’s listen as Dave and Ann share one of the epic fails from—[Laughter]—from their marriage relationship.


[Recorded Message]

Dave: Going into our 25th wedding anniversary, I had this dream of taking Ann away somewhere; but I’m—if you get to know me, I’m pretty tight with my money. I’m really cheap. I’ve been called a tight wad and other things.

I didn’t tell Ann this—our anniversary is in May—but in October, I started praying—not kidding—every day on my knees, in secret, asking God for a trip south; because we’re in Detroit—for free. [Laughter] I always said, “…for free.” I teach this stuff—you’re supposed to pray specifically; right? So, if you want big things, you’ve got to ask God.

I’m starting to think, “Plan B” because God’s not coming through; and it’s like January. All of a sudden, I get done preaching one Sunday; and this couple walks up. I’ve never met them: “Hey, we’ve been here six years. We’ve wanted to meet you,”—blah, blah, blah—“We’re getting married this spring and wondered if you could do our wedding.”

I’m standing there, at the front of the stage—I’m like, “Well, you know, we have a whole process, and you need to email.” She goes: “Well, I sort of need, at least, an indication now; because it’s in May, and it’s in Mexico. We’ll fly you and your wife down there for free if you’ll do our wedding.” [Laughter] I’m like, “I’m your guy!” I actually kissed the guy on the cheek; and he’s like, “Dude!” I’m like: “You don’t understand! This is a miracle”; right? [Laughter] We ended up at this resort, which is all inclusive, which means they give you these armbands.

Ann: Dave is in heaven—

Dave: I kept them.

Ann: —because he’s like, “Anything free,”—just waving his armband around—like, “This is amazing!”

Dave: Hey, you walk around; you get a Coke®; it’s unbelievable; anything—steak. There—see.

Any way, long story short—we don’t see this couple for like three days. Finally, we bump into Derek and Tiffany. They are sort of perturbed; they’re like, “Where are you guys?!” We’re like, “What?” “We brought you down here to interact with our unchurched—

Ann: — “wedding party.”

Dave: —“wedding party, thinking you’d have an influence on them.” We’re like, “Oh, what a great idea!”—you know? [Laughter]

Ann: So, we end up going—you know how these resorts have these shows every night—so they’re like, “You need to come to the shows.” We’re like, “Alright; we’ll go to the shows.”

Dave: They said, “It’s the newlywed game tonight.” We go backstage. There are like ten couples; curtains closed. Everybody’s like: “What are we doing?” “We don’t know.” Curtain opens. Emcee walks out, and he goes, “Tonight is dance competition night.” Here’s how the dance competition works. They play different music for different styles from all over the world, and they vote you off. We got voted off first, because that’s how bad we are. [Laughter]

Then they booed as we were going to our seat; because the emcee said, “Who are you? Just wanted to…” We said, “Dave and Ann.” “Where are you from?” “Michigan,”—they started cheering. Again, we think, “Maybe, now, Midwest people were there and wanted us back in because we’re their rep.” We’re like: “We’re good. We’re going to sit out!”; but we ended up back in, and we ended up in the final three.

Ann: Yes; so, at this point, now, they are saying: “The final three will dance one at a time,” and “This time, we will dance to ‘60s music, acrobatic.” What did he say at the end?

Dave: Well, I turned to him—

Ann: — “and the winner”—yes.

Dave: I said, “What do you mean acrobatic?” He goes, “The more acrobatic you are, the better chance you have of winning the grand prize.”

Now, he never said what the grand prize was; but we assumed it was another free trip back. [Laughter] I leaned over to Ann—you’ve already heard she’s a gymnast; nobody there knew—but I was, literally, leaning over and go, “If you end this with a one-armed push-up, we win.”

Ann: I was like, “Yes!”

Dave: Because she could do all those flip, aerial, round-off—whatever things—

Ann: At that point, I could.

Dave: Music starts, and I’m terrible; so I just go way back here. She is running and [repeated flipping noise]—bam!

Ann: Because I’m thinking there is a grand prize.

Dave: Oh, yes; we are in now, man. If you’re going to—so she flips.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: The crowd loves it. She goes up and flips. All I did the whole time was like: “Go girl. Go girl.” The crowd is loving it. I’m like, “This is awesome”; right?

Ann: So, we end up—we can tell the music is coming to an end; and I’m on one end of the stage, and Dave is on the other. We’re thinking like, “We need to end this really good.”

Dave: I’ve got this great idea. I just go like this—big hula-hoop circle with my arms.

Ann: I’m like, “What does that mean?” [Laughter]

Dave: I do it again—you know?—because she’s looking. I’m like, “Look!”

Ann: I thought, “Oh, it’s that Dirty Dancing movie with Jennifer Gray!” I’m thinking: “He wants me to dive into his arms. We’ll be down here, but that’s good. He’ll catch me. We’ll spin; we’ll end. We’ll win!”

We look at each other, like, “Got it!” I run as hard as I can because, you know, as a gymnast, if you don’t give 100 percent, you could get hurt.

Dave: I mean, she is Olympic-vault running—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —[making a running sound] as fast you could be. I’m like, “This is awesome!”

Ann: I go up—

Dave: —and I turn around; I do my little deal. [Laughter]

Ann: He’s gone; I smash to the floor, barely catching my face. There is this huge thud. The audience is like, “OH!”

Dave: I never even saw—[Laughter]—I’m not kidding. I was here; I heard this. Then, you know, right in that second, I’m like, “Oh, she thought I was going to…” [Laughter] I turn around, and she’s there. The guys that work at the resort are running to her, because she’s like—

Ann: I am—

Dave: —face-planted.

Ann: —I’m in so much pain. I am laughing, hysterically, because I’m thinking, “We are the dumbest people on the planet, and we’re old,”—like: “What are we doing?!” But—

Dave: We won first prize. [Laughter] But don’t cheer too loud. You know what first prize was? I’m not kidding—he goes: “Hey, hold on. You’ve got two free t-shirts.” [Laughter] It said, “Iberostar Resorts,” on them. I paint in those t-shirts, but—

Ann: Here’s the other part—I was in so much pain that night—

Dave: Don’t even tell them!

Ann: —I broke both wrists.

Audience: Ohhh!

Ann: Yes! I waited until after I got home; but I was like, “Man, my wrists are killing me.”

We tell that—[Laughter]

Dave: I don’t know, we just told that for you to get to know us a little bit.

Ann: I will say this; I will say this—in marriage—all of you—you’ve been married. Some of you have been married a while, and you know this because you’ve experienced it—your spouse will drop you; isn’t that true?! Your spouse will drop you. I think what we say to people is: “The hope that we’ve found, and even through FamilyLife®, is—we never knew this before we became followers of Christ—“God will never drop us.”

It may feel like He’s not there sometimes; but for us, we’ve seen it—He’s always been there. He’s always caught us; He’s there no matter what. I think some people don’t know that. I think that’s why we are so excited to do this; because we get the chance to tell people that God is always there, and He’s always cheering you on, and He will always catch you.


Dave: As many of you know, the whole idea of Vertical Marriage is based on that concept. Bob Lepine is the reason we wrote the book—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —because he—how many have seen the Art of Marriage®? So, you know our ten-year anniversary story, which is vertical/horizontal.

The funny thing about the Art of Marriage is—we have been telling that story at Weekends to Remember; and then Bob said, “Hey, we’re going to send the video crew up, and we’d like you to tell that story for—we’re doing this thing called the Art of Marriage.” I’m like, “I don’t know what it is.” We’re driving to our church, where this video team was going to meet us at our studio.

Ann: We hadn’t even showered. I turned to Dave and I said, “What are we doing today?!” He goes: “I don’t know. We’re doing some story.”

Dave: I said, “Some little thing for this Art of Marriage thing Lepine is doing. Nobody is ever going to see it! It’s no big deal.”

Ann: [Raising voice, directed at Bob] That’s what he said, Bob: “Nobody will see it!”

Dave: That is honestly what I said. I mean, didn’t shower, didn’t shave; and yet, it’s so perfect, because it’s like God takes that dark valley and says, “That’s where I met you.” The whole point of the story is I realized, that night, when my wife said, “I’ve lost my feelings for you,”—the year we’re starting our church/ten-year [wedding] anniversary—that I was trying to find life in her; and she’s not going to be able to catch me, and I can’t catch her.

Vertical is basically God reminded me: “If He isn’t first, you’ll never find life. This is never going to do it. She wasn’t made to be your god; I wasn’t made to be hers. It’s only through Christ.” I know you all know that; but that’s the whole idea. Interesting thing is—people are reading it—they don’t know that. We’re getting all this feedback—they are like, “I thought I married the wrong person, and you’ve reminded me I’m looking in the wrong place,”—you know, that whole thing.

Many of you know this—and if you don’t, I would say, “Memorize this verse,

Proverbs 18:21,”—talks about the power of the tongue. It literally says this: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” In other words, those who understand it will use it correctly; because here is the thing—power of life and death means you can speak life, acceptance, affirmation, appreciation; we can speak death.

One of the things that Ann and I were doing, often, in our marriage is—we were speaking death and not even realizing it.

Ann: I feel like I was way worse than you because I really thought that by critiquing and criticizing Dave, it would motivate him and help him. I thought I was helping the Holy Spirit. [Laughter] That was not motivating to him at all. We had been married for quite a while [before] the first time when he said: “I feel like you constantly boo me,” and “I feel like I can’t do anything right.” I said, “Are you kidding me?! I am helping you”; but I didn’t realize how demotivating that was for Dave.

We have three sons, and I was doing the same thing by criticizing/pointing out the things that they were doing wrong, thinking they’d want to be better. When, actually, all it did was make them want to run away from me. We really went through a season of learning how to do this.

Dave: Yes; I tell you—again, we’re not perfect today; but I watched her—and again, some of you have heard this as well. One of the chapters is called “All I Hear Is Boo,” and it’s based on a story. When we were speaking to a Mothers of Preschoolers group, and she was asked to speak, she said: “Come. Just come up and speak with me.” I used that story, where I felt like, my whole life, people had been applauding me on a football field or in life; and then I get married, thinking, “She’s applauding me by choosing me.” Then, I said, “When I come home, I feel like all I hear is ‘BOOO!’”

She really did feel like she was helping me; and I was trying to say, “It doesn’t feel like help.” I remember saying to her, literally, in the car on the ride home: “I know you love me. I do not think you like me; because you’re always saying, ‘You should do this more.’” She was really on me about how I should lead the family spiritually and the boys spiritually—they are all grown, now, with wives and grandkids—but it felt like, “BOOO!”

I tell you—I just told Ann: “Men aren’t motivated by boo. Men are motivated by—[clapping/applause]”—and I guess women are, too.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: “Speak life!” Here is all I’m saying—is: “It didn’t change in a day or a week.”

Ann: No; I, when—after we spoke and we had that conversation, I went up to God—I went to God and I said: “Father, is this true? Do I boo Dave?” I felt like He said, “Yes.” I felt like—

Dave: Yes; He did! [Laughter] I was praying she would hear from God,—

Ann: I felt like—

Dave: —on my knees, every day!

Ann: —I was afraid to encourage him because I thought it would enable him, thinking, “He’ll think I’m satisfied”; so I wouldn’t do it. When I asked God that, I said, “God, what do You want me to do?” I felt like He said, “I want you to cheer for him.”

I did a mental check for the next week: “What’s in my mind, first of all?”—because what comes out of our mouth first goes here [in the mind]. I realized: “I am always critiquing, and I’m always dissatisfied in my mind first; and then it just spills out of my mouth.” So, man, I went on this quest of like, “I need to change this!” 

Dave: Yes; here’s what I’m telling you—she is my biggest cheerleader—I am not kidding. There is no one that cheers me like this woman. Again, it didn’t change in a week or even a year, but over several years; and this is decades ago—she started speaking life.

Here is the one big idea I wrote down—it’s: “Healthy couples choose to speak life to their spouse—

Ann: That’s a big word—“choose.” 

Dave: —or “Happy couples…”—anyway; but the word is choose. It isn’t, “I feel this,”—no; you literally choose with our tongue: “Are we going to speak life or death? Am I going to speak life into him/into her, or am I going to speak…”

Ann: —and our kids.

Dave: We choose to do it. Healthy couples—that’s a habit that you have to build in; and you have to realize: “There is the power of life and death. It can destroy them; it can build them up.” All I know is—over time, Ann started to speak life into me.

I always try to help, especially, wives understand this respect thing for men. It’s like she would, then, start to say things like this: “You’re an amazing spiritual leader of our home.” I’m raising my hand because it was like she was saying, “The bar—you’re way up here.” I remember looking at her like: “She’s never said that! She’s always said, ‘Why don’t you pray more with the boys? Why don’t you do a family devotion like Dennis Rainey does? Why don’t you do all this?!’” [Laughter]

Ann: I did say that!—totally!

Dave: She did; she literally did. [Laughter] But here is the thing—she started to speak these words—and I’m not kidding—when she said it, I was like hearing and I’m like, “No; I’m not.” I honestly didn’t think I was very good, because I wasn’t; but she said this. Here is all I know—she kept speaking life, almost like belief—whether it be spiritually, or just as a man, or integrity, or as a hard worker. Here is all I know—I rose up to become the man she said I was that I wasn’t.

I’ve watched this! She did the same thing with our sons. I’ve seen it with other women with their men. It goes both ways—it isn’t just a man thing; this is both ways—respect/love—it’s both ways. I’ve noticed this—when you speak life, it motivates people to become what you’re speaking. When we speak death, it demotivates. I’m just telling you—critical words don’t usually build up—ever.

We’ll end with this. Tell the story, because it’s so powerful. We’ll end with this, because it applies to [marriage]; but it applies to your kids as well—about the three sons.

Ann: Yes; I think our boys were 18, 16, and 13. I was—and they were in a bad spot, and I was in a bad spot with them. They were in the room, and I was talking to them like, “YOU GUYS NEED TO GET STUFF DONE AROUND HERE!”—Here I am, critiquing; and they are texting each other about me. [Laughter]

Dave: —in the room.

Ann: “Mom is crazy right now!” Then I found that out, and I’m like: “OH! YOU GUYS!” I had to get out of the house because I was so offended, because they are laughing like, “You’re crazy mom!” I go on this walk, and I am venting for about three miles about each one of my kids, like: “Are You seeing this?! Are You seeing what’s going on?! There is no respect!” I’m going on and on.

I am on mile four, and I’m like: “Alright, the rest of the time, it’s You, God. You need to give me wisdom.” I love James 1—I love the practicality of Scripture; because it says, “If any of you”—and this is about trials, and then it goes into—“But as you go through trials, if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives”—what?—“generously.” So, I’m like, “I need the generosity right now of You, Father!”

As I’m going—and I’m like: “I’m not going to say a word until You speak to me about my children”; because I started out with CJ—like: ‘Are you seeing CJ? I don’t even know what’s happening with him. He is quiet. He’s like quirky, and I don’t know where he is spiritually.’” I’m just quiet; and I hear this: “Isn’t CJ one of the most fascinating men you’ve ever met?” I knew this was God because I’m like, “No.” [Laughter] Like, “This—surely, this isn’t God.” This is what came to mind—this is so interesting; I would have never thought of this myself, as I’m hearing God through His Spirit. I felt like He said, “He’s just like Nathanael, in whom there was no guile.”

Dave: When she told me that, I’m like: “There’s not a better description of CJ. He’s just that.” I’m like, “We had never thought that.”

Ann: There’s no pretense in him. Whatever he thinks, he says—maybe, that’s like me—he says it; whatever he thinks. I felt like God was saying: “Isn’t there a beauty to him?—that he doesn’t care what the world thinks? He knows who he is in his own identity.” I was like, “Oh, okay; I’ve never seen that.”

Then I was like: “Okay; what about Austin? He’s quiet; he’s artistic. There’s a little moody thing going on.” I felt like He said: “Isn’t he just like King David? He could write psalms of music, and he just has this heart that runs after Me.” I’m like, “Really?!”

Then I got to our youngest son—I’m like: “Cody is out of control. He is so strong-willed. He always has a word. He always doing this stuff, and I feel like he is running in the wrong crowd right now.” This was the most amazing thing to me about him, because I was most worried about this 13-year-old. It felt like he just wanted to—he wanted to be liked by the world. I remember God saying to me: “Cody is my Joshua, and he is a leader among men.” I’m like, “Cody?!—really?!”

I felt like He said, “Wait until you see how I use each one of your sons in their own unique identity/in their own unique way and call it out of them because there is greatness.”

It’s so funny, as we just dive in with God—how He speaks to us, and He’s always breathing life into us and our children. He looks at my children, and He looks at Dave and me, and He’s like: “Look at you guys. Look at who I’ve made you to be. Show that off, because it’s Me.”


Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson share a story at a recent event. You’ve shared that story, obviously, in a number of settings. The response you get from people, who hear you tell that story, is powerful because they get why this is so important; don’t they?

Ann: I think so; and I think that I have not done a great job of this, especially at the beginning of our marriage. That’s why I’m so passionate about it; because I’ve seen the difference it has made in our marriage and in our family, too.

Dave: And I would say she’s being hard on herself. She is an amazing woman, who speaks life. I mean, there were decades in our marriage, where it wasn’t—

Ann: Oh, thanks!

Dave: —that way.

Ann: Thanks for bringing that out. [Laughter]

Dave: I mean, it was both ways. It wasn’t just—it was both of us speaking harsh and death words.

Bob: Yes.

Dave: But we want to be, not just with our kids or with each other, but with every person—we want to be a reflection of Christ, which means that we want to speak life. We want to encourage, and affirm, and inspire people to want to be like Jesus.

Bob: You guys said it: “Life and death—

Dave: Yes.

Bob: —“is in the power of the tongue.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Actually, Solomon said that, Bob. [Laughter]

Bob: True; you were quoting him when you said it.

I want to remind listeners about the opportunity they have to join us this fall for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We’re going to be hosting dozens of these getaways in cities all across the country this fall, and there is nothing better you can do for your marriage. Even if you would look at your marriage and say, “Our marriage is great,” well, keep it great by investing in your marriage. If you would say, “Yes, we could use a little work,” well, get away and do a little work on your marriage. We’ll help you through that. If you would say, “Our marriage is in a rough spot,” get some time away to invest in your marriage; and let us help you better understand what the Bible has to say about the elements that make for a strong marriage.

Go to If you register this week or next week, you and your spouse will save 50 percent off the regular registration fee for a getaway. It’s the best offer we make all year long. So, if you want to take advantage of this special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, go online to; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, say: “I listen to FamilyLife Today. I want to go to one of the getaways. I want to save some money.”

Again, you can do all of that this week when you go to; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can let you know the dates and locations for the getaways this fall. You pick the right weekend and the right city and then join us for a relaxing, romantic weekend getaway at the Weekend to Remember. Again, our website is; or call for more information or to register—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how a wife can show respect for her husband, even if she thinks, “I don’t know that he is worthy of respect.” Shaunti Feldhahn and Brian Goins are going to join us to talk about that. I hope you can be with us for that as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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