WHO DOESN’T NEED THIS?

There are multiple possible answers to the question, “Who doesn’t need this?” What I want to suggest is everyone needs, wants, and appreciates encouragement. Some may say they don’t need it, and they may think they don’t, but I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating it when it is given. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, once made the point when he said, “How do you identify someone who needs encouragement? That person is breathing.”

I’ve thought about the idea of encouragement for many years and in my life have both received a lot as well as tried to give a lot. Looking back I think in my early years I received more than I gave, but in the last 25 years or so I think I have been more on the giving end. That makes sense because as we mature we realize just how important encouragement can be.  

My interest in encouragement and desire to be even more intentional about encouraging has been intensified by a book I ordered and read last month entitled Encouragement. Written by Mark Chanski, this book greatly expanded my understanding of encouragement and how to encourage people. I love the sub-title Adrenaline for the Soul as it paints a picture of what encouragement does for people.

In the New Testament the Greek word sometimes rendered encourage or encourager can also be translated with a variety of other words. Jesus’ word for the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel can be translated encourager. Other options include advocate (or counselor), helper, comforter, exhorter, and consoler. The core of all these options is that the one who encourages is someone who is called to stand beside and help another. (All this certainly describes the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.)

In Romans 12:8 the Apostle Paul lists encouragement as a spiritual gift some Christians have. John R.W. Stott notes the verb has “a wide range of meanings, ranging from encouraging and exhorting to conciliating or consoling” (Romans, pp. 327 and 328).

No Christian has all of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, but that does not mean a believer who does not have the gift of encouragement should not be an encourager. I especially like Paul’s instruction to his readers in I Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” After instructing them he practices what he is saying by encouraging them!

All of us should be encouragers, and we need to be honest encouragers. By honest I mean we should not mislead others with what we know are unrealistic expectations. Rather than encouraging, I think doing so may do just the opposite. (What a challenge for parents and grandparents as they cheer on their children and grandchildren!)

I close these thoughts with a quote from the 19th century influential English “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon, “It does people good to be told how highly we value them. There is many a Christian man and woman who would do better if now and then someone would speak a kindly word to them, and let them know that they had done well.”

Perhaps you and I can be more aware of the good it does when we speak such a word to others.

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THE POWER OF WORDS

It would be difficult to overstate the power of words. Sometimes we forgot that; and it is good to be reminded just how powerful they can be. The Bible’s book of wisdom, Proverbs, gives us a lot of practical help. The book contains over 100 references to the tongue, mouth, lips, and words.

The power of words can be seen in their potential for destruction. Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life and death” and Proverbs 15:4b reminds us “a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Most of us probably know and have recited the saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but it simply is not true. Every one of us has been hurt by words.

Words can do damage at either close range or at a distance. We’ve all been hurt by words spoken directly to us. Sometimes what is said to us is worse than a physical blow–things like “I never should have married you” or “I wish you’d never been born.” We’ve also been hurt by words at a distance.

Author Roger Thomas notes eight specifics in the book of Proverbs of how words can be destructive:

Lying – Proverbs 25:18, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.”

Deceit – Proverbs 4:24, “Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth” (The Message).

Slander – Proverbs 11:2, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” (Slander goes beyond the truth, but has a grain of truth.)

Gossip – Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Gossip rejoices in the flaws and failures — or rumors of such — of others.)

Thoughtless Words – Proverbs 29:20, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (NLT).

Flattery – Proverbs 28:3, “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” Proverbs 29:5, “Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”  (Flattery is insincere compliments to gain favor.)

Boasting – Proverbs 27:1 and 2, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.”

Too Much Talk – Proverbs 18:2, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 10:19, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow” (NLT).

The power of words can also be seen in their potential for good. Again, Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life” and Proverbs 15:4a that “The tongue that brings healing is the tree of life.” Proverbs 12:25 reminds us “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” and Proverbs 16:2 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Through words we express our love and concern for each other — our deepest feelings. Words can cheer us up and provide encouragement. Who does not remember a time when the right word was spoken and everything changed?

With the reminder of the power of words in mind, let’s consider some advice for the use of words from Proverbs (and other selected Bible passages).

Learn to listen. James 1:19 challenges us, “Everyone should be swift to listen and slow to speak.” It’s not wise to assume we know what someone is saying before we hear them out. I like the directness of Proverbs 18:13 in the Message, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”

Think before you speak and thereby choose your words carefully. Proverbs 17:28 warns us, “Even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” And Proverbs 29:20 presses the point, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Be honest. Proverbs 6:17-19 tells us seven things God hates, and two of them are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness.” Paul’s related instruction in Ephesians 4:15, “Speak the truth is love,” has always presented a challenged to me. Even though some speak of being “brutally honest,” I think situations that call for that description would be rare. We are to speak the truth, but to do so in love.

Finally, Use words to build others up. We need to take Ephesians 4:29 seriously: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs , that it may benefit those who listen.” Other verses deal with crude talk, but “unwholesome talk” in this verse is the opposite of “building others up according to their needs”—talk that is caustic and sarcastic, that attacks, and is negative and rude. To take Ephesians 4:29 seriously is to use our words to express appreciation and to be encouraging.

Words are powerful — let’s use them wisely.

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