When my son Noah was a toddler, I regularly traveled back and forth between California and Tennessee to visit my parents. Because of my husband’s work schedule, there were many times he didn’t go along with us. Traveling on my own proved to be extremely taxing in those days, and fellow travelers would often observe me chasing my son around the airport and trying to pacify him with books, games and snacks.
On one trip in particular, Noah entertained himself on our flight by running up and down the aisle. I tried to indulge him while simultaneously trying to keep him from bumping into people. I offered apologies to many passengers as they glared at me disapprovingly. When Noah finally wore himself out (about 20 minutes before landing!), I held him and rocked him in the aisle until he fell asleep. The exasperation and exhaustion I felt must have showed on my face because an older gentleman a few rows ahead of us turned around, smiled at me and said, “Good job, Mom”. That man will never know how much those three little words encouraged me when I was at a breaking point. In fact, while that stranger would probably have no recollection of me, several years later I still remember his kindness and the strength his words gave me.
I’ve often written in this blog about how I feel I don’t contribute enough to the world. But when I think I’m not shining the light of Christ’s love, I remember that offering a kind word of encouragement can make a big difference in someone’s life. The Bible has much to say about the power of words. The book of Proverbs in particular teaches us that:
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. (New International Version; 12:25)
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. (15:4)
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (16:24)
The Scriptures above affirm that words can actually nourish and heal. And Jesus’s words literally spoke life, as was the case when He raised Lazarus from the dead. After Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, He told Lazarus’ sister Martha to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. After praying to the Father, Jesus “called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). Lazarus came out of the tomb with a cloth around his face and his hands and feet still wrapped with linen strips. If Jesus can bring a dead man back to life with His words, how much more will He speak life back into the dead places within our hearts?
Words have the capacity to encourage and empower, but unfortunately words can also wound and discourage. Scripture cautions us to carefully choose whether we will use words that build up or tear down. Proverbs 18:21 warns, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Similarly, Proverbs 12:18 explains, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The Bible also recommends that we exercise restraint when we feel the urge to speak hurtful words: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23).
I can steal someone’s joy with my words and by the tone I use while speaking them. When I use a harsh, angry tone in correcting my son’s behavior, I get what my husband and I call the “boo boo” lip. Noah’s bottom lip sticks out and turns down, and we know the tears are seconds away. It’s a lose-lose situation – I feel bad, and Noah feels bad. On the other hand, my younger sister told me how much she appreciated it when I told her how proud of her I am for working hard and pursuing her dreams despite the obstacles.
Our words are significant anywhere we are in a position of influence or authority, and even in our everyday interactions with people. Compliments or words of encouragement brighten another’s day and build up our own spiritual armor. Encouraging words are especially important to give to fellow believers. As warriors we face a spiritual battle every day, and we need each other if we’re to stay strong and remain faithful. The Apostle Paul often instructed the early Christians to acknowledge, honor and encourage each other:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-15)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The call to speak encouraging words doesn’t mean we avoid lovingly confronting a fellow warrior who may be living in sin or straying from the Lord’s path. Conversations that redirect a brother or sister toward the Lord are also life-giving. Scripture clearly advocates discipline, correction and even rebuke when necessary. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to continue to make use of the Holy Scriptures and ensure that he taught the church in Ephesus according to the truth God’s word:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2; emphasis mine)
Before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, scourged and crucified, He left His disciples with words of encouragement. Jesus knew His disciples would be confused, devastated, scared and discouraged after His death, but He also wanted them to remember that the ultimate victory was still His. Mighty warrior, are there any areas in your life where you’re struggling and in need of encouragement? Perhaps the words Jesus left with his disciples will remind you of the hope we have in Him:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; emphasis mine)
Click to hear Toby Mac’s song “Speak Life“.