The power of encouraging words

At a school in Dubai an experiment was conducted to see if words had an effect on plants. A recording was made of students insulting plants and another was made of compliments. The recording of put downs like, “You look ugly” and “Are you even alive?” was played to some plants on a loop for 30 days. Another recording of positive comments such as, “I like the way you look” was played to other plants for 30 days. The plants that were continually insulted withered, while the ones that heard positive comments remained healthy.

It may seem strange to think plants respond to what they hear and the science may be questioned, but it would fit with how the Creator has ordered His world. It is not surprising if plants wither if all they hear are insults and negativity. That is what happens with people.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. … The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:1, 4). We can’t be exactly sure how it affects plants whether the words spoken to them are gentle or harsh, but we do know how it affects people. Harsh words, spoken in anger, lead to more anger. Mean, nasty put-downs cause much discouragement. Constant criticism with no encouragement crushes a person’s spirit and makes them want to give up.

Gentle words bring peace and ease tension. A soothing tongue and loving encouragement can inspire a person to keep going and not give up.

Words can knock a person down or lift a person up. They can cause deep hurt or bring gracious healing to wounded souls. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. … Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Proverbs 12:18, 25).

In our hi-tech world with email, Facebook, texting and Twitter, words are constantly being spread around the world. Many of them are negative and critical, focused on failure, expressing anger and knocking people down. Those kinds of words cause relationships and spirits to wither.

Words of blessing and encouragement, words that describe the beauty and grace of God, words that give thanks for good things God is doing are words that build up and give life. “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” (Ephesians 4:29). Some words that are shared are truthful but not beneficial. The person sharing them may feel good about “getting it off their chest,” but they aren’t words that help the listener or build them up.

We give thanks for God’s loving, gracious Word that builds us up. In this world full of words that wither souls, we give thanks we can turn to Christ and find the gentle words we need to hear and the encouraging words that give life.

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Honest about our hurts

The other night I took a break from what I was doing and watched some of the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. At the ceremony those who are inducted are given the opportunity to give a speech. It was interesting and enjoyable to hear what these successful athletes had to say at this significant moment in their life.

During a couple of the speeches it seemed like they were almost ready to sing a hymn and give an altar call. Some of the players gave strong and powerful testimonies about their faith in the Lord. They wanted people to know they didn’t achieve this honor on their own. They gave thanks to God and told about times of struggle and how the Lord Jesus had helped them through the challenges.

A couple of them told about growing up as sons of single moms. They were poor, living in tough, dangerous neighborhoods. Most people would have looked at their situation and said there was no chance they would turn out well. But they had a mom and a grandmother who prayed. That made a world of difference.

They admitted mistakes they had made and told of times when they were headed down the wrong path. They expressed appreciation for how God brought people into their life who helped them get going in a different direction. It was refreshing and encouraging to hear their honesty about things they had done wrong and their humble admission that they needed others.

Brian Dawkins told about a time early in his career when he was struggling with depression and contemplated suicide. He gave thanks to God and people who watched over him, encouraged him and helped him get on a path to healing. He encouraged others who were going through similar struggles to look at his life and find hope that God can help you get through the hard times.

At a Hall of Fame induction ceremony you expect players to talk about how great they were and tell stories about their success. You don’t expect someone to show such transparency and talk about his battle with depression.

We expect a happy face. When we ask someone how they’re doing we expect a quick “Great.” We expect boasting, but in a subtle, humble way of course. We get scared to do like Dawkins did and admit our struggles. We worry about what people might think of us.

I have been blessed that I haven’t struggled with depression like many others have, but I did have a period when sadness was camping out a lot in my life. I don’t know if I would have been considered depressed at the time, but I was pretty down for quite a while. Your pride doesn’t want to admit you’re hurting. You want to be a poster boy for “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). So you try to fake it. I found out I’m not as good at faking it as I thought I was. I’m thankful for good friends who asked, “Something’s wrong. What is it?”

That’s how it ought to be in a congregation and with friends in Christ. We don’t need to fake that we’re fine. We have freedom to ask our friends how they’re doing and share with our friends how we’re really doing. We can do like Paul did with the Thessalonians: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (I Thessalonians 2:8). God’s love enables us to find hope and strength as we share our lives with one another.

I appreciate how Brian Dawkins courageously and humbly shared his life. His speech can be found on YouTube. It’s worth a listen.djzg5eux4aeack