The Power of Words


“You are as dumb as that pencil.”  

The words are forever stuck in my memory. They were uttered by an exasperated, overworked parent to an anxious, undertrained daughter. The greasy, steamy food truck was serving customer after customer at a local fair and the unending line of people eager for fried potatoes and fried dough had left the entrepreneur-parent fried. My wife and I heard the cutting remark as passersby and we saw the slumping shoulders of the approximately 15-year-old girl. The pencil in question, precariously perched on her ear, was more secure than her ego beneath her crushed spirit. 

No wonder Proverbs says, “The power of life and death is in the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).  

Sticks and stones really do break bones and words can cut a soul. We know what blunt objects can do to our bodies and we know what sharp words can do to our souls. There’s no need to pit objects and insults against each other as though the less powerful becomes harmless. In fact, the opposite message of “sticks and stones” might be the case: while human beings certainly have remarkable physical power, it is our ability to pinpoint hurt with our words that best reveals the potential for cruelty. We know just what to say that will elicit the greatest hurt with the fewest words. 

But the tongue is not simply negative. The tongue is used to praise God (Jas. 3:9)! Do you see the tremendous opposition? Tongues can curse and deliver death and tongues can praise the giver of life. Just as the tongue can deliver words with pinpoint precision to wound, so can the tongue deliver words with particular power for life. If the tongue curses, it also blesses and heals. That’s encouragement. 

What does encouragement look like?  

Encouragement acknowledges deep love. In the midst of pastoral care, encouragement comforts when a deep love is lost; celebrates the deep love of friendship; acknowledges the simple act service that was observed being offered to another. 

Encouragement confirms deep hope. In the midst of pastoral care, encouragement agrees with the deep hope that God loves us and that God has good plans even if they are mysterious.  

Encouragement affirms a deep faith. In the midst of pastoral care, encouragement senses the faith that resides deep in the soul of another, when perhaps they can’t feel it personally. 

The well-intentioned, loving, faithful, hopeful word can do all of those things.  

Take a moment to breathe. Can you feel the air in your lungs? Does your mind get just a bit clearer after completing the inhale/exhale rhythm? Breath in the lungs means the ability to praise God and to honor the giver of life by speaking life-giving words to another. Chick-Fil-A Founder Truett Cathy once said, “How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they are breathing.” Do you know why you have breath? To praise God and to encourage his people. Do you know what it means that you have breath? That you need encouragement, too.  

Breathing’s got two parts: inhaling and exhaling. Do you know which is more important? Whichever you just didn’t do. If you have been breathing out encouragement, then find ways to receive God’s encouragement to fill you back up. If we try to keep speaking without being re-filled, our words may become like those of the exasperated entrepreneur—the “breathless” boss mentioned above.If you have been receiving encouragement, then let it fill you with God’s breath, God’s Spirit, and let God’s Spirit carry your words to another. May the Spirit of our Lord Jesus, through your shepherding care, acknowledge love, confirm hope, and affirm faith.  

For Reflection… 

  • Do you have a “go to” person for encouragement? 
  • Who do you know needs an encouraging word today? 
  • Has your life been marked with encouraging or being encouraged? Do you need to “breathe in” or “breathe out”? 

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