“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

Every child knows that’s not true. And as we get older, the more we realise just how untrue it is.

James got it spot on in chapter 3:1-12, when he described how an object as small as our tongue has such enormous potential – both for harm and good.

Think about it. Words can tear down. Wound. Damage. Destroy. Hurt. Scar. Diminish. Crush. Demean. Assault. Bully. Belittle. Discourage.

But words can also lift up. Elevate. Praise. Bring joy. Teach. Delight. Extol. Build up. Soothe. Heal. Comfort. Restore. Encourage.

And I know you, like me, have experienced both.

I have a keepsake box full of notes and letters that have been written to encourage me at various times over the past fifteen years. The following is an insight into these special words:

A thoughtful person who sensed I needed a helpful word.
A friend who recognised I needed building up.
A church member who wanted to spur me on in my walk with Christ.
Someone who simply wanted to say ‘thank-you’.

How sweet those words are. Each one brings back a memory as I recall the time…the occasion…that led to me receiving each one. Even now my spirit is warmed as I think about the kindness, the thoughtfulness, the heart behind each one. All it took was for someone to respond to the prompting of God in their life, to use their words to encourage me…at just the right moment. From time to time, when I’m feeling down or am in need of some encouragement, I’ll get them out and be reminded of how God has encouraged me in the past.

I know what Solomon meant when he wrote, ‘Pleasant words are like honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and healing to the bones’ (Proverbs 16:24). Oh…how good the taste of kind and encouraging words. Uplifting. Powerful.

And doesn’t Solomon express it well when he writes, ‘Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush the spirit’ (Proverbs 15:4)? In just a few words, the wisest man who ever lived captures the power of words…for good or bad…for life or death. Or how about this: ‘Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’ (Proverbs 12:18) Solomon’s words are so graphic aren’t they?

So I come to myself. And you. How do I use my words? How do you use your words? I shiver as I recall times, when in frustration, in anger, in sin, when I’ve spoken harshly to my children…and have watched them slouch off, shoulders down, spirit crushed. How I wish I could take my words back.

But I know too, how their little frames rise up, their spirits soar, as I encourage them, cheer them on, using my words to bring life to them.

So let’s be mindful of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29. He writes, ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’

What words should we use? Only those that are good for building up…for giving grace.

Is there anyone you can encourage today?

Posted in Christian Living and tagged , .

Simon Lang is a graduate of Oak Hill Theological College and serves as Pastoral Care Representative for Insight for Living UK. Simon is also a pastor of a church in Beckenham.