Recently I went for a much-needed walk around my neighborhood. It was one of those nights when my mind was swirling with the details of life and my heart was heavy. As I walked, I saw an elderly couple that lives near my house. I visit with this couple from time to time, but we are not close friends.
We talked about their health (which isn’t good), my kids, and their dogs. When I saw this couple in their yard that night, I decided to stop and take time to visit. Let’s face it. The last year has been hard on all of us.
As we talked, I noticed that my heart didn’t seem as heavy as when I left my house. My mind wasn’t swirling with all the details of life. Instead, I was just thankful to be on a walk and to hear how God was working in my neighbors’ lives.
As I started to leave, the frail husband did something that I will not soon forget. With great effort he lifted his head in order to look at me. He then worked hard to focus his eyes on my face. Slowly and purposefully, he said, “We love you.” Surprised and touched by the effort it took for him to share these words, I didn’t know how to respond. I simply said, “I love you, too.”
As we said goodbye and I continued my walk, I began thinking about the significance of his words. I thought about the chance we have each day to bless the lives of others with kind words. I was reminded that we never know how a small thing like saying, “We love you” can actually be a big thing in another person’s life. That night the man’s words rang “big” in my heart.
Speaking words of encouragement involves using our words to build up and bless the lives of others. The significance of blessing others cannot be overstated. The Bible is full of examples of God’s people blessing and encouraging one another.
In the Old Testament, God instructed His people to bless one another by saying, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26, New International Version) This passage of Scripture, along with others, teaches us the value of using our words to encourage others, not to try and harm them.
Hurtful words can leave a scar that is deep and painful. We are living in a time when it is easy to hurt others with our words. Social media alone tempts us to forget that on the other side of the screen is a real person, living a real life, and in need of Christ’s love and grace. It must grieve the heart of God when harsh or divisive words are spoken that are intended to hurt, marginalize, pay back, or put someone in their place.
I am sure you can think of examples of spoken words (either to your face or behind your back) that have hurt you and your family. Being in leadership comes with the reality that people will talk about us and at times misunderstand our actions or intentions. Believe it or not, that reality is not the focus of today’s column.
Here is what I hope we can focus on and cultivate in our leadership journey. Make a mental list of all the people and words that have helped you over the years. The words came at just the right time, in just the right way, and provided the reinforcement or redirection you needed to keep on keeping on in Jesus’ Name. Maybe the words came in a card, email, text, phone conversation, or face-to-face. No matter how the words were delivered, they made an impact because they were spoken or shared with love and sincerity of heart.
I wonder what it would be like if we, as leaders, committed to a culture of encouragement in our homes, churches, and ministry relationships. Certainly, this does not mean that hard conversations will not happen. No doubt, we want to cultivate environments that are truthful, honest, authentic, and real. Places where we can disagree, or see things differently, or just hash things out… with grace and respect for one another. Always remembering that the person we are talking to or interacting with is created in the image of God, to be in relationship with God, and created for a God-given purpose.
As we engage in loving, honest, and sincere ways, the words we speak may provide the encouragement others need in order to walk in the plans God has for them, thus leading them to experience God’s peace. May today be the day we speak honoring words, always encouraging others, and building up the Church. I guess the final question I have for you is this. Who can you bless and encourage so they know they are loved and valued by God and by you?