There’s an old saying that “a good book is read more than once” and it still holds true. During this weekend’s snow storm I pulled one off my shelf in preparation for a sermon I’ll be working on. Gordon Cheng’s Encouragement: How Words Change Lives is just 132 pages in length, yet it packs a wallop. I enjoyed reading it again.
I’ve been asked to preach next Sunday on the subject of the tongue, and so I’ve anchored my message to Matt 15:18. In this text Jesus instructs his disciples that “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart.”
There’s a tendency with these kind of studies to deflect inspection off of ourselves to others in need of instruction. “If only so-and-so would hear this!” However, these words are meant for everyone young and old. It is an all-inclusive lesson.
A fear of mine is that I might grow recalcitrant and obstinate to God’s Word. Where I would say the right things about my spiritual condition (i.e., the fallible flesh of man), but inside refuse to take ownership of my errors and submit to the counsel of men and women that God has placed in my path. Let’s call it an unteachable spirit.
The wisdom of God through the king of Israel’s pen contends, “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov 17:10). Wow. I want to be that person who has understanding. Charles Bridges describes it in his commentary as “a wakeful ear, a tender conscience, a softened heart, a teachable spirit” (262).
Cheng writes that “our words express who we are” (18). The overcomer (“the one who overcomes the world… he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God,” 1 John 5:4-5) is to use his words to encourage others.
Christian encouragement is speaking the truth in love, with the aim of building Christians up in Christ-likeness, as we wait for the day of judgement. Christian encouragement will likewise involve speaking the truth in love to unbelievers, thus encouraging them to put their trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation. (11)
Our Shepherd expects His flock to be “encouraging one another; and all the more as [they] see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:25). In reality this means that the heart of the communicator must be filled with the right motives. Will he choose to use his words to motivate a person towards godly living, or manipulate with them for his own glory? Cheng lists five steps for using encouraging words:
1. Always remember the gospel of grace and repentance.
This the starting-point for the believer. “Grace means basing what we say in the gospel itself; a gospel which teaches forgiveness, mercy, and a strength for living that comes from God’s Holy Spirit and not ourselves” (86).
2. Be specific.
It’s an investment of the communicator’s time and energy. “Listen carefully to what is said… follow-up on things that are of genuine concern for the person” (92). When someone has taken an interest in your life, you can’t help but be encouraged.
3. Be humble.
Akin to the first, this step is also a tenet of Christianity. We don’t know everything; and we can’t know everything. “Humility may effect what I say; it will certainly affect how and when I say it” (94).
4. Deal with important issues.
Use your time wisely with the person to demonstrate that you value them and the opportunity to connect. Do they feel appreciated by you? “Talk about what matters, in a truthful way” (95). Let them know; and please put the phone down.
5. There is a time for silence.
It’s the difference between being self-centered and other-centered. “One vital reason for silence is to allow us to listen… listening is both a skill and an attitude” (96).
Our words have an impact on those around us every single day. Will they communicate care and concern or indifference and discouragement? Encouraging words can be indispensable to one another.
I hope to see you in church next Sunday.