Helpful and Encouraging Words by Woodrow Kroll
All the passages below are taken from Woodrow Kroll’s book, “God’s Guide for Life’s Choices,” which was published in 2003 by Servant Publications.
Thankfully, what passes from our lips is not always hurtful and harmful. The wisdom of God says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21, NKJV italics mine). Both can be found in our use of words. The destructive side of the tongue, as we have seen, is reflected in hasty, lying, hurtful words. These can destroy those around us spiritually, emotionally and physically. But there is a beneficial side to words. It is seen when we use words in a positive way.
God’s wisdom has as much to say about the proper use of words as it has to say about the misuse of words.
The vocabulary of helpful words includes:
1. Inspiring Words
Proverbs says, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (16:24 NKJV). The English word pleasant is derived from a Hebrew word that means “delightful, inspiring or uplifting,” Inspiring words help a person feel better. They are always pleasant and delightful.
1.1. Comforting Words
According to Webster’s Dictionary; comfort is composed of two Latin words—com, meaning “with,” and forte, meaning “strength.” So the word comfort literally means “with strength.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to say the right words to a friend. We don’t always know how to comfort someone and give him the strength to go on when he has experienced a significant loss. Who better to tell us than someone who has lost the dearest person in life? One widow suggests the following responses:
“What I always liked about _____ was _____ “
“I’ll never forget the time he and I______”
“It’s OK. Tell me again about__________”
“I just phoned to say hello.”
“Tuesday will be a tough day for you. May we spend it together?”
“I thought you might need a hug or someone to hold your hand today.”
“I’d love to (trim bushes, etc.). May I do it for you?”
This widow summarized by saying the best thing anybody who did not know her husband personally ever said to her was, “I was so sorry to read about your husband’s death. Would you like to talk about it?”1
Everyone suffers. When we experience a loss, grief is inevitable. We need never grieve alone, however, if our friends are tuned in to God’s wisdom and have learned to bring words of comfort to strengthen us during difficult times.
The sequoia trees of California tower as much as three hundred feet above the ground. Oddly, these enormous trees have unusually shallow roots that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount of surface moisture. Seldom do redwoods stand alone because high winds would quickly uproot them. Instead they grow in clusters. Their intertwining roots provide strength for one another against the storms.
If you need the strength of others today, allow the roots of your life to intertwine with theirs. And be alert for opportunities to lend strength to others who are suffering. There is nothing quite like words of comfort when we need them most.
1.2 Encouraging Words
A Japanese proverb says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.” In a cold, impersonal world, how desperately we need to be inspired by the warm words of encouragement.
Not far from Lincoln, Nebraska, is a wildlife refuge that is filled every fall with thousands of migrating Canadian geese. These large birds, which fly great distances across continents, have three remarkable qualities. First, since breaking the wind barrier is a tough job for the lead goose, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they fly in a V formation because that requires 71 percent less energy for each bird compared with flying solo. Third, during the entire time one bird is leading, the rest are honking their affirmation.
Christians need to follow the example of the Canadian geese and express our encouragement to one another. In their book The Blessing Gary Smalley and John Trent observe that “the family blessing hinges on being a spoken message. Abraham spoke a blessing to Isaac. Isaac spoke it to his son Jacob. Jacob spoke it to each of his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. Esau was so excited when he was called in to receive his blessing because, after years of waiting, he would finally hear the blessing. In the Scriptures, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is spoken.”2 The encouragement we receive even from a small amount of affirmation can keep us going through the hard times, if someone just remembers to say it.
When was the last time you made a special effort to tell someone, “You did a great job!” “I believe you can do it!” “I’m so glad you’re my wife (husband, son, daughter).” Your spouse, children or friends are not mind readers. All your good thoughts and good intentions are worthless unless you speak them. “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice—indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things” (Proverbs 23:15-16 NKJV).
2. Instructive Words
One of the finest qualities of the Proverbs 31 woman is her ability to instruct with words of wisdom. Verse 26 says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” Tragical1y people today would rather be entertained than edified. They want to be titillated rather than taught. But for those with ears to hear and hearts open to receive, words of instruction can change their lives.
God’s wisdom is not theoretical; it is practical. Add the power of the Holy Spirit to words faithfully spoken, and who can walk away unchanged? Wisdom says, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5 NKJV). Whatever our age or status, we all need words of instruction.
It is important that we teach:
2.1 Our Children
Many parents today are making a critical mistake in raising their children. They leave the academic training up to the school system and the spiritual training up to the church. Frankly both are inadequate for the job. When a teacher has to divide her attention among twenty to thirty children in a classroom, and Sunday school lasts only one hour a week, how is it possible for our children to learn all they need to be taught? It is still the parents’ responsibility to oversee the education of their children.
Typically, parents say, “I don’t have time.” It does take a lot of time and energy to be involved in your child’s intellectual and spiritual growth, but surely you have more time than Susannah Wesley had. Mrs. Wesley lived before the day of automatic washers and dryers or disposable diapers. She had nineteen children. In spite of what must have been a hectic schedule, she spent one hour each day praying for her children. In addition, she took each child aside for a full hour every week to discuss spiritual matters. No wonder two of her sons, Charles and John, were used of God to bring blessing to the world.
Susannah Wesley followed a few simple rules in training her children:
1. Subdue self-will in a child and thus work together with God to save his soul.
2. Teach him to pray as soon as he can speak
3. Give him nothing he cries for and only what is good for him if he asks for it politely.
4. To prevent lying, punish no fault that is freely confessed, but never allow a rebellious, sinful act to go unnoticed.
5. Commend and reward good behavior.
6. Strictly observe all promises you have made to your child.
These rules reflect a combination of tough motherhood and common sense. They establish parameters, recognize the value of prevention and reward performance. Many parents could calm a gathering storm if they followed Mrs. Wesley’s advice from God’s guidebook
2.2 Our Peers
Great musicians never stop taking steps to improve. The well-known concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein used to say that if he missed a day of practice, he noticed it in the quality of his performance. If he missed two days, his critics noticed. And if he missed three days, the audience noticed. No one is so talented or knowledgeable that he can afford to stop learning.
The wisdom of Proverbs reminds us, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (27:17). Every Christian would profit from being in a teaching or disciplining relationship.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden taught basketball according to the simplest pedagogical principles. He followed four laws of learning. explanation, demonstration, correction and repetition. When UCLA built the Pauley Pavilion in 1965, Wooden made sure he did not get just an arena but a classroom with bleachers that roll back.3 He knew he had to do more than just coach his players; he had to teach them as well.
As they grow older some Christians lose their teachability. They become frozen in their view of Scripture and adopt the motto, “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” Sadly they lose the joy of encountering the living Word in a fresh way and the blessing of being ministered to by the insights of others.
Whether it’s in a Sunday school class, an adult Bible study or a one-on-one disciplining relationship, don’t miss out on being sharpened by your peers. Study the Word so you can sharpen others as well. Saint Jerome said, “The Bible is shallow enough for a lamb to wade in it yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in it.” We never outgrow our need to teach and be taught the Scriptures.
3. Timely Words
It is just as important to speak at the right time as it is to speak the right words. God is a master in the art of timeliness. Romans 5:6 says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time [i.e., at the right time] Christ died for the ungodly.” Elsewhere Paul wrote, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 NKJV). God speaks through His actions, and He always acts at just the right time.
We should cultivate godlikeness in this area. We, too, need to speak at the right time. God’s wisdom says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 NKJV).
When our timing is right, our words become:
The old adage says, “It’s too late to lock the barn door after the horse is stolen.” In other words, locking the door is no longer relevant. When we speak either words of warning or words of comfort, we need to make sure that what we have to say is relevant. Timing is the key.
In the early days of the Dallas Cowboys football team, things didn’t go so well. They lost game after game and most people blamed Coach Tom Landry. His critics accused him of not having enthusiasm and not pumping up his players for each game. On one particular day the sportswriters were amazed to see the Cowboys come roaring out of the locker room and race across the field. When the reporters caught up with Landry they asked, “What did you say to get the players so charged up?” Landry replied, “Oh, it was easy I simply said, ‘The last eleven guys to the bench have to start’”
When our timing is right, our words gain new power. They are no longer just good advice; they are words that change lives.
Communication is much more than speaking. It is speaking, hearing and responding. Not only must we speak, but the words we say must be accepted by the one who is listening. What more, a response must follow. Some words—such as the salvation message—are always relevant. There is never a time when an unsaved person doesn’t need to hear about Christ’s saving power. But there are times when people are more open to hear and respond than at others.
When a disobedient boy became a young man, he left home, scoffing at his mother’s prayers that he would turn to Christ. He went off to sea without even saying goodbye to her. On his first voyage the ship lurched and he was thrown overboard. Quickly a lifeboat was lowered and he was rescued just as he was slipping beneath the water’s surface, never to rise again. Everyone thought he was dead, but the ship’s doctor revived him. When he opened his eyes, his first words were, “Jesus has saved my soul!” After he was completely recovered, he told how in that awful moment, he remembered a text his mother had taught him years before “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV). He said, “As I was sinking, I cast myself into the outstretched arms of the Savior.”
Are you praying for a son or daughter who is far from the Lord today? Should you quit? Not a chance. Our prayers for wayward children, coupled with acceptable words of warning and encouragement, are never forgotten. No wonder the Bible says, “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23 NKJV)
4. Words, Words … and More Words
Do we talk too much? Frequently we do. The average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. If all of our words were put into print, a single day’s worth would fill a fifty-page book. In a year’s time we would fill more than ninety books of two hundred pages each. With such a productive output, isn’t it important that we govern our words by God’s wisdom? Here is some sage counsel from Proverbs regarding too many words.
Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Constant talking will inevitably lead to sin. “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). Perhaps we adults should sing that children’s chorus more often: “Oh, be careful little tongue what you say…”
When we talk too much we betray ourselves. The quickest way to give the impression of wisdom is to say nothing. Abraham Lincoln said it this way: “It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Or, as Solomon said, “He who has knowledge spares his words…. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace” (Proverbs 17:27-28 NKJV). Sometimes we forget that we need to listen twice as much as we talk. Not only will we learn more, but we will be perceived as being wise enough not to speak when we have nothing to say.
We need to pray each day:
Lord, grant this one request I pray:
Guide thou my tongue!
The words I say can never be called back again,
Should they cause anger, sorrow, pain,
Then in an ever-widening sphere,
They spread their havoc far and near
So guide my tongue in every word,
That it may bless where’er it’s heard.
Choose your words carefully. Fortunately, we have a handbook that helps us select just the right word, the word that will lift others up instead of pushing them down. That handbook is Proverbs, God’s guide for right choices. Remember, “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Such power requires careful thought and much caution. (175-183)
1. “Dear Abby,” Lincoln Journal Star; October 8,1994.
2. Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Blessing (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 49.
3. Sports Illustrated April 3, 1989, 100.