Lately, my life has been inundated with discourse on words. Life and death are in our words. Powerful are our words. In my ENGL 101 class, students are wrestling through Vern Sheridan Poythress's book, In the Beginning was the Word. Our ability to communicate with one another human and with our God is a unique privilege and responsibility in Creation. "Language affects not only the big issues concerning who God is, and how to be reconciled to him (Rom. 10:8-9) but the smaller issues of how to conduct our lives" (Poythress 13).
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.
This past week at Bible study, Beth Moore talked about how every Christian needs 6 essential components in their lives to be a healthy and whole follower. Two of those were encouragement and exhortation. Or, as she put it, "inspiring" and "instructing". We don't just challenge someone with the truth; we lift them up and say, "you can do this! I believe in you."
And then a few days later, I read Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit for perhaps the 100th time. But this time something new struck me.
Do you think there would even be a Peter Rabbit if there hadn't been sparrows? Since many of you don't regularly read to preschool children, I'll remind you of the text. Peter Rabbit is a naughty little guy and disobeys his mother by running into Mr. McGregor's garden. He eats his fill of stolen produce and manages to uncover himself by the Mr. McGregor himself. Peter runs and runs, but he can't seem to remember where the gate back home is and ends up losing a shoe... and then another and finally gets the big brass buttons of his caught in the gooseberry net.
Lesson # 1: Fancy clothes will be your ruin.
Okay, I kid. Kind of.
But the true lesson comes on the next page.
"Peter gave himself up for lost, and cried big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement and implored him to exert himself." (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)The story isn't about the sparrows. In fact, many people forget they are even mentioned, but I daresay, without them, there would be no more Peter. The sparrows made him try harder because they reaffirmed him and what he was truly capable of.
When life tangles you in the hypothetical gooseberry net do you have "sparrows" of your own? Someone to rally you forward, "Come on. You can do it! Try again."
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble."
Eccles. 4:9-10Take a few others' words:
When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you're making a commitment and difference in that person's life. Encouragement really does make a difference.
If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it - young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous - is changed by it.
Nine tenths of education is encouragement.
And if you are like me and focus more on the instruction (which can often be an excuse for harsh correction) verses the inspirational praise, Goethe's words might help.
Correction does much, but encouragement does more.