The book of Proverbs had a lot to say about the tongue and the power of words. Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” In Chapter 27, he gives us an example of the opposite, “A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!” There nothing wrong with a greeting, not even a loud greeting: just don’t do it at 4:00 AM when your friend is trying to sleep. You may shout a blessing but he will take it as a curse if you disturb his sleep. The moral is this: we want to say the right thing and we want to say it at the right time; blessed is that person who can say the right thing at the right time. Job had many trials but one of the things that makes Job outstanding is his patience in putting up with a nagging wife. Of all people, she should have encouraged Job and yet she did the opposite.
It is very easy, at least for me, to let the wrong word slip out. Do you remember the last time you had a slip of the tongue? Regretfully for me, it seems to be a common experience. Some slip ups are not harmful, although embarrassing at the moment. I don’t think Yogi Berra has a malicious bone in his body and we laugh at his verbal gaffes all the time. Yogi once said, “Hitting is 90% mental half of the time.” Concerning a local restaurant, he said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” He also said: “The future aint what it use to be.” We laugh at Yogi’s blunders and we should but sometimes our misuse of words are more hurtful than humorous.
Bill Harrison and I had a stimulating conversation about our choice of words a couple of weeks ago and I confessed to him that my tendency to be negative has hurt others. If we rely on instinct or our default setting, most of us are going to be negative because it is natural and it requires very little effort. There is, in most cases a positive way to communicate truth. Most of us are good at telling others what they’re doing wrong but we seldom praise others for what they are doing right. Praise and affirmation are powerful tools but we don’t use them. Gerhard Frost said, “We blossom under praise like flowers beneath the warm sun.” Mark Twain once said, “I can go two months on one compliment.” Paul admonished the Thessalonians to encourage and edify or build up one another. Max Anders gives us some prudent advice in the matter of praise.
- Keep it simple; sometimes a word will do. At other times you may need a sentence but the more words you use, the lesser the impact.
- Keep it sincere. Insincere praise is ‘flattery’ and we do not want to be guilty of flattering another person. Most people can spot a fake a mile away: never say things you do not mean.
- Be sensitive: pick your spots. Dwight Eisenhower bumped into a private who was a nervous wreck. He asked the young solider how he was doing and the boy quickly confessed: “Sir, I am very anxious about what lies ahead.” Eisenhower said, “Let’s take a walk together. I’m a little anxious myself. Maybe if we just walk along together, we will be good for each other.”
- Make ‘Encouragement’ your calling. Give some thought to ways you can encourage others. Ask God to put someone in your path that needs encouraging. Make it a personal goal each day. Vince Lombardi is regarded as one of the great coaches of all time. One day on the practice field, he repeatedly reprimanded an offensive linemen for missing his blocks. This young man wanted to please his coach so badly that he became depressed about his failure in practice. Coach Lombardi realized what was going on. After others had dressed and left the locker room, this young offensive lineman was sitting on a bench in front of his locker with his head buried in his hands. Lombardi walked up behind, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “One of these days, you are going to be the best guard in the NFL.” The kids name was Jerry Kramer and he became the greatest guard in NFL history. A title he held until John Hannah came along.
If I had a sport in which I could excel, it would have been baseball. I wanted it to be football but my natural gifts and instincts pointed more in the direction of baseball. I was an outfielder or catcher. I was comfortable at either position but the only year that I played organized baseball was my senior year in high school where I played pony grad. I started the season in center field but the kid playing shortstop was really a second baseman; he did not have the arm strength to play short. My coach, probably the best I had in all my years of playing ball, pulled me aside and said, “Jack, I know you are comfortable in the outfield but I am going to have to move you to shortstop.” I expressed my concerned about playing that position but this is what he said, “Jack, you have the arm and this is where I need you most. Don’t worry about errors. You let me worry about the errors. I just want you to give me your best.” I did something that summer I did not believe was possible simply because the coach believed in me and gave me the necessary encouragement. Anyone can discourage but it takes someone special to encourage.