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Your Words Are Powerful: 3 Ways to Use Them to Encourage Others

By Dennis Rainey

Has someone ever said something to you that you’ve never forgotten? Were they encouraging words, or were they critical comments or accusations that left a wound or scar?

I have no idea my motivations, but as a junior in high school I signed up for Mrs. Whittington’s typing class. I passed her class with a “C” average with a speed of 80 words per minute, and “A” … and about 20 errors, which was an “F” for accuracy.

Mrs. Whittington didn’t appreciate my mathematical “averaging” approach to her class. I’m sure I irritated her with how I squandered her efforts to teach me.

One day her dislike of my behavior boiled over as she pointed her finger at me, announcing as the whole class watched, “Dennis Rainey, YOU will NEVER amount to anything!”

Her pronouncement mortified me in front of my peers, but there’s no question that I earned most of her prophetic and disparaging unbelief. I’ll share a better conclusion to this story later.

Fast forward a decade and I’m in another class … at Dallas Theological Seminary. Obviously by this time I was a bit more motivated by Almighty God and eager to learn. I took five classes in 12 months taught by a man who etched his belief in my life, Dr. Howard Hendricks. We called him “Prof.” He taught over 13,000 students over 60 years; if there had been a hall of fame for teachers, Prof would have been an iconic member. He was the finest teacher I’ve ever sat under.

Every day I left his classes ready to charge hell with a squirt gun. He lit a fire of love for Christ, for God’s Word, and for sharing the gospel that still burns brightly in my soul.

So when Barbara and I wrote our first book a decade later, Prof wrote the foreword. (I’m sure Mrs. Whittington did a 360 in her grave knowing I co-authored a book!). I just now read Prof’s words in the forward again: “Dennis Rainey has been used by God as a powerful tool to impact homes and marriages as few men have …”

He believed in me!

We all need a cheerleader

Every human being needs a “Prof”— a friend, husband, wife, dad, mom, grandparent, mentor, or coach who is a cheerleader, a person who knows us well and who has a tenacious belief in us. Barbara, my bride of over 50 years, has made the most significant investments in my life by far, but my parents, a few select friends, mentors and Prof all made significant deposits of their own.

As I reflect on these two instructors—Mrs. Whittington and Prof—and their impact on me, a pair of Proverbs echo in my mind:

  • “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

  • “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

Your words, my words, have the power to poison and bring death or to heal and nurture life and produce fruit.

Or stated another way, your tongue can be used as an ice pick or as a paintbrush in other people’s lives.

Invisible scars

Ice picks are useful for chipping away at a block of ice. But when the tongue becomes an ice pick that verbally assaults and “chips away” at another person’s value and confidence, its use brings pain. Words can create invisible wounds which result in scars that last a lifetime.

Destructive words can come in the form of poking fun at another person, criticisms, sarcasm, judgments, jabs, put downs and jokes. Some words come with the white-hot emotion of anger that scorch and burn deeply. These wounds may take years to heal and fully trust the person who said them again.

Words that bring a canvas to life

The Scriptures admonish us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Take a step back and look at life: It can be downright hard. It’s challenging. It can knock us down. You are surrounded by people in your family, at school, in your neighborhood and at work who need someone to come along side and help them get up. Others may need a good word. Some just need a hug. We all need words that give us grace (unmerited favor).

I’ll never forget Barbara telling me what happened one day when the kids came home from school. She told one of our sons she loved him and gave him a “welcome home” hug. When she let go, he didn’t. He didn’t say it audibly, but it had been a hard day for this teenager and he needed his mom’s hug.

Words can be a paintbrush that brings a canvas to life, stroking and splashing vivid colors that become a beautiful and meaningful painting that honors its creator, the artist.

Do you see people as canvasses, needing a bit of color in their lives? A brushstrokes of encouraging words? A reminder that God has a plan for them?

I’d like to suggest one of the following ways you can use your paintbrush to bring healing and life to a canvass:

1. The brushstroke of appreciation.

I will never forget walking into my friend Tom’s office and noticing a letter and couple of books on his desk. They were from Dr. James Dobson, president and founder of Focus on the Family. Tom made a donation and Jim sent him a thank-you note.

At the bottom of the letter, just below Jim’s signature, was the handwritten phrase:

I appreciate you.”

Those three words truly impacted me … they helped me realize that all of us need to be appreciated. I started ending many of my letters with that phrase. I suppose I’ve closed thousands of letters by conveying my genuine appreciation.

Barbara and I try to express appreciation regularly in our marriage. I thank her for being such a hard worker, for doing the laundry and folding my clothes, and for being my loyal friend. She expresses appreciation to me for picking up my stuff, running an errand for her, going grocery shopping for us, and for cooking dinner.

The Scriptures exhort us, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). I wonder why I can be so stingy with expressing appreciation to those I love the most?

“BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN” APPLICATION: Pray and ask God who He wants you to appreciate: your spouse, a friend, mentor/coach, your parents, a child, or grandchildren … or your high school typing teacher! Then write a short note to express your appreciation. Or at the dinner table tonight give everyone the assignment of expressing appreciation to each family member. It sure beats bickering!

2. The brushstroke of praise.

Praise has incredible value because it is a virtue seldom expressed. Perhaps that’s why Mark Twain quipped, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Earlier this week Barbara and I received a compliment from Susanne, who lives in Germany:

Dear Mrs. and Mr. Rainey, I send you this note from a town, south of Berlin.

More than 10 years ago, I bought your book "Stille Zeit mit Dir" / "Moments with You". Year after year, I have been reading your book again and again ... the texts don't change, but I do! Still today, your daily messages encourage me, inspire and help me to find next steps for my marriage, our family and that is finally for me.

I have been reading the book "alone" and after a while I changed the meaning of the title in a sense, that I read it with God. With a thankful heart, I send you best wishes from Germany!

As we read those words, we experienced what Arnold Glascow said, “Praise does wonders for your sense of hearing.” I have a file that is bulging with encouraging notes that I’ve kept … because life is a challenge and I need to read them again and again.

“BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN” APPLICATION: Catch your spouse, children, or your parents doing something right and praise them face-to-face or in a note or letter.

3. The brushstroke of belief and affirmation.

Marriage is one of God’s finest creations for us to hear words that authentically express belief in and affirm us for who we are. We all go through seasons that can suck the life out of us. We need the one who knows us best to express belief in us the most.

In the book Barbara and I co-authored, Building Your Mate’s Self Esteem, Barbara shared:

“One of the strengths that Dennis brought into our marriages was a steady belief in me. When I am tempted to become overwhelmed by self-doubt, he rarely, if ever, joins me in my self-deprecating accusations. Instead, he reminds me of the truth. He tells me what he thinks about me—positively, of course, without lying or flattery. … His unwavering belief in me has given me the much-needed confidence I lacked.”

In essence, God assigned you to walk with your spouse through the ups and downs of life and be on his/her team. He needs your respect (Ephesians 5:33). She needs your love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). He or she needs you to be their cheerleader, to expresses belief in him. And when he fails, he needs you to gently encourage him to embrace the lesson and grow.

When was the last time …

… you shared what you admire most in your wife?

… you expressed belief in your husband as a man and thanked him for how he loves and provides for you and your family?

… you took her on a picnic or a surprise date and revisited all that she has brought to you as a man?

… you surprised him with a romantic dinner and affirmed him as a man?

And if you have teenagers, consider how brutal the culture is on them —their morality, identity, and convictions are continually under attack. Your son/daughter needs you to remind him who he is and that God has a plan for his life. I don’t think you can read Ephesians 2:10 too many times to your teens. “For we are His workmanship [God’s work of art], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Read that and watch them soak it up.

“BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN” APPLICATION: Apply the above by taking your spouse and/or you teenager on a date.

Back to Mrs. Whittington … I really don’t think I resented her comments about me in the typing class, but I didn’t forget what she said. So when I graduated from college I decided to let her know what I’d done and was going to do with my life. I can still remember walking up the sidewalk and knocking on her door.

She opened the door and I said, “Mrs. Whittington, I’m Dennis Rainey.” I paused and she gave me a bit of a sly grin and a look that said, “How could I ever forget you?” I went on, “I wanted you to know that I just graduated from university” … I let that soak in for a moment … “And I am going to work with teenagers in Dallas, Texas, introducing them to my Lord and Master Jesus Christ.”

And I didn’t say it, but I sure thought it: “And I am hoping God uses me to amount to something.”

Use your words today like a paintbrush to bring life to another person. They need to hear those words from you.

Dennis Rainey

Psalm 112:1-2

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