Words are powerful, but not in the way prosperity preachers or New Age advocates claim. While words themselves do not convey any ability to create reality, simply because we utter them (e.g., “I CLAIM this blessing!”), they affect those around us because they soothe and heal, or they hurt and damage.
Every day, regardless of what our job is, and whether or not we are involved in an official “ministry,” Christians have an opportunity to touch people’s souls by, literally and figuratively, speaking for Jesus.
In addition to the standard “Please,” “Thank You,” and “I was wrong and I apologize,” there are three powerful sentences that Christians can use to bless the ears, and lives, of those around them:
We’re Not Omniscient
1) “I don’t know.” We’re really afraid of these three words, because in the back of our minds is the exhortation of 1 Peter 3: 15:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Deep down, because most of us know that we don’t have all the answers to all the arguments that people can throw at us, we avoid confrontation, or even conversation, with non-believers — who include everyone from questioning seekers to belligerent oppositional forces. It’s far easier to invite people to church (where our poor pastor can take care of things) as opposed to relaxedly interacting with them.
Response, Not Solution
It’s important to distinguish, however, between a “response” and a “solution,” and Peter is encouraging us to have a deep enough relationship with Christ to be able to explain, at least nominally, why we follow Him. He’s not insisting that we get into formal debates concerning creation versus evolution, or spirituality versus atheism — some people may do so, and do so well because they have studied these issues and can speak competently on them, but for the most part, it’s wise to,
“Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3: 9)
You don’t have to answer every hostile question thrown at you — frequently the questioner isn’t interested in the answers anyway. Disengage yourself from fruitless encounters.
When you are dealing with a true truth seeker, however, answer as best you can, and be honest enough with yourself, and them, to say, “I don’t know,” to something that’s beyond you. You’re not the only one without a satisfying answer for, “If God is so loving, why does He send people to hell?” or, “What about people who have absolutely no way of hearing about Jesus?”
2) “I struggle with that, too.” Considering that we are children of a Father full of grace, mercy, love, and compassion, we sure beat ourselves down a lot, and many Christians have difficulty admitting that they are anxious, fearful, envious, bitter, insecure, spiteful, and unable to trust in the goodness of God.
“That’s a sin,” we’re told. My favorite “that’s a sin” phrase relates to Philippians 4: 6, in which we are encouraged to “not be anxious about anything but . . . present our requests to God.” It doesn’t do a whole lotta good to tell a person sick with worry over the loss of their job and income that they’re sinning by worrying, and God is displeased with them.
Oh, great — another thing to worry about.
We are weak, my friends, and our Christian testimony is stronger for our admitting this — not only to the people around us who really, truly are not comforted by our having it so all together, to the point that our house is NEVER messy, but to God — who can’t deal with the problems in our lives if we refuse to admit they exist in the first place.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10. “. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Silence Is Golden
3) Nothing. Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all, especially when the person pouring out their heart, hurt, confusion, despair, and fear to us is going through something we haven’t gone through, and can’t quite understand.
“Your loved one is with Jesus, that is, um . . . she did know Jesus, didn’t she?”
“God’s trying to get your attention with your cancer diagnosis. I suggest you get close to Him.”
“A job loss isn’t the end of the world. Just trust in Jesus and He will provide.”
Brother, can you spare a dime?
“I’ll pray for you.”
If you mean it, and will make a commitment to do it, and keep doing it, this is sterling. But if it’s just four words said to get you out of an uncomfortable situation, swallow them.
If you are fortunate enough to understand, pretty much exactly, what a person is going through because you’ve been through it yourself, your words will salve, because they stem from your own humility, dearly bought.
But for the most part, listening to another person — truly listening — is the best way of saying something to them.
Three phrases, one of which isn’t a phrase: like all aspects of following Christ, it’s remarkably easy, and outstandingly difficult, but it starts, as every day does, with the statement,
“God, nothing is impossible for you. Walk with me.”