Words Have Power
JULY 20, 2022
Words have power.
When God speaks, His very speaking accomplishes the purpose of His words. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). In the Bible, words are often used to accomplish their purpose, thus there are “benedictions” (blessings) and “maledictions” (curses) which have the power to bless or destroy. Jesus said that we would be either justified or condemned by our words. It is no accident that the incarnation was described in John 1 as the “Word becoming flesh.” When God wanted to punish Zacharias because of his unbelief, He took from him the power to speak.
Words Can Bless
I teach students at the seminary that it is desperately important that they affirm the congregations they serve. Too many pastors feel they have been sent to a church to preach the wrath of God, to straighten out the members, and to fix all the problems. The truth is that God usually calls a pastor to a church to love its people and to tell them so. And there is a correlation of what I teach at the seminary to other areas too.
When I think of people who have made a difference in my life, I remember those who have used their words to encourage, motivate, and affirm me. I think of the five retired pastors in the little church on Cape Cod who had the power to destroy the young pastor in their midst. Instead, they decided among them that they were going to be my cheerleaders. Time after time, when I was discouraged and ready to quit, those godly men would speak words of comfort and love. I often think of what would have happened to my ministry and my life if those men had decided to “fix” me with their words.
Words Can Destroy
There is a rhyme many of us learned about words: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I suspect my mother taught me that rhyme when someone had said something cruel and hurtful to me. She wanted me to know that I could survive the verbal onslaught of thoughtless people. I’m sure it helped, but she was wrong.
Words can hurt far more than sticks and stones. In fact, much of the pain and sorrow with which we all live comes from words. Words used as a curse can destroy us. If you don’t believe me, think of those incidents in your life when someone’s words devalued you, or when angry words stung so terribly that you thought you would die, or when critical words eliminated the possibility of success, or when words let you know that you weren’t important.
One of the key principles of business management is that words of encouragement or discouragement affect production. Leaders have great power to destroy, discourage, and debilitate their followers with words. How many times have teachers demolished a potential Einstein with thoughtless words? Think of the marriages that have been destroyed, the friendships shattered, and the churches divided because of careless words.
Words Define How We See Ourselves
The words you use when you are talking also define how you think about yourself. Give me a few minutes of conversation with almost anyone and I’ll be able to tell you whether that person thinks of himself or herself as a champion or a chump.
John Wesley, after some significant failure in his life, became convinced that faith was the key to reaching the world for God, but had trouble making faith a reality in his life. He went to one of his mentors and asked this question: “How can I preach faith if I don’t have faith?”
Wesley’s mentor made an interesting comment. “Mr. Wesley,” he said, “preach faith until you have faith, and then because you have faith you will preach faith.” In other words, “Learn to see yourself as a man of faith, articulate that reality in your life, and then you will become a man of faith.” Words do define how we see ourselves and determine, sometimes, what we become. You will be surprised at the power of words to change your life.
Words Set the Parameters of How People Will React to You
If your verbal messages sound like a perpetual whine, you must expect that people will treat you accordingly. If you speak with authority, people will react to you as a person with authority. If you speak words of love, people will react to you with love. If your words reflect a seething anger, don’t be surprised if people avoid you except when they want to fight you or enlist you in their battles with someone else.
Religious people can sometimes be quite pompous. Not too long ago I was criticized quite harshly in a church magazine for something I had said. I received letters from all over the country in which people tried to correct my “spurious theological views.” But by far the most interesting feedback in that whole episode came from a quite stiff and religious young man who approached me after I had spoken at a conference. He said, “Dr. Brown, what you said grieved my heart.” (Watch it when Christians say their “heart is grieved.” That generally means they have a howitzer pointed at you and are getting ready to pull the trigger.)
I said to the young man, “Son, this is a small conference held in a small place and I’m a peon. There isn’t anything here big enough to grieve your heart.”
He was shocked and then spoke about his concern for me. “Don’t you want to hear what a brother in Christ has to say?”
“No, son,” I replied, “I really don’t, unless you want to spit it out. I’ve had about enough spiritual nonsense for one day. If you want to tell me what you really think, without all the subtle trappings, I will listen.”
“I think,” he almost shouted, “that you are arrogant and rude!” And then he started blushing. It was probably the first up-front and honest thing he had said in a long time.
“I think,” I said, “that I agree with you. But I am better than I was and God isn’t through with me yet.” Then we began to talk, and it turned out to be a very pleasant and helpful exchange.
His opening words, however, set the parameters of what was clearly going to be an adversarial relationship. He didn’t mean to do that. He just didn’t realize that words often determine how people react to people.
When I was in commercial broadcasting and part of the news team of a radio station in Boston, I learned that if one can’t pronounce a word correctly, one should mispronounce it with boldness and people will think they are wrong.
If your conversations are always reflecting “Harry’s humble habit,” you will find that people will assume that you have every reason to be humble. (As the psychiatrist said to the patient, “The reason you have an inferiority complex is because you are inferior.”) If you reflect confidence in your message (whether that is a sales talk, a presentation of the gospel, a sermon, or an acceptance speech), you will inspire confidence in your hearers. If you apologize for what you are about to say (“I don’t tell stories very well, but I heard the funniest joke the other day. . .” or “I am not a public speaker but . . .”) people will think that you have much about which to apologize.
The words you use will determine your success or failure in accomplishing the goal you set when you speak the words.
Words have power.
Adapted from Steve’s book, How to Talk So People Will Listen, published by Baker Books.