One of the truths to be learned from James 3 is that small things can impact their environment in big ways. "Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!" (James 3:3-5). Our tongues, although small, can exert a tremendous influence for good or evil. The writer of Proverbs had much to say about the tongue - "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (18:21). "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit" (15:4). Christians should endeavor to use their tongues in encouraging ways. "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad" (12:25). Our words to others should be pure and refreshing! "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (16:24). "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (25:11). If we are not careful, however, our tongues will inflict much damage and cause others to be discouraged. "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless" (James 1:26). May we never underestimate the power of our words. They have the ability to wound and destroy or to inspire and heal--it's our choice!
Understanding the power of the tongue is the first step toward using it for encouraging purposes. But what are some specific ways we can use our words to encourage others? Contemplate these suggestions:
1. Offer credible compliments.
It's been said that insincere words have the same value as Confederate currency! Realize that your words don't have to be momentous, but they must be heartfelt and genuine. Hollow words can discourage as much as hurtful ones.
2. Praise others creatively.
If you're having trouble thinking of something positive to say, the problem is likely with your standards, not the other person's performance. Open your eyes to progress that others are making and praise them. Don't just wait to compliment grand accomplishments.
3. Offer specific words of encouragement.
In other words, don't praise with generalities but with precision. For instance, preachers who hear a lot of people say, "Good lesson," aren't necessarily that encouraged by it. Such a generic statement often translates to: "Preacher, that was about average." However, when a preacher is told in specific terms: "I was really touched this morning by that point you made about..." Now that is encouraging! Men, the same is true with your wives. It is good to tell your wife: "You look nice today." But, she will glow if you say: "Darling, you look terrific in that blue dress!" Specificity is important when it comes to encouragement!
We will continue these thoughts in our next lesson.