For some reason, the other day, the words of a song I heard in childhood came into my mind. The refrain of “Home on the Range” an American cowboy song, speaks of an idyllic place “where seldom is heard a discouraging word.” This is as good as it goes, but the Apostle Paul took it one step further and taught Christians not to merely refrain from speaking discouraging words, but to consciously, intentionally speak encouraging words.
In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Paul instructs us Christians to speak, teach and encourage each other, specifically by using “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” I’m not sure how those who take a dim view of the use of music apply these passages, but Paul saw potential in the use of musical expression for positive spiritual influence in the lives of others.
For those who, like me, fear that singing to others might do more harm than good, Paul uses the verb to speak as opposed to sing. He’s not so concerned with a professional performance as he is with the effect of the words on the listener. I’ll join him in that emphasis and focus on the intended result of our speaking and singing to one another – spiritual encouragement.
Just as using words (speaking the truth in love) to work through negative issues with others, we should use them to encourage each other as well. God intends for us to have positive spiritual input into each others’ lives. Once we accept that Paul is not commanding us to go around singing at everyone, we can find all kinds of situations were a word of encouragement is as Solomon described a golden apple served on a silver platter – both beautiful and nourishing.
One of the best places to start practicing the habit of speaking words of encouragement is within the family context where it is so easy to slip into a negative pattern of relating. Those with whom you share living space every day may wonder what’s happened to you, but let them wonder as you bless them and honour God all at the same time by using your words to bring God into the everyday activities of life.
I would offer a word of caution here. It’s possible to begin to sound like a broken record if you mindlessly drop in biblical quotes every few sentences. I’ve bumped into people and the word that describes my response to that is “irritation” not “encouragement.” Be sure that what you say really applies and that your goal is to build up the other, not merely show off that you have a Bible verse at hand for every trigger word that comes up in conversation.
We can also bless our Christian friends and church family with words of spiritual encouragement. It may see unnecessary to mention this, but speaking as one involved in church leadership, I find it easy to concentrate so intently on the nuts and bolts of making things work, that I neglect to speak words which encourage others.
Broadening the scope of your positive influence one step further, you can season your daily conversation in the community at large with a little scripture here and there. People might even be curious and ask, “Where did you get that?” What a great chance to open the door to a spiritual conversation when you respond, “That’s something I read in the Bible and it stuck in my head.” Who knows where a conversation, begun with a word of spiritual encouragement, might lead.
© August 2007