Life-Giving Words

Reversing the Negative Verdicts

I once saw a television interview with Mariah Carey, one of the most successful artists in the history of pop music, in which she said that if she hears a thousand words of praise and one word of criticism, that one criticism will eliminate the thousand praises in her mind.

Can you identify with this dilemma? I certainly can.

Praise and approval slip through our fingers like sand. Shaming and criticism, on the other hand, stick to us like Velcro and can feel impossible to shake off, no matter how hard we try.

The serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, also known as the “accuser of the brethren” or Satan (Revelation 12:10), is the same deceiver of us — whispering constantly in our ears, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1). Has God really said you are forgiven, blameless in His sight, and forever loved? Surely not! We both know you are guilty, shameful, and worthless! The serpent hisses these lies to our hearts constantly.

This is why nineteenth-century minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne said that for every one look we take at ourselves, we should take ten looks at Christ.1 Our chronic tendency to crank up the volume on the serpent’s voice of accusation and bondage and to dial down the volume on the Father’s voice of pardon and freedom makes this practice of taking ten looks at Christ into an essential, daily endeavor. If we are ever to move past our habitual, primal patterns of posing, self-defending, and hiding, then we must learn and embrace some new patterns of mind and heart. For this to be possible, we are going to need help from each other.

One practical way we can hear the Father’s voice more clearly is to practice what Scripture calls “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) with each other. We must, as writer Ann Voskamp once said in a talk she gave at our church, “only speak words that make souls stronger.”2

As the beloved, blood-bought daughters and sons of God, we must use our words to call out the best in each other versus punishing each other for the worst. To speak the truth in love is to offer encouragement, to put courage into a soul.

One of our primary resources for doing so consists in the carefully chosen, life-giving words that God has already declared over us all.

If all of our Christian communities and churches were sold out to this one simple practice — to only speak words that make souls stronger — I wonder how many spiritually disengaged people would start wanting to engage. I wonder how many religious skeptics would want to start investigating Christianity instead of keeping their distance from its claims and its followers. Do you wonder the same?

It has been said that the best “outreach” we can offer is to become the kind of community that we would want to be part of and the kind of community that is difficult to find anywhere else. This might actually be Christians’ best opportunity in the current cultural moment, where everyone seems to be on a hair trigger, always looking for something or someone to be offended by. I wonder if this simple, age-old, cost-free, compelling initiative is the key to turning a regular faith into an irresistible one. What if all it took for us to become the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” and the “city on a hill” to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues was to choose kindness over criticism toward one another, giving the benefit of the doubt over assuming the worst in one another, building each other up instead of tearing each other down. What kind of difference — if we committed ourselves to this — do you think it would make?

Do you remember that silly saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? I think Mariah Carey was a lot more honest than this in her interview when she admitted how much criticism stings. While sticks and stones may indeed break our bones, words can also wound us deeply and crush our spirits. Anyone who has received bad news, been shamed or criticized, or been the brunt of a mean joke or gossip understands this. Millions of men and women are in therapy because of wounds inflicted on them by words spoken to them either by others or by their own hearts.

Here are just few examples: You are worthless. You are ugly. You will never amount to much. You disappoint me. Why can’t you be more like your brother? You are too fat. You are too thin. I want a divorce. You should be ashamed of yourself. I hate you. I wish you were never born.

However, words not only have the power to crush spirits; they also have a mighty power to lift spirits, to bring strength to the weary, to give hope to the hopeless, to put courage back in, to make souls stronger. Words like these:

You matter.

You are the image of God.

You are loved at your best, and you are loved at your worst.

You are uniquely gifted.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are God’s child, the bride of Jesus, the vessel of the Holy Spirit, and an heir of the kingdom.

I see potential in you.

I value you.

I need you.

I respect you.

Will you forgive me? I forgive you.

I like you.

I love you.

These are the kinds of words that lift a heart and bring healing to a soul. They can free the chameleon from hiding in fear. These life-giving words can provide courage for the performer and poseur in each of us to come out of hiding, step into the light, and tell our true story — our blemishes, struggles, and sin, as well as the beauty, goodness, and mercy of God that we experience in the midst of them.

1. Quoted in Tony Reinke, “The Purifying Power of Delight in Christ,” Desiring God (blog), August 7, 2012, http://www. desiringgod.org/articles/the-purifying-power-of-delight-in-christ.

2. Ann Voskamp, Twitter post, June 6, 2014, 4:57 a.m., https ://twitter.com/annvoskamp/status/474882708082941953.

Excerpted with permission from Irresistible Faith by Scott Sauls, copyright Scott Sauls.

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Your Turn

How does your soul respond to criticism? How have you seen someone you criticized respond? What would happen if we chose the words God actually speaks over us instead? To encourage, to lift up, to strengthen, to embolden, to give hope? Who can you speak life-giving words over today? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Scott Sauls

is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, and From Weakness to Strength. Prior to Nashville, Scott served at New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a lead and preaching pastor and planted two churches. Scott's work has been featured in publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Qideas, Catalyst, Leadership Magazine, aholyexperience, Table Talk, The Gospel Coalition, Key Life, as well as other publications. Scott can be found on Facebook and Twitter/Instagram at @scottsauls, and he blogs weekly at scottsauls.com.

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