“The words of the wicked are a deadly ambush, but the speech of the upright rescues them.” (Proverbs 12:6, HCSB)
I watched the movie, The Judge on one of my flights back to Port Moresby recently. Robert Downy Jr. plays a successful attorney (Hank Palmer) who goes back to his hometown to defend his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall, nominated for an Oscar in this role), against a murder charge. The relationship between the two is strained, because of a tragic incident that occurred when Hank and his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) were teenagers. Hank has spent his entire adult life trying, and failing to meet his father’s expectations. Nothing he says or does is ever enough. There is one scene that really sums up the tension in their father/son relationship.
Hank: “You know, I didn’t just graduate from law school, I graduated first I my class…I was first in my class…I did really well, dad.”
Judge Palmer: “You’re welcome.”
Encouragement – the careful selection of words that are intended to influence another person meaningfully towards increased godliness (Crabb, 20). I don’t think Judge Palmer’s response qualifies, do you? His sarcastic and cutting retort speaks words of death to a wounded and alienated son.
Scripture is replete with warnings about the power of the tongue. Our words are irretrievable and often evidence of exactly what is in our hearts. As Larry Crabb says,
“They can do great damage, but they also have the ability to do great good. That is why verbal encouragement is so valuable” (Crabb, 20).
Watching The Judge made me think about my own parenting years. I wasn’t like Judge Palmer but I still wish I’d had the benefit of the wisdom in this book during those years. I spoke my fair share of what I thought were encouraging words, but as Mrs. Norbury says in the movie Mean Girls,
“It’s because I’m a pusher… and now I’m going to push you.”
Crabb’s track illustration is all to familiar. It made me smile and reminisce.
“I have never yet heard a father call out to his son during that final stretch, “You look tired! Why don’t you quit? You’re in the back third of the field anyway. Maybe running isn’t your sport” (Crabb, 21).
Having spent many a Saturday at track meets with all three of my children, I can assure you no track parent ever talks like that! I can only hope that even though I was a pusher, maybe I redeemed myself by all the encouraging words I screamed as my children approached the finished line. I wanted my children to do well, and my words were definitely sincere, but my motives were sometimes questionable. They certainly weren’t always for godly encouragement. Thankfully, my children still love me. I’ve learned a lot since then, especially about the power of the right kind of well-timed word. The kind of word prompted by the Spirit of God. Crabb says,
“A well-timed word has the power to urge a runner to finish the race, to rekindle hope when despair has set in, to spark a bit of warmth in an otherwise cold life, to trigger health-ful self-evaluation in people who don’t think much about their shortcomings, to renew confidence when problems have the upper hand” (Crabb, 27).
When was the last time you spoke a well-timed, Spirit led word of encouragement to someone? Your words have the power to lift burdens, lower anxiety and instill hope. I truly treasure those times when someone has done that for me. It motivates me to do the same for others.
Lord, I pray for the mindfulness to speak sincerely with positive impact, whenever You give me the opportunity.