Remember the time your life was changed because you doubted your ability, and someone you trusted convinced you that you could do it?
Do you remember the healing effect that took place when somebody who hurt you deeply said those magic words? “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” changed everything in an instant.
How about the time somebody saw something in you that you couldn’t see in yourself – something unique, special, gifted – and pointed it out?
All of these are examples of the six most powerful things you can say to someone.
You and I wouldn’t have to talk very long to agree that words have power. The old proverb still rings true that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). If that’s true, then doesn’t it make sense that we have the power to intentionally choose life with our words?
I’ve made my living with words for a long time. And yes, I have seen up close and personal how words can crush someone’s spirit, destroy relationships, and create a slow (or quick) march to death. But I have also been on both sides of conversations where words gave life, strength, renewed passion and courage.
There are all kinds of ways to encourage, inform, and give new vision. But six expressions stand apart, in a league of their own. If you want to take your words to the next stratosphere, try one or all of these six in your relationships:
1. I love you for (or appreciate) how you are different.
We all have a longing – sometimes an ache – to know that those who know us best still see things in us that are uniquely desirable. The biblical word for that is praise.
Praise tells people how they are different. It focuses not so much on what they do (more on that later), but on who they are. There is dynamite in praise to God, but it works for people, too. Praise is a powerful weapon or tool off the lips of an encourager.
After giving that famous description of Superwoman in Proverbs 31, the author describes her secret: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all.”
In your relationships – casual and close – look for the uniquely praiseworthy in others. And don’t just admire in silence! Let them know what you see.
2. Yes. (Or, “Okay, we’ll do it your way.)
We live in a world filled with closed doors and disappointments. We also live in a world filled with people who insist on doing things their own way. Imagine the power that comes when someone defers, or submits.
I once worked in an environment where people frequently came forward with suggestions, ideas, even innovations. But over 90% of the time they were told “no.” We don’t have the money. That’s not part of our vision. We need you to get on board with our plan. Whatever.
I decided then and there, I wanted to be the guy who, if at all possible, could say “yes!” Even if I didn’t have the budget or the manpower to help them out, I at least wanted to be the one who encouraged them to try, to dare, to reach out.
Paul talks about “submitting to one another” in Ephesians 5:21, and he wasn’t just talking about marriage. He’s talking about a rich fellowship of like-minded people who, when they encountered somebody with different ideas or different ways of doing things, can say, “Let’s do it your way and see how it turns out!”
3. I need your help. (Or, Thank you for your help.)
Take a trip with me for a minute to a dark, lonely place. We’re inside the walls of a first-century prison – a Roman version of death row. Paul is there, waiting to die. He has written some very powerful things to Timothy. Now he drops his guard a little and gets personal. Even vulnerable. “Do your best to come quickly,” he says (2 Timothy 4:9).
Translation: I need you.
People need to be needed. It communicates confidence in them. And if nothing else Paul said to his timid associate got his attention, this should have.
Other people would bring the world to your door again and again if you just said, “Thank you.” I got an email a few weeks ago from a man who is graduating from college in a few weeks. He reminded me that I was the one who had encouraged him to go. And now he is finishing up the degree and has a great job waiting for him. Not only did he make my day, he made me want to know how else I could help him.
None of us were created to fly solo. We need the help of others. And to get it, we can’t assume they can read our minds. Ask. Seek. Knock. Then thank. Thank. And thank some more.
4. I’m sorry.
None of us gets through life without inflicting some wounds along the way. Admitting when we blew it can bring healing to the relationship. That why Christ followers are encouraged to “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16).
My experience has been that close relationships such as marriages and friendships, one person tends to be the “easy apologizer” and the other has a hard time with it. They prefer to apologize with their actions. Or… they prefer to be proud and not admit they made a mistake.
Think of apologies as a statement of value, redirection, and growth. By saying “I was wrong,” you are saying to someone else, “I value the relationship more than the issue.” Like a talking GPS reader when you’ve made the wrong turn, you are “recalculating” when you say you’re sorry. And you’re admitting that you don’t have it all figured out yet. It’s amazing what that can do for any relationship when you admit that yes, you really are human.
5. Our relationship is important to me.
If you want to add life and power to a relationship, let them know that the relationship matters. It matters enough to protect it. It matters enough to feed it. It matters enough to fix what’s broken in it. It matters enough to make time for it. It matters enough to spend money (appropriately) on it. It matters enough to enjoy it. It matters enough to preserve or restore the trust that holds it together.
CAUTION: This one requires, more than all others, that you back up your words with action. Your words can ring very hollow if you aren’t making relationship-building choices in your life.
6. You have what it takes.
Everybody – everybody – needs to be reminded every once in a while what they’re capable of.
Did that just make you think of somebody? Time to send that email or make that call.
I’m not talking about the kind of mindless clapping and cheering that takes place on “Family Feud” or in Congress (oops… did I say that?). You know – where somebody just gave an answer that is really stupid, but because they’re on your team you’re all over it.
What I mean is a sober, confident, intelligent reminder to people who matter that they really are capable of passing the test, moving to the next level, or using their gifts.
This is also a way to challenge someone, especially using stories or metaphors. I once told someone that the job he was settling for was like putting a grand piano in a closet.
He’s the one who’s about to graduate from college.
It Even Works with the Lord
So how do I know that these are the six most powerful things you can say? Check this out (my paraphrase)…
This, then is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven, I love you for how you are different – your name is holy!
I say “yes” to Your kingdom, and “yes” to Your will – in heaven, on earth, and in my life.
I need You for my daily bread, and thank You for how You have given so faithfully to me.
I am sorry – please forgive me for the ways I have failed you, as I forgive the debts of others.
I choose to guard my heart today. Protect me from temptation and from the evil one.
And I declare today that Yours is the kingdom – You have it! Yours is the power – You can do it! Yours is the glory – You are beautiful… forever.
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