This article is part of our series on The Power of Words. Words have always had the power to create life or to create death. Just like sticks and stones can break our bones, words can also break our spirit and our communion with God and others. Our hope is that this series will encourage and enable you to speak life-giving words to others by being rooted deeply in God’s Word. Read previous articles in this series here:
- “Sticks and Stones and Words that Hurt” by Gretchen Saffles
- “Speaking from the Overflow” by Jessica Mathisen
- “The Power of Words: Winning the War’” by Maggie Combs
Conversations with Others
Do you remember an average conversation you had a week ago? Two days ago? An hour ago? I can’t either. But what about the last time you had a hard or complicated conversation? Do you remember what was said then? That’s probably a little more likely. So often, we let our words roll off of our tongues carelessly, landing haphazardly on the people we interact with every day. We may be dropping word bombs without any intention of harming. God’s Word tells us that our words have the power of death and life (Prov. 18:21).
Sometimes even our well-intended words have unexpected consequences. Last year, I found myself in one of these situations with a close friend. We’re both in similar stages in life but have very different approaches to them, and I tend to be more opinionated than I want to admit. As she shared with me how she and her husband were making decisions, I had many thoughts and questions and did not hold back on sharing my views. With time, our friendship began to suffer until we had to address the situation. As we did, she told me that my ongoing sharing of opinions frequently left her feeling discouraged and like I was disappointed in her and her life. This was not what I had intended at all.
This happens more than I’d like to admit. I’m quick to speak and slow to listen. I’m prone to give advice and solutions without prayer or careful consideration of God’s Word. And I’m distracted during important conversations. In short, I’m not using my words to be life-giving. But as God grows me in this area, I’ve learned a few tools that help me battle against my errant tongue.
Stop and Pray
Prayer is usually the last thing we think about when we are out to coffee with a friend. We get wrapped up in updates about life and enjoying one another’s company. But this doesn’t mean we can’t pray. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), and praying for our friendships and conversations is not excluded in this exhortation.
When we are on the way to meet our friends, we can pray that God will be with us and redeem our conversation. We can pray that our friendship is strengthened for his glory as we seek to be friends that build each other up in the Lord. Inevitably during our conversations with friends, we often reach the point of vulnerability (praise God that he gives us other women to share the burdens and joys of life with!).
These are the moments where we share our struggles, doubts, health concerns, conflicts, etc. They are perfect opportunities to stop and pray together. Sometimes I’ll politely interrupt and ask if it’d be okay if we pray together before she goes on. This changes everything! It aligns our hearts to the right position before God as we ask him to be part of our circumstances and give us wisdom (James 1:5).
Engage in Active Listening
Active listening is as essential as speaking. James 1:19 calls us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (NIV). We cannot listen and speak at the same time. It doesn’t come naturally; we must practice it. It involves being attentive with our minds and bodies. Consider non-verbal cues such as your posture, eye contact, facial expressions, and the use of your hands. If your posture is one of leaning back in your chair, if you’re looking at your lap, or if your hands are fidgety, then you could be communicating that the topic at hand is not of interest to you.
On the other hand, if your posture is leaning forward, if you’re making eye contact, and if your expressions reflect the words being shared with you, then you communicate: “I am here, I am listening, and this is important to me.” Try to avoid distractions. This is so hard with our phones buzzing and watches giving notifications. Consider setting those on silent to help you love the other person with your attention and presence.
Resist the urge to mentally prepare your rebuke, advice, or solution to the problem while your friend is still sharing. If you are planning your response, you are not listening. Ask follow-up questions to gain further insight into your friend’s heart. Ask questions about her thoughts and emotions, how this has impacted her faith, ideas she has about outcomes/solutions to the situation, and how you can support her well. Once you have asked a few more questions, you will have a better understanding of the areas of need and struggle, and you will know how to better love and serve your friend.
Share the Wisdom of the Word
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). This is the starting point and center of how we are to respond to our friends with our words. This can be difficult in today’s world, where we are constantly bombarded with ideas and advice from social media and other worldly sources. In my life, there have been countless times where I have asked for advice from Christian women only to receive well-meaning advice that followed the patterns of this world and unknowingly discouraged me to follow God’s will for my life.
We must learn to discern the wisdom of the Lord versus insufficient worldly wisdom if we are to be women that build up and edify each other with our words. A helpful question to ask ourselves is, “Is [insert piece of advice] a Biblical truth, or does it come from the worldview of today’s culture, tradition, or social media?” This type of discernment requires that we spend time in the Word to learn what God says about who he is and how we are to live.
Follow Up with Care
Finally, follow up with prayer and words of encouragement. In my experience, one of the most heartbreaking situations has been opening my heart to others in vulnerability about a situation and asking them to come alongside me, only to hear silence afterward. When others trust us to share in their struggles and joys of life, we cannot take it lightly.
Make sure you follow up with a text message, phone call, or another get-together. Your follow-up can vary from sharing that you are praying for them, dropping off a meal, asking how the situation is developing, or sharing truth from the Word of God to encourage them to set their eyes on our Rock and Redeemer.
In the meantime, pray. Ask God to provide his grace, mercy, and peace that surpasses all understanding. Pray that God sustains their lives, gives wisdom, and, where necessary, brings conviction of sin and repentance. Let’s be women that love, listen, and use our words wisely in our day-to-day conversations, bringing life to all who hear us.