Last night I preached at a multi-Church thanksgiving program. I spoke about the power of words and especially the word “Thanks.” I shared something in the sermon that I did not have in my notes. It was a personal illustration that just hit me in the moment. I thought I would share it with you today.
When I began ministry I used to receive all kinds of discouraging notes. Most of them were completely anonymous and left on the back of connection cards in the space labeled for “Prayer Requests or Other Comments.” Most of them were about the way I dressed, the jokes I tried to tell, the changes I was making in worship and some were just general character attacks. It ceases to amaze me how many people have no trouble becoming a critic when it comes to Church and its leadership. Even though I never asked for people’s viewpoints they still shared them willingly while never revealing their name. The hard part was that most of them contained elements of truth. I hate wearing ties and dressing up, I did struggle with humor, I was making changes in worship and I have some huge character flaws. Because these comments contained elements of the truth I held on to them and read them over and over hoping to improve myself. Over time those words written on cards became part of my identity. Of course things were not going well in the Church, look who God had leading these people. My mind was more in tune with failure than success.
Then one day, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I threw all of those cards away. I started a new file by taking all of the positive comments that I received – some on connection cards, some on real cards and some through email – and saving those. I put all of those cards together and when I was feeling down I would take out the box and read through those notes. I would open up my email and read all the wonderful things people had to say about my ministry. Slowly my mindset began to shift from all the negative stuff to all the positive. In fact, I am still in the ministry today because some people took the time to say something nice to me in written form.
I firmly believe that life is shaped by words as much as events. So what words have shaped your life? What words are shaping your life into the future? Maybe an even bigger question is, “How are my words shaping other people?” Maybe this week I need to be reminded to say “Thank you” to someone. Or maybe I need to tell someone how much I appreciate what they have meant to my life. I know it will not only brighten your week but it will encourage someone more than you will ever fully know. I am living proof of that.