I was first considering launching a teaching
ministry, I weighed the possibility of getting
more education. I was eager to move ahead at full
speed giving seminars and tempted to bypass any
further training. I sought the counsel of various
people about what to do.
One afternoon I had lunch with a
friend whom I respected and asked his opinion.
Not surprisingly, he said that going back to
school was the right idea. But he couched his
advice in a metaphor: "By doing so you take
away a number but you add a multiplier." As
basic as his point was, it was the right thought
at the right time and it clinched my thinking.
Yes, I'd have to take a year or two off from
public ministry, but I'd be better equipped to
help people in the years ahead.
This was certainly not the first
time I'd thought about the benefits of education
in this way. But for some reason my friend's
comment helped me appreciate these benefits more
fully. Suddenly, I felt that the tradeoff of time
needed to gain them was much more than worth it.
I entered the doctor of ministry
program at Fuller Seminary. About halfway through
it my enthusiasm began to fade. At that time I
gained fresh heart through a meeting with the
dean of students. More than anything, it was a
single observation he made that helped. Since I'd
been highly motivated so far, he suggested, it
was a fair tradeoff to plod through a less
scintillating time in order to complete the
Again, his advice wasn't
profound. Yet it was exactly the boost I needed
at that moment. It helped me see my loss of zeal
as a temporary problem, which didn't have
to sabotage my goal. I felt a surge of relief
that it was okay to feel dry in an academic
program. I could still finish my course of study
and move on. These thoughts were so encouraging
that by the end of our meeting my motivation had
In each of these cases God gave
me vital insight and motivation through one short
conversation with someone. To a large extent he
touched me through a single statement each man
made. These incidents are not unique but typical
of how I've often experienced the grace of God.
And they reflect a common way that Christ gives
wisdom and encouragement to each of us.
When a Few Words Are Enough
From the beginning of Scripture
God is pictured as One who creates, heals and
directs human life through his spoken word.
"And God said . . . and it was so."
It's intriguing enough that God often uses frail
human creatures to convey his words to others.
What is most interesting, though,
is that the words God uses to bring about
profound effects so often are few. Consider how
frequently Jesus inspired remarkable growth in
someone through a brief conversation.
On one occasion a royal officer
made a considerable journey from Capernaum to
Cana to seek Jesus' help (John 4:46-54). When he
found Jesus, he pleaded with him to come to his
home and heal his dying son. The nobleman showed
a certain faith in believing Jesus could heal
miraculously. Yet his faith was elementary, for
he assumed Jesus needed to be physically present
to exercise his power.
Jesus, knowing this man was
capable of more substantial faith, responded to
him bluntly: "Unless you people see
miraculous signs and wonders you will never
believe." Your faith isn't what it should
be, Jesus chided the official, for it depends
upon seeing me perform a miracle.
The rebuke clearly sunk in, for
the nobleman made no attempt to justify himself.
He merely repeated his desperate request:
"Sir, come down before my child dies."
Jesus made only one more brief
reply: "You may go. Your son will
live." The official took Jesus at his word
and departed for Capernaum. In this case he
showed impressive faith, for by leaving Cana he
lost the opportunity to persuade Jesus to come to
his home. Only a moment before he was convinced
that Jesus needed to be physically present to
heal; now he saw Jesus' power as more pervasive.
With just a few comments Jesus had lifted him to
a higher level of faith!
In the same way God often speaks
vital words of comfort, challenge and direction
to you and me through a short conversation with
another person. It's easy to lose sight of the
value of such brief encounters today, with so
much emphasis on the complexity of human problems
and the importance of long-term counseling. We
can imagine that extensive time is needed to work
through a problem for which God may have a
I'm cautious in saying this, for
conflicts can run deep and extended counseling is
sometimes indispensable. I'm grateful for
Christian counselors and psychologists who are
able to go deep with people, and often recommend
their services. Scripture affirms the value of
long-term relationships, where we open the
windows of our life to others, and benefit from
their ongoing support and feedback. Such intimate
sharing can occur in friendships, as well as in
counseling relationships. Jesus spent much of his
ministry interacting with just twelve men,
helping them grow and learn how to get along with
At the same time he showed how
the power of God can touch our lives through
words spoken just in passing. Appreciating this
aspect of Christ's work can greatly increase our
anticipation of receiving help from him through
everyday contacts with people. The insight or
encouragement we need may come suddenly through a
few words exchanged with an unlikely person.
Great Expectations of Everyday
God may just as likely use you or
me as a messenger of grace to someone else. Those
of us who are not pastors or counselors may envy
such professionals for the considerable time they
have to devote to the deeper needs of people. We
may feel frustrated at how little time we have to
help others in this way, given the demands of our
jobs and other commitments. Yet within our own
unique sphere of relationships we have golden
opportunities for ministering which no one else
has. And these occasions don't always require a
major investment of time.
I once heard psychologist Dr.
Henry Brandt share a fascinating observation. He
noted that those who came to him for counseling
usually required five or six sessions to feel
comfortable opening up fully with him. Someone
who heard him speak in public, though, sized him
up quickly and decided whether he trusted Dr.
Brandt before he had finished his lecture. If
that person then came for counseling, there was
no need first to build up the trust level.
Intimate sharing occurred in the initial session.
This same dynamic which leads
many to quickly trust public speakers works to
our benefit in many other situations of life.
There are those who have observed you in
action--on your job, within your church, in your
community--and like what they've seen of you.
They have already decided that they trust
you. They are willing to be honest with you and
are open to your counsel. Given the right
situation, you may have the opportunity--even in
a brief conversation--to speak words that
inspire, motivate and heal. Your comments can
radically affect the outlook and well-being of
those around you.
We ought to begin each day asking
God to give us high expectations for every human
encounter we experience. We should pray for
alertness to the special opportunities God brings
our way to give or receive encouragement through
conversation. The words we hear and the words we
speak often carry the seeds of life.
"A word in season, how good
it is!" (Prov 15:23)