|When I first considered
beginning 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
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 would have to take a year or two off from
public ministry, but I would be better equipped to help people
in the years ahead.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I had thought about
the advantages 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 from a meeting with
the dean of students. It was a single observation he made that
helped more than anything. Since I had been highly motivated
so far, he suggested, it was a fair tradeoff to plod through a
less inspiring period in order to complete the degree
Again, his advice wasn’t profound. Yet it was just 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 largely returned.
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 in my life 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 that 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 was saying, 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 someone. 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 straightforward answer.
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 each other.
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
Great Expectations of Everyday Conversation
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 sphere of relationships
we have golden opportunities for ministering that no one else
has. And these occasions don’t always require a major
investment of time.
I once heard psychologist 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 to first build up the trust level. Intimate sharing
occurred in the initial session.
This same dynamic, that 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’ve
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)