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 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
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 requirements.
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
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
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
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
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 unlikely person.
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
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
“A word in season, how good it is!” (Prov