I was recently asked to speak to the staff of a Christian organization on the theme of affirming one another. Some of us struggle to share good words with others. It made me think about two words in the English language that literally mean “good words.”
The first is eulogy, rooted in the Greek. These are the good words we wait to say until the person is already gone. Would we be comfortable saying those good words to their living face? Sometimes perhaps.
The other word is benediction, rooted in the Latin. These are good words of blessing spoken in some church traditions, but usually only by official ministers who have received some sort of training or authority to offer such words. We don’t usually think of average person in the pew speaking words of benediction.
A statue of Lenin in Kiev waiting to be torn down (September 1991)
Do we really have to wait until the end (eulogy) or reserve for only special moments (benediction) the good words that we say? I remembered an experience that illustrates how hard it can be to speak good words to one another. In September 1991, I went with Chuck Miller to Kiev in the Ukraine. It was literally weeks after tanks rolled in the streets of Moscow and the Soviet Union was dissolving. We were there train about thirty future house church leaders there. John Guest, the Episcopal evangelist, had recently been in town and had hundreds if not thousands respond to the gospel in faith. It was his desire to provide leadership for these new believers in a city where there were very few Protestant Evangelical churches available.
One evening, Chuck was teaching on the command in 1 Thessalonians to “encourage one another.” It was one of our last evenings with these leaders. After talking about encouraging one another, he wanted them to try this on and gave them a few moments to apply what they had learned. An older gentleman, Sasha, who had been rather quiet through the training stood and, through the interpreter, told that that this was something they just didn’t do in the Ukraine.
What he was saying was that living under Soviet rule for a few generations where Christians were actively persecuted, they had learned that it was unsafe to offer any words of any kind to another since they did not know who they could trust. Chuck listened to what Sasha said, and then responded with what I think were God’s words of wisdom for the moment: “It is very, very hard when we have to choose between being Ukrainian and being Christian. Christians encourage one another. We see this practiced among the Christians in Thessalonica.”
So again, Chuck asked them to try on this practice that was very Christian if not very Ukrainian. At first, they stood and sort of looked at each other uncomfortably. Then, we saw one gentleman say a few words to another, which drew the response of a big bear hug and words back. Soon, the whole room was buzzing with what we assumed was much encouragement. It felt like water was being poured out onto long dry land.
What good words do you wish you would hear spoken by someone who matters to you? What good words is God inviting you to speak to another now, rather than waiting for a eulogy or assuming you’re not authorized to give a benediction?
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