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“How do you spell frosten?” I asked my third-grade teacher.

She assured me there was no such word. I assured her that yes there was. My mother told me I could frosten the cupcakes if I was careful. Today the auto spell check will underline that word in red, even though I know it perfectly expresses the act of applying frosting to a cake.

I enjoyed living in different parts of our country listening to the various ways people use words.  However, as a child I didn’t like Dr. Seuss books. My friend couldn’t get enough of the strange characters and words. I admired her spirit of adventure. But all that wordplay was too jarring for me.

Words can still jar me. Did I hear you right? Is that the word you were looking for? Traveling through southern Louisiana, we were looking for some “top of the hour” news. Unfortunately, in that area we could find only a Cajun radio station. My husband and I looked at each other in confusion and switched off the dial.

I enjoy playing with words to add flavor to a description, capture the action more fully, or paint a picture. But when others play with words it can be puzzling. I saw a billboard along the Texas interstate that asked, “How can you feel so reasonably?” A wonderful Apple Store employee told me after several minutes of a help session, “You are so patience!” As long as people aren’t trying to deceive or mislead me, I’m fine and I still get their point.

Words are at the heart of communication. People can be defiant, determined to get in the last word, and sometimes it’s too late to take back those words. When we give our word, we expect someone to believe us. And we hope friends will keep our secret when we tell them, “Don’t say a word about this to anyone!”

When we have the opportunity as leaders, we should never hesitate to put in a good word for someone. Our words, if they are kind and encouraging, can cheer someone up. How quickly, though, we can stir up anger with our words when we use them “like deadly arrows” (Proverbs 15:1; Psalm 64:3). And if our words are empty with no follow through, our family, company or organization will lose faith in us. When we speak words, they had better be worth something (Jeremiah 15:19b). We must be forthright in what we say. Especially when we realize that we’re the spokespersons for our Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17).

Oftentimes as leaders we are in a position or situation where our words need to be measured. If we are being challenged, we need to be extra mindful of our words. Hopefully we aren’t caught off guard and have the time to think, carefully choosing our words and looking for pitfalls. Otherwise, there will be people who won’t just play with our words. They’ll distort and twist them into a whole new meaning. Then we can only complain, “You’re putting words into my mouth!”

We shouldn’t be surprised when others want to have their way by using our words against us. That old game started early enough with the serpent twisting the Lord’s words. “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1-4) Later God’s people were warned about those who “twist the words of the innocent” (Exodus 23:8) or give false testimony to distort justice (Isaiah 29:21). Our Lord Jesus was constantly fending off attacks from those who wanted to “trap Him in his words” (Matthew 22:15). Later, the witnesses against our Lord Jesus in His trial before the Sanhedrin twisted His words in their false testimonies (Mark 14:55-59).

It is a terrible position to be in where every word we speak is parsed and examined. Today’s technology can literally put words in our mouths, as if we are actually speaking them in a video. How frightening!

But there is one set of circumstances when we can be quite sure we are on safe ground with our words. That’s when we are using words of thanks. Our calendars are full of appreciation days for bosses, administrative assistants, and just about every job imaginable. We want to show our appreciation for someone and what they contribute to our company, church, organization, or school.

However, some people seem to fall all over themselves with their thanks. I remember those teacher appreciation days that seemed to turn into a competition to see who could show the greatest gratitude through gifts and cards. Even so, an awkward acknowledgment is so much better than receiving not one word of thanks for all we’ve done. Still, I cringe during award shows on television when the hosts and program directors are trying to rein in those endless thank yous.

Our Lord reminds us that an abundance of words isn’t always necessary and may not reflect what is in our hearts. He even warns us that “the more words, the less meaning” (Ecclesiastes 6:11). That’s hard to keep in mind during the Thanksgiving holiday when the act of appreciation is celebrated. This is the time we focus on all the ways the Lord has blessed us. We look around our table and realize who and what we are thankful for and Who to give the credit to. It’s good to give thanks and to teach our children to say thank you. We need to count our blessings. Remember all the things the Lord has done for us and thank Him! It’s all that’s needed!

So how DO we thank our Lord for all He’s done. We don’t have to get tangled up with words or compete with others to show our appreciation. He tells us that our grateful hearts say it all. Our Lord Jesus is not impressed with our words (Matthew 6:7). I like the admonition in Ecclesiastes 5:2. “God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

In other words, a simple “Thank you, Lord Jesus” is enough.

The Hands of a Great Leader will take you deeper in learning to love and serve others. 

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