Everyone needs a verse of Scripture to call his own. Here’s mine.
“Your words have stood men on their feet; you have helped the tottering to stand.” (Job 4:4)
Tell me if that is not one of the finest attributes one man could ever pay another. It has become something of a goal for my preaching, that my sermons would be so filled with life and faith that the falling and the fallen would hear and stand up again and get back into life.
What power words have…
When Eric Plumb entered the fourth grade, he missed the first two weeks due to a case of the mumps. As a result, he never caught on to the math they were studying that year. The teacher was a crabby, negative, cruel woman who was retiring at the end of that school term, the worst possible representative of her profession. She pounced on Eric and held him up to ridicule at every opportunity. When he missed an answer in arithmetic, which was often, she would say, “Eric is dumb. Eric Plumb is dumb. Eric Plumb is plumb dumb.” The students laughed at her put-down, no doubt glad someone else was her target for a while. To no one’s surprise, Eric grew to hate school.
Not until the tenth grade did something happen to change Eric’s perception of school. It was an English literature class, just after lunch when students and teachers alike had trouble concentrating. During a discussion of Shakespeare, the teacher was stunned to see Eric raise his hand for an observation, something he had never done before. When he finished, she said, “Why Eric – how perceptive.” For the rest of the day, Eric basked in the glow of those words. “Perceptive. She thinks I’m perceptive.”
Eric says, “I’m not going to tell you I became class valedictorian as a result of her comment, and I still hate math. But that one word from my English teacher turned around my self-confidence and helped me believe that maybe I wasn’t the total loser I had come to believe. I became a different student for the rest of my schooling.”
Cut down by one teacher; stood up by another. The incredible power of words. No wonder Scripture describes the Word of God as a two-edged sword. In a sense, all words are double-edged with power to cut and power to heal.
A couple of years ago, Frank Pollard retired from a lengthy pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi. This man is so accomplished a speaker that Time magazine once named him one of America’s top preachers. Most people are shocked, however, to learn of his humble beginnings. Frank tells it on himself.
When Frank was a child in Olney, Texas, a man named Claude Olney sought him out for his Sunday School class of ten-year old boys. He introduced Frank to Jesus, the greatest thing one person can do for another. Then, when Frank was in college and God called him to preach, practically no one believed in him. His classmates wondered how someone too shy to speak to them could ever stand in a church and address crowds.
When Frank gave his first sermon, instead of coming up to shake his hand, people headed for the doors. Only one man in town, Mr. Beverly King – the richest man in the little community – walked up and bragged on him and told him, “I know you will make it.” In college, Frank worked as a janitor of the Baptist Student Center and when no one else was around, would preach to the empty seats. He grew discouraged and frequently thought of quitting. And he would have, except for one thing. Every week, Frank Pollard received a postcard from Mr. King back in Olney saying, “I love you, Frank. I believe in you. You can do it.”
Frank Pollard confesses, “I am in the ministry today because of that man.” A man whose words stood him on his feet.
Standing people on their feet with words is a most Christlike thing. Jesus said to a paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And he did. He said to a fallen woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” To a thief dying on the cross, Jesus said, “Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
Bill Glass was an All-American at Baylor and an All-Pro defensive end for the Cleveland Browns football team. These days, he spends a lot of time in prisons telling men how to be truly free by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. I first heard him over thirty years ago tell of a great lesson he learned early in his football playing.
“When I started playing football in school,” Bill said, “I thought when you got knocked down was a good time to get some rest. Then I realized you get stepped on and fallen upon, so I started getting up. Then, I began to notice that in college and pro ball, most of the tackles are made by people who were either knocked down and got back up or knocked off balance and kept on going.” Bill paused and said, “Now, there’s a parallel in life. The devil knocks you down through temptation or hurtful words from someone or your own foolishness or a hundred other things. But it’s not enough for him to knock you down, he’s got to keep you down. And the way he does that is by working on your guilt.”
“‘Some Christian you are,’ the devil tells you. ‘What if the people down at the church could see you now. They’d be ashamed of you.’ And he keeps you down. But then, someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, friend, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) Get back up and get into the game!’ You hear that and believe, you confess it and reaffirm your faith in the Lord Jesus, and you get back into the game.”
As long as you are flat of your back, wiped out by your own sin or the cruel words or harsh treatment of another, lying there in your misery and self-reproach, the devil doesn’t have to worry about you. You’ll do the Lord no good and the enemy no harm. But the moment you start believing the Lord and stand up and re-enter the game, a cheer goes up from the grandstand. (See Hebrews 12:1) A champion is back and ready for the next play.
I have not always spoken healing words that stand people on their feet. For many years, I took delight in cutting people down to get a laugh. Eric Plumb’s cruel teacher had nothing on me. But I was blessed by a few people who refused to let me get by with it. A mother of a teenager called to ask why I had embarrassed her daughter in front of a theater-full of people the night before. I almost had trouble remembering what I had said, it was so thoughtless and meaningless on my part. And I was her pastor! The humiliation of going to her home and humbly apologizing to the teen and her family seared on my soul the cost of idle words that cut and bruise.
Someone needs to hear words of love and affirmation from you today. Don’t assume they already know that you love them. Tell them.
When Fred Rogers was a little boy, his parents would take him into the country for brief visits with his Grandfather McFeeley. Sometime during the visit, the wonderful old man would take the child aside and say, “Freddie, never forget that I like you just the way you are. Don’t ever change. God made you this way, and you are something special.”
Mr. Rogers lived the rest of his life telling children all over the world how special they were. Standing them on their feet.
By Joe McKeever