On Monday nights this summer, I hosted middle and high school students from my church at my house for hamburgers, Mario Kart and a discussion of the book of James. We walked through a chapter of James each week. We read the chapter together, discussed questions or confusions we had about the text, and discovered how the words may affect our lives in the day-to-day.
As I prepared for our study each week, alongside reading the chapter to be discussed, I read a commentary on the book of James called Be Mature by Warren Wiersbe. In his chapter on James 3:1-12 and controlling the tongue, Wiersbe shares 12 words that, he believes, can transform our lives.
I happen to agree with him—these words can transform lives.
Words are important to me. In everything from my favorite school subjects growing up, to how I best express and receive love, to my present job, words are everything.
With people I love, I am more likely to share an encouraging affirmation than I am to hug them. With people I hate, in my sin, I am more likely to deliver a destructive word of discouragement than I am to throw a punch.
So, what are the 12 words? They’re quite simple:
“Please” and “Thank You”
The power of these words is sort of underrated, and I think it’s because using them has become so routine that they don’t carry much meaning sometimes.
We’re taught and reminded to use these words from the time we can speak, and we’re rebuked when we don’t use them. But, when is the last time we used “please” or “thank you” beyond as a matter of course in the grocery store checkout line or passing through the Starbucks drive thru?
Make it a goal of yours this week to look someone in the eye and give them a heartfelt “thank you,” perhaps even elaborating on how they blessed you or encouraged you in some way.
It is tragic that we lose the power of these three words because of their ubiquity.
This phrase tends to get thrown under the bus because “I apologize” communicates a more powerful feeling of remorse in the eyes (or ears?) of some.
I really think either phrase will do because the real problem isn’t that we use the wrong one, but that we don’t use either enough!
In our pride and often out of fear of shame, we withhold these two little words and forsake friendships as a result.
Wiersbe says, “These two words have a way of breaking down walls and building bridges.”
Indeed, out of love for our neighbor and faithfulness to Christ, we need to put aside our pride and be better about acknowledging when we’ve messed up.
“I Love You”
Too many of us refrain from using the words “I love you” with anyone outside of our significant others because we wrongly assume the phrase has to carry romantic meaning. Guys should be able to tell their brothers in Christ they love them without having to feel weird.
You can show love to your brothers and sisters in Christ all day in a variety of ways, but words matter.
You can help a couple in your community group move, but if you never tell them you love them, they may just think you want to be nice.
You can set up a meal delivery plan for new parents in your church, but if you never tell them you love them or if you never spend time praying with them when you deliver the food, how will they know you aren’t just begrudgingly trying to be a good friend?
There is no reason we, as a church, cannot be more explicit about our love for one another, using our words.
“I’m Praying for You”
This phrase, like the others in this list, gets tossed around so often I sometimes wonder how much meaning it still has rattling around inside of it.
Here in the South, especially, saying “I’m praying for you” can be as common of a courtesy as “Please” or “Thank you.”
When we use these words, which we should, we need to be sure we mean them. I am ashamed at the number of times in my life I have told a friend or family member I was praying for them and then neglected to do so. We’ve all done it.
About “I’m praying for you,” Wiersbe writes, “We say it in an encouraging way, to let others know that we care enough for them to meet them at the throne of grace.”
There are few acts of love as great as being willing to walk with a friend into the throne room of God in order to petition on their behalf.
Our words matter. God help us when we use our words to sin, and may God give us the grace to use these 12 simple words to transform the life of our local churches and communities.
This article originally appeared here.