“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24 NIV).
Have you ever heard the perfect words at just the right time? A student wrote a detailed letter of thanks to her teacher and sent it by slow mail from Norway to America. She had no idea the impact of her words and all that teacher had been contemplating on the day they were received.
The letter served as a benediction—a closing of one chapter of her life—a good word to spur her on to her next steps.
In our online course, Dr. Noel Forlini Burt talks about a benediction or a good word. Sometimes, a good word is exactly what we need to carry on when life becomes confused.
Are you sharing good words with your neighbors? Giving a benediction to your neighbors can become a practice. Like speaking in public, you may need to prepare, though often you will wing it!
Here are some characteristics of a benediction:
1. IT IS A BLESSING—A GOOD WORD.
My dear friends who for many years lived on the mission field go to my church. Each time I see them, they carefully choose words to bless me. They know where I’ve been, and they know their words matter to me. Most importantly, they don’t withhold them. They are examples of how to live gracefully—unhurried, intentional, and truly compassionate.
Words from wise people guide you if you’ll stop to listen. But you shouldn’t be a recipient only.
You are a giver of blessing, too,
when God’s presence lives in you.
What would you say if this were your last day on earth? Would you use your words carefully? Would you give the benediction, the good word that someone hopes to hear?
Consider these benedictions:
Romans 15:13 (NIV) says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 (NIV) says, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”
Joy, peace, and grace—these are often the parts of a benediction. Are you asking God to provide these for your neighbors?
2. IT IS INTENDED FOR AN INDIVIDUAL OR SPECIFIC GROUP.
Our teachers would gather every year at commencement time to practice and sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.“ It was our parting song for the graduating seniors. All teachers looked at the graduating class and sang as the last thing on the program. Of course, teachers don’t have favorites, but when they’d graduate, I’d feel a deep connection with each one to the blessing we sang. It’s as if my mind would say, The Lord bless you, Glynna, Emily, Jackie, Jemima, Grace, Adelin, Geoffrey, Boss, Candy, Clarke, Tam, and so many others. We had invested in them, and these were our parting words.
Your words are free, so use them to bless others.
This is a statement I use often, because withholding a blessing is stingy. Make giving a benediction part of your vocabulary.
3. IT IS OFTEN AN INTENTIONAL PARTING WORD.
Be careful. Drive safely. Don’t study too hard. I checked your tires—they look fine. You know I love all my girls. I love you. These are the types of benedictions my father has given me over the years.
He had hoped to have a son, but he was blessed with five daughters. All are hard workers, and he is proud of all of us. Because we knew he wanted a son, he is very clear to remind us that he loves girls. Some might see his words like Be careful as words of warning. But we know them as good parting words—his way to bless us and show he cares.
He wants to provide us a place of protection and rest, a place where we don’t worry but leave refreshed. So when he sends us off, he wants that protection to go with us. He trusts that God will do that for us as we leave; in his way, he is asking God’s blessing on us.
Our Thai friends would not leave our house without asking leave (laa gone—a phonetic form of the Thai words for asking leave). They were being polite and showing proper manners. It was a natural time for us to give them a benediction.
In every culture and relational dynamic, you also have appropriate times to provide good words.
Keep good words on your lips
and use them befittingly.
In the book Upside-Down Leadership (p. 18), Taylor Field speaks of times of disorientation and asks, “Then how are we supposed to lead? How do we move ahead in the times when we see our world falling apart, just as Adoniram Judson literally found his world flipped upside down?”
Real leading is everything but right side up. It is speaking words of hope when you feel as if your hope is gone. It means forgiving and blessing the one who mistreats you. It means finding the places you hurt and rubbing the balm (perhaps a balm of healing words) on someone else while vicariously experiencing the healing.
When you finish a conversation, be intentional about speaking gracious words. Think of your benediction as the words you would want to leave with your neighbor if these were your last words to them.
Proverbs 16:24 suggests the metaphor of the honeycomb—“sweet to the soul”— for the one who is blessed with unexpected, gracious words.
Claudia Johnson lives near Birmingham, Alabama, where she intends to give benedictions to her neighbors.