March 28, 2016 • Life for Leaders
The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
Words have power. With your words you can wound and weaken the people who matter most in your life, such as your colleagues and subordinates, your family members and friends, your neighbors near and far. Or you can use your words to bless those who are close to you, to build them up, encourage, and energize them.
Lord, help me to use my words this very day to build up my colleagues, including those I supervise, even those to whom I report.
We find a striking example of the power of words in Genesis 49. This chapter begins with Jacob gathering his sons shortly before his death so that he might “tell [them] what will happen to [them] in days to come” (49:1). For some of his sons, Jacob’s words did not bring good news. Reuben, for example, would “no longer excel” because he had defiled his father’s bed through sexual transgression (49:4). Judah, on the contrary, would be a ruler and one who would be praised by his brothers (49:8-10). Joseph, not surprisingly, received ample blessings from Jacob (49:22-26). In fact, Jacob described them with these superlatives: “The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers” (49:26).
Jacob affirmed the particular power of his words as he spoke blessing over Joseph. This expresses a certain cultural understanding of the spiritual efficacy of blessings and curses. What a father spoke over his son was believed to have power to determine that son’s future. Without exploring the spiritual nuances of blessing and cursing, we can surely agree that the words of an important person in our lives have exceptional power to shape us.
This is certainly true of parents and children, but it also can be experienced in work relationships. If your boss or your board praises your work, you feel empowered and energized to work even better and harder. If, on the contrary, someone in your workplace criticizes you unfairly or personally, this can sap your energy and deplete your enthusiasm. I’m not suggesting that we should never say anything negative to a colleague or subordinate, or even to our boss. There is a right time for appropriate critique and correction. But, all too often, negative feedback carries an unnecessary personal punch.
In tomorrow’s devotion I’ll share a couple of workplace examples of the power of words to tear down or to build up. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times in your life when someone of significance in your work life blessed you through words?
Can you think of times in your life when someone of significance in your work life wounded you through words?
How about your words at work? Would your colleagues think of you as someone who uses words to build up? Or would they think the opposite?
Can you think of someone whom you can encourage today through your words? What will you say? When?
Gracious God, thank you for the reminder in this passage of the power of words. May I take this power seriously as I consider the people for whom I am influential. Help me to use my words this very day to build up my colleagues, including those I supervise, even those to whom I report. May my words not be trite or trivial. May the blessings I offer be thoughtful and true. And may all I say be for your glory. Amen.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.