Accountability: The Power of Our Words

It was 1974 and I was 16. Mesmerized, I stared at the church organ dangling fifteen feet above the sanctuary floor. The church was the Danby Federated Church, seven miles south of Ithaca, NY—built in 1813.

My dad, Pastor Jimmy Miller, had spearheaded a drive to raise funds to refurbish the historic building, restoring it to its 19th-century glory.

Part of the project was the reopening of the original choir loft at the rear of the church. It had been closed decades earlier to be used for Sunday school classes.

church loftDanby Federated Church - Danby, NY. Built: 1813

Several men had rigged a chain and pulley system to hoist the organ from the floor to the loft. I remember how amazing it was to see the massive instrument floating in the air!

As the team took a quick breather, a small door at the front of the church opened halfway and a lady who’d been part of the church since dirt peered out. My father, always Mr. Enthusiasm and totally excited about what was taking place, exclaimed, “Rhoda, look! The organ is going back where it belongs—up in the choir loft!”

The old gal—she had to have been 105—studied it all for a moment. Then, as if her life purpose was to discourage people, she flatly stated three words I’ve never forgotten:

“Don’t drop it.”

The door closed and Rhoda was gone, but her impact remained. Looking back almost forty years, I can say she definitely “killed the moment.”

Happens. All. The. Time.

Last week I bumped into a friend I had not seen for almost a year. When I, as humbly as humanly possible, mentioned I’ve lost 43 pounds in eleven months, he did not respond with, “Congrats!” “Super job!” “Way to go!” or “Outstanding!”

Instead, he said …

“Looks like you need to eat something.”

Is he a bad guy? No, he’s a good guy—but that just proves this point:

It takes some real discipline to be an Encourager.

It seems to be human nature to be a Discourager. Not sure why. Maybe we think we’re helping. Maybe it was the way we were parented. Maybe we don’t like ourselves much. It doesn’t matter, I guess. What matters is how much more fun it is and how much more value we can contribute to the people around us by speaking positive words of encouragement.

But it takes practice … and practiceand some more practice to be an Encourager.

So I better start today with this promise:

Accepting the truth that I am personally accountable for everything I utter, I promise to choose uplifting words that leave the hearer of those words feeling good—maybe even better than before our moment together. And there will be nothing wrong with that.


Share a time when someone encouraged you with just the right words.

Who do you need to encourage today and what will you say?

Post your thoughts below!


45 Responses

  1. You’ve hit another homer John. Seem no matter how good we do, we could always do better, and there’s usually someone around to tell us how. Unfortunately, I have often been that someone. As of this instant, I promise to redouble my effort to stay fully aware and attentive to becoming an Encourager. The hard part for me though, is going to be how to encourage with also doing a little coaching. lol Can hardly wait for feedback from my children on this posted comment.

      1. Since I forwarded the QBQ to them, I believe they will have to read the article before they see my comment. 🙂 But, thanks for the advice. Also my penultimate line should have read “without” also doing a little coaching.

  2. It seems there are (unfortunately) many times this holds true (or has). New opportunity and the naysayers make comments unsupportive.

    The good news is there are many people like you describe that WILL give positive reinforcement.

    You Mr. Miller have been one of them on more occasions that you will EVER know (to me and I am quite certain many others)

    I for one will now make a more certain effort in the encouraging side from this day on!!!!

  3. The church photos are amazing ! both outside and inside.You are blessed to grow up in those environment!
    Only people with secure feelings within and confident in ones own self can provide positive energy and inspiration to others.

    When one needs encouragement and appreciation from other how is it possible to appreciate others? what we don’t realise is by giving positive encouragement to other we can feel more confident and be more positive.

  4. Growing up in a family farming operation (where oftentimes fathers and sons do not communicate well) — my Grampa Fred chose the perfect words at the perfect time — and didn’t even say it to me…but I heard it loud and clear.

    A mechanical issue with his tractor when we were working together and I told him I thought I could fix it…or at least make it better (steering was messed up). He believed in me but when Dad found out he was less than pleased and began to question my self-proclaimed mechanical prowess…at which point, Gramp (my Dad’s dad) immediately stepped up…spoke up and told him, in no uncertain terms, that what I had done was absolutely ok, it was fixed, worked better than ever and to leave me alone. They exchanged some sharp words — but I never felt better. Vindicated, supported and appreciated — and never hesitated after that to try and find a solution whenever there was chance.

  5. wow! so true. my mom means well, but in her effort to make us all better…she doesn’t realize that her words can sometimes be more discouraging than encouraging. it’s not in her heart to discourage…it just comes out that way. Funny though how different people react to someone like that…I think I’m harder on myself than anyone can be..probably because I’m always trying to be the best at it all! I don’t get upset at her at all…I just think, hmmm how could i be better! but one of my siblings gets very discouraged and upset and therefore there is more friction between the two of them.

    We all need to work on using more positive, encouraging words as you mention. We also need to work on improving on how we react to those “discouraging” words as well so we can walk away a little happier.

    thanks John!

  6. I agree John, many compliments are worthless. As Steve Brown says in both his Leadership and Sales Management course says we should specifically tell people WHAT they have done right, HOW it makes us feel and Why we feel that way! It not that hard but we seldom recognize good behavior effectively!

  7. I have been assigned as a manager with 5 people reporting to me. I am choosing my words carefully as I do reviews this next few days. I hope to be that person who brings the best out in others by speaking encouragement. It is good to remember the power our word have to build or tear down.

  8. It’s very hard to know what impact we have on others and takes a lot of skill to appreciate that we DO have an impact. But what about the person who, however much you feel that you try to boost them, does not have that self-belief in their abilities? The positive comments can seem hollow to them, mere platitudes. How can you help them turn the corner and encourage them without feeling discourage yourself?

  9. Being an encourager is so important in my work environment…a middle school. There is a tremendous amount of stress in these times. Even small compliments or a sincere smile can do wonders for others. When a coworker asks “How are you?”, it may be an indication that they need to be asked the same question and then afforded a moment or two of your time to listen. Students who are toughest to love, truly may be the ones who need it the most. Taking time to pray on my commute helps me prepare for our day 🙂 I am not alone on this journey.

  10. Timely as always! I lead a small group of prayer warriors at my church who often drop what they are doing to intercede for others. Today you reminded me that while they have their own challenges (personally, physically, etc.) they have cried out to our Lord on the behalf of the ones hurting. That is commendable! Thanks, John.

  11. My wife recently encouraged me to compete in an important taekwondo tournament (a National Championship Qualifier) even though I had a recent knee injury (torn meniscus). My knee had heeled some since the injury and felt a little better and most around me told me I was either too old or too stupid if I competed (except my Dr, he just said I was “vulnerable” and recommended surgery”), but I prayed and following my heart which was to complete. I did complete, didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but did well enough to qualify for the National Championships!

    I think I’ll be encouraging my 9 year old duaghter to do her best tomorrow on her “endurance day” test for her taekwondo black belt- it’s just a warm up test for the real one coming up in a few months, but she’s worried about being able to pass the test and needs any help she can get.

  12. John, this may be the worst post you have ever written. It’s terrible. Just drivel! What were you thinking? 😀

  13. Thank you John for sharing how important encouragement is needed. This is definitely an area where I need to step it up so I copied the promise and put it in my calendar to be reminded everyday to encourage. My sweet loving husband is one of the greatest encouragers I know and he is a constant reminder also of how we should encourage others. Our family has a quote that is so true “A moment on the lips a lifetime on the heart”. May God help all of us who struggle with this to become more like Jesus.

  14. John,

    Your Dad asked me preach in that beautiful church in the 1980’s when I was visiting from the Congo. I will never forget the generosity of those I met. Your Dad’s enthusiasm and positive attitude was contagious, very similar to my own father’s. My life’s verse in Philippians 4:8, and your comments mesh beautifully with it.

  15. As I read this I remembered the time I sent a letter to the Honda Motor Company telling them how happy I was with my car. I remember receiving a phone call asking if I minded if they posted the letter on the bulletin board in the break room so the employees could see it because it was so rare to get a positive letter and it would encourage them. I said yes, of course.

    I also remember a time when I didn’t watch my words and saw the joy and excitement fall from my stepson’s face and how bad I felt about it. It’s not always easy to remember to watch what comes out — but it is definitely necessary.

  16. I think many times responses like you shared come from a place of insecuritry. We can’t fully rejoice with someone because of our insecurity, so we fluff it off and try to make light of it.

    The reality is loosing that much weight is fantastic! Your friend should have taken time to rejoice with you. Instead, he made light of it, because maybe he feels the preasure to accomplish what you are an example of.

    Thank you for a great post!

  17. I work with at-risk kindergarten students and as I sat with one little girl listening to a co-worker teach, my little student attempted to answer a subtraction question with “someone took some of those”. This student struggles with every subject, and the teacher recognized her effort responding with “what a great observation, very smart”. Five minutes later I had already forgotten about it, the student looked at me and said “My teacher said I was smart”. Words certainly have power!

  18. John, Great post and it brings to light something that I think most of us do without thinking. Today, that stops for me as I will try to think about what I’m going to say before really saying it! My son is currently writing a book. He’s almost finished and is ready for the cover artwork to be done. This is his dream and I hate to think I’ve ever said anything to him that might have discouraged him. I’ll be sure to talk with him this evening to make sure he knows his Mom and I are behind him 100%!

  19. When I was young, I was told that I needed to know what I needed to improve, therefore, I was not complimented, or encouraged, just had the negative pointed out. I still remember a dried flower arrangement I made for a flower show. My mom said it was not good enough to even take to the show, but my neighbor and sponsor for the show, took it. When we visited the show, my entry had a first place ribbon on it! Mom did not say anything, but the work, and its ribbon, were displayed in the dining room until the blue turned purple. My neighbor gave me a big smile each time she saw the work.
    It’s easy to point out faults and what can go wrong. Empty praise (“You done good”) is a bit better, but Mr. Miller, your emphasis on telling another that they are doing well and why, being an encourager, is so important. Thanks putting it in words so succinctly.

  20. even worse than being a discourager, is discrediting someone when they try to encourage us. One time, at a Christmas presentation, a lady from my church was there and she had a friend with her. She introduced me to her friend like this: “This is Tereza and she is a wonderful mother.” I immediately opened my mouth and said, “Oh, I am not a wonderful mother!” Again, immediately, I realized my mistake. I never forgot that and vowed to myself to say “thank you” next time someone encourages me, even if I don’t agree at the moment.

  21. I think that some of the “wisdom” we grew up with was designed to have us keep working harder – like don’t rest on your laurels; if you just keep up you are moving backwards; just wait for the rug to be pulled out from under you; etc. those phrases almost made it seem like the act of joyful celebration for an accomplishment was inappropriate.

    I realize this attitude is designed to save us from experiencing disappointment – but it has such a negative impact when we can’t just express our enthusiastic delight for others accomplishments as well as our own! So what if the next experience is a flop? Just another growth opportunity!

  22. Encouragement is more powerful then many people think. Making the decision to go back to school was tough and I wasn’t sure if I could really pull it off. Thanks to my wonderful family and friends who not only encourage me with their words, but with their actions (e.g. watching my daughter for a few hours so I can focus on homework or take a test). I wouldn’t be getting ready to graduate with my associate degree in the spring and preparing to go on for my bachelor’s next fall if it wasn’t for the encouragement and support of the people in my life. I owe my success to a lot of people.
    My 8 year old daughter struggles with reading and math in school. I encourage her to never give up and to keep trying because failure is an event, not a person, and failure is only permanent when it’s allowed to be.

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