I remember it like it was yesterday. I was ditching a class in high school. It was third hour, I think. That is the hour we always ditched. We were in my friend’s jeep. Three of us. We did like we did so many times when we ditched class and went to another school to sit in the parking lot and see some of our other friends. While lounging in the parking lot, one of my friends noticed that something had fallen out of the pocket of a guy running to class. After he made it inside the school, we went to investigate the loot. It was his wallet. We picked it up, left the school, and began to investigate. There inside was an “SCS” card (the prehistoric form of an ATM bank card). But we needed the number. After a frantic search through the wallet we found what might qualify for the number. Immediately we went to the ATM and attempted to make a withdrawal. Unknown to us, the cameras were taking our pictures as three smiling boys were distributing the stolen money.

A few days later at school, a police officer came and got me out of class. He brought me to a room. There were the other two boys who were there with me that day. Our parents were present as well. They informed us of our capture. I immediately turned to my mother telling her it was their idea and that I did not want to do it. The pictures they had on hand betrayed my story as I am seen taking the money with no small smile on my face. It was over. We were caught. The gig was up. I was a criminal.

I did not really know what to think of myself. I was a Christian, but I had done a very bad thing. I knew it was wrong, but what you do is what  matters. And what I did was not a good testimony as to what I was to become. While there were no charges pressed (the person we stole from was a Christian friend who did not want to see us get in trouble), we did have to pay back the money ($140 split three ways and already gone!).

A few days later I was over at one of the three friends’ house when I overheard his mother speaking about me (I don’t remember who she was talking to). I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking she was in defense of her son. You’re thinking that she said she should not let her son hang out with me anymore. You’re thinking she was standing by her son saying that it was bad influences like me that were bringing her son down. Not at all. She said, “I know Michael. I know he did this. But you know what? He has a good heart.”

“He has a good heart.” Wow. “He has a good heart.” Encouragement. “He has a good heart.” Did I hear her right? At a time when I should have been brought down low, she said something that would stick with me for the rest of my life. She said something, true or not, that helped me in my self-defining for many years to come. “He has a good heart.” I believed her.

Here I am almost 25 years later writing about one conversation that I overheard about me. That is the impact of words and encouragement.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Rash words are cutting. Rash words are emotional. Rash words destroy and tear down in a moment’s time. These are the things we say to people when we are out of control.

Wise words are intentional words. Wise words are those which are thinking about the betterment of the other person. Wise words are words that look deep and attempt to ignite the good and discourage the bad. Wise words pull forward. Rash words push backward.

What you say to people matters. There is an old proverb for that, for better or worse, which is incredibly true:

“You are not who you think you are. You are who you think others think you are.”

While I think we need to be careful with this, God has designed the world in such a way that what others say matters. It’s not unlike a mirror. Your self-perception about how you look is determined by your reflection. Other people’s perception of you is a mirror for your own self-perception. Your words effect the way people see themselves. Rash words beat you down and change you forever. But wise and intentional words can establish character and propel people to virtue.

Rash words are easy. They are careless. They are always on the tip of our tongue. Wise words come as a surprise. Wise words are unexpected. Wise words are nourishing. Wise words can build a foundation for a life. Wise words from others are an anchor to the soul.

Those five words that my friend’s mom said about me meant mean more to me than she could ever know. I am sure that she does not even remember saying them. I am sure that if I told her about this story, she would have no idea what I was talking about. That’s the way it works. “He has a good heart” has been with me since I was 15.

How to apply this:

Go out of your way to recognize the good in people and tell them. Don’t stay silent about it. A key thing that I have learned is that silence about the good can have the same effect as being vocal about the bad. Tell them. Tell them. And tell them more. Encourage people with your words. Write them letters. Say things in passing. Sit down and have a talk. Say good things about them in public. When you know they are listening, build them up to someone else. You don’t know how important that is. This does not mean that you don’t correct. But work under the mandate of the 10/1 ratio. Say ten good things for every one bad.

At home, make a habit of sitting down with your children and tell them all the good things about them. Don’t assume they already know.

Tell your spouse continually about their strengths. Don’t assume they already know.

At work, at least once a week, tell your co-workers, bosses and employees things that you appreciate about them. Let them know about their strengths. Don’t assume they already know.

The internet is a cesspool of rash words. It is often so sad that I can hardly read blogs anymore. I especially have a hard time where public comments are viewable. People make a habit of beating others down because it draws a crowd. But the presence of a crowd does not mean you are following the Lord. Due to the anonymity and distance people have, the internet intensifies our rash sinful nature. In the virtual world, rash words flow more than anywhere else. People turn into bull-dozers, wrecking balls, and dynamite, tearing down everyone in their path and not stopping to see the blood spilt.

Ephesians 4:29
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

This is going to require an intentional life of recognizing the good. It does not mean you ignore the bad, but it assumes that the bad is defeated by an encouragement of the good.

There are many forks that people will come to in the road of life. I came to one of those forks when I was 15. When they make their choice, which direction will your words point them? Who do they think you think they are?

Thank you Jennifer James for seeing something in me. From a human perspective, it could have gone either way.

Please take the time to share accounts of where people’s words changed you.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    29 replies to "Five Words that Changed My Life"

    • Laurie M.

      Wonderful and true words! Thanks!

    • Josh Mueller

      Excellent, excellent! One of your best posts ever!

      I wish no one would tear those timely words apart by their perception of an orthodox interpretation of a biblical view on people’s hearts – namely that in us dwells no good thing or that only Christians have good hearts. I’m saddened how many are willing to subscribe to this “scum of the earth” type theology because they think only John Piper and 5 point Calvinism can teach you the truth about our total depravity.

    • Kevin Bullock


    • […] via Five Words that Changed My Life | Parchment and Pen. […]

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Michael C. Patton,

      As a Christian who’s a Calvinist, a Complementarian, an Inerrantist, and against Evolution, you have a good heart.


    • Joe

      The words that changed my life were:

      “You are a worthless piece of sh*t”

    • Frank

      Ok Joe, what is the story behind that?

    • mbaker

      The words that changed my life were:

      “No matter what happens, in the end, you are only saved by Christ. Your salvation rests in Him, not what others think of you. Only He knows those who are really His.”

      Thank God he sticks with us even when we don’t always with Him, or others don’t think we are ‘saved’ according to their personal definition of it.

    • Rintaun

      When I had a friend take every bad thing I had remembered other “friends” saying to me, and this friend kept turning every one of them around–either indicating why they were wrong, or why what seemed like a bad thing had great potential to be a good thing.

      That, and when my Mom wrote me a 17th birthday card that called me “tender-hearted”. Especially when you’re reluctant to accept something good about yourself, hearing it from someone else that really knows your strengths and flaws is incredibly uplifting.

      Love the post!

    • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Patton and RSS Stax, yvonnekin. yvonnekin said: RT @CMichaelPatton: Five words that changed my life: http://bit.ly/gYNa8N […]

    • bethyada

      $140 split three ways

      Any chance the class you ditched was maths?

    • C Michael Patton

      LOL. Not. I did not say that it was split evenly!

    • […] Five Words That Changed My Life […]

    • Mike

      I’d rather have been told that my heart was desperately wicked but that the Messiah Yeshua died like a criminal in my place because He loved me in spite of the fact.

    • Joe

      Mike, I agree.

      CMP’s Mom lied to him – if one believes what the Bible says about a man’s heart.

    • Joe

      Mike I agree.

      CMP’s mom lied – if one believes what the Bible says about a man’s heart

    • John From Down Under

      @ JOE & MIKE I’ll go a little off-script here contrary of the didactic purpose of this post.

      Firstly (Joe), CMP did not say it was HIS mom that said those words but HIS FRIEND”S MOM. Reading the post carefully before commenting helps.

      Secondly, one can always expect a party pooper to come and spoil a good post. Do you have ANY IDEA how self-righteous, pompous and one-dimensional your comments come across, other than the fact that you completely missed the thrust of this post.

      This post is AN EXAMPLE about the effect that words of encouragement can have on someone, not the ‘biblical accuracy’ of the words the lady spoke for Michael. If this is not an idolatrous obsession with ‘doctrine’ I don’t know what is.

      Do you HONESTLY think that the lady’s comments prevented CMP acknowledging that he had a sinful nature when he grew older? Have you read any of his other ‘personal’ and confessional posts?

      Sorry, had to rant….

    • Monica

      This was a really great story. And it had such a great message on how powerful words can be. The question is how are we going to use our words, to build up or to tear down? It just goes to show that the saying, “stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” that saying is just not true. Words have power. So power will we give our words?

    • John From Down Under

      test post (so see why I had two failed attempts so far)

    • John From Down Under

      Typo….I meant to write “contrary to the didactic purpose of this post”

    • Debbie

      The power of a kind word. What a great reminder. Thank you!

    • John From Down Under

      Post-commentary evaluation. 😕

      A colleague once told me NOT to respond in writing in the heat of the moment but wait until the next morning and write after the raw emotions are gone.

      In light of this wise counsel, I would like to offer my apologies to Joe and Mike for the harsh and ungracious tone in which I expressed my frustration yesterday. Whilst I believe (with a clear conscience) that my point was valid and my frustration justified, my tone was not.

      Blessings to all

    • leavingthegray

      great post Michael – thanks for sharing your story!

    • Saskia

      Great post,
      I definitely have had many many experiences like this, and still have them!
      But I have gotten out of the habit of giving them to other people, something which I used to be concerned to do frequently.
      A great reminder to get back on the track of encouraging!

    • John B

      A convicting post that hit right at the center of my heart. Twenty-five years those words kept with you. My hope is that words that I regret saying to others in the past fell to the way side and ones that encouraged and inspired kept close to the heart but it’s not like that, hurtful words cause deep wounds…

    • C SKILES

      Great post Michael. As i read your post I thought of this: how often do we hesitate to say something good about someone for fear that they will fail to correct the things in their life that need corrected? Or, do we hesitate to say anything good because we have a warped since of justice, “he/she did/said this or that and I have nothing good to say about them. They must pay.” We may not say it but how often is this thought or feeling behind how we treat others?

    • Ruben

      That comment that Michael heard has the same effect as grace – something completely undeserved praise instead of judgement. I’m surprised some hyper calvinists find it offensive.

    • Paul Bisho

      Amazing story. We have no idea the kind of effect our words have on people.

      This reminds me of a few things that encouraged me at different times in life. It seems that it is in times where there is a dirth of encouragement that statements like that stand out and get burned into your soul. When you’re used to darkness a little light like that is a big deal.

    • Gina

      I was looking for a story today on encouraging words that made an impact on someone’s life. Your story caught my attention. Of course, it is way too easy to find those stories about the negative words.

      Thank you for sharing this. I hope that you don’t mind that I will be using it in my sermon this Sunday on James.

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