"Watch your words," the speaker at the ladies' retreat challenged us. Quoting from James 3, she described how our tongue can corrupt us and poison others. She encouraged us to seek God's help to become like the woman described in Proverbs: "When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness" (Proverbs 31:26). I know my words sometimes hurt others, so I silently asked the Lord to change me.
After the retreat, I thought about what I needed to work on. Just in the previous week, I'd spoken harshly to my friend Julie when she was late for our get-together.
"I've been waiting an hour! Where have you been? You're always late."
Julie winced, and I quickly regretted my angry outburst. I'd exaggerated the situation, which I do when I'm upset. I apologized, but I knew I'd strained our friendship.
That night after the retreat, I prayed, "Lord, please help me control my tongue. I want to encourage others with my words, not hurt them. Show me how to begin. I really want to change. How do I do it?"
I sensed God's reply: Begin by praising me.
I didn't see what praising God had to do with controlling my tongue, but I believed this was God's leading. My prayers had consisted mostly of requests for myself and others. They were genuine needs—not selfish or frivolous desires. But I needed to focus on the Giver of all good things, not on the things.
Starting to Praise
I decided to devote 15 minutes each day solely to praising God. During this time, I would honor God for who he is and thank him for what he's done, but I wouldn't ask for anything.
I took my direction from the psalmist: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name" (Psalm 100:4). I began by thanking God for my salvation, my family, and my health. Other things came quickly to mind: my church, friends, home, and job.
Reviewing the previous day's events revealed God's fingerprints in my life and added to my thank-you list. It also made me think about the many people who touch my life daily. My "often late" friend Julie had been a great encourager during some crucial times, but had I ever thanked her?
Each day as I began my time of worship, I had to fight distractions. Beginning with thanksgiving helped control my wandering thoughts as I focused on God's activity in and around me. Thanking God also prepared my heart for praising him. I found that recognizing who God is and reflecting on his character and attributes require a deeper level of relationship.
As the days progressed, my praise vocabulary grew. Reading aloud the psalms was like taking a class in Praise 101. God is my Maker … my Savior … my Shepherd … my Strength!
Verses of hymns and praise choruses provided words for the feelings I didn't know how to express. Each day I was faithful to my time with the Lord—just to praise him.
One day at the office, a coworker stopped by my desk to chat. I complimented her on the good job she'd done on a recent project. She beamed as though no one else had told her.
Without planning it, this scenario kept repeating. I hadn't realized how blind I'd been to other people's accomplishments. But that began to change. I'd started praising God, and that praise spilled over to others.
When I stood in a slow-moving checkout line at the grocery store, instead of joining the chorus of complainers as I usually do, I sympathized with the nervous clerk.
"First week?" I asked when it was my turn.
"Don't worry," I told him. "You'll catch on in no time."
Although I'm shy and don't usually approach people I don't know, I sought out a young woman at church.
"Thank you for your testimony," I told her. "I know it's hard for you to talk about your illness, but your courage is such an inspiration to me."
At work one day, my boss who sits nearby asked, "Janice, is that you humming? I've never heard you hum before."
"Yes, it's me," I replied, and I made a mental note to add "humming" to my thank you list.
Recently I came across a quote: "He who sincerely praises God will soon discover within his soul an inclination to praise goodness in his fellow man." Reverend Oliver G. Wilson discovered this before I did.
God continues to work on me, changing my focus from inward to upward and outward. Even my friend Julie noticed the change.
"You're different," she told me recently. "I kept you waiting and you didn't get mad."
"I'm just thankful we're friends," I replied. "Have I ever told you how much your encouragement means to me?"
Janice Davies is a freelance writer who lives in Illinois.