Years ago I bought a book called The Art of the Put Down. In my defense, it was severely discounted, and being part Scottish I couldn’t bring myself to turn away such a bargain. The Art of the Put Down features an astonishing array of clever comebacks and witty one-liners, like one from comedian Will Rogers who said, “Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.” I read a few pages of the book to my parents. They laughed when I read about Winston Churchill’s ongoing exchanges with playwright George Bernard Shaw. Shaw sent Sir Winston tickets for the opening night of one of his plays and enclosed a note. It read, “Here are two tickets for the opening of my new play. Keep one for yourself and bring along a friend—if you can find one.” Churchill returned the tickets with a clever note of his own. “I’m sorry that a previous engagement precludes my attending your opening night. I shall be happy to come the second night—if there is one.”
Churchill was well known for his amusing, albeit, sharp words. He showed no restraint even for Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament. “I venture to say that my Right Honorable friend…knows nothing of farming,” he said. “I’ll even make a bet that she doesn’t know how many toes a pig has.” Lady Astor hit his pitch out of the park however. She replied, “Oh, yes I do. Take off your little shoesies and have a look.”
My dad found this hysterically funny, but Mom cautioned me. “If you can’t say anything nice,” she said, and I knew the rest of the sentence. “We pray you’ll use your words to build people up,” she added. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” So why don’t we put down The Art of the Put Down and pick up The Art of the Build Up.
You know, I can’t tell you who won the Major League batting championship last year. Or the Grand Prix. Or the Tour de France. But I can tell you about the time my fifth grade teacher caught me cheating on a test and said, “I forgive you.” I can tell you where I was standing when Cordell Darling said, “If you ever write a book I’ll buy a dozen.” I can tell you about the time my mom tucked me into bed and said, “I’ll miss you while you’re sleeping.” She modeled the fine art of encouragement. I have yet to meet a successful, influential person who couldn’t point to a time in their lives when simple words of encouragement changed them. So let’s make sure that our words build others up as we pass along God’s grace today.