One day last year, I was in a little convenience store in downtown D.C., where I quickly grabbed a drink and headed to the cash register. Three ladies were working, and when I looked at the youngest of the three (in the center of the photo) a simple phrase came into my head and seemed like it was just for her: Don’t settle for less.
I knew it could be awkward, but figured I didn’t have much to lose, so after I paid, I said, “Have a good day — and don’t settle for less.”
All of a sudden, from behind me, I heard the other two ladies loudly saying, “Oh my goodness, it’s a sign,” and “You gotta listen to that, girl!”
I turned around and asked why they were so keyed up. A middle aged woman said, “Because just before you walked in — and I mean just before — we were telling her not to settle for less. That is crazy.”
I looked at the young woman and said, “You know, I really felt like I was supposed to say that to you. So I encourage you to seek Jesus first, because if you do, the rest is going to fall into place.”
“Oh my Lord, you’re gonna make me cry,” she said, after which we said goodbye.
When We Think God is Moving us to Speak
I’m a naturally extroverted person and I like saying encouraging words, but encouraging this woman was still awkward for me. I mean, seriously — Don’t settle for less? What does that even mean? Saying something like that isn’t just potentially awkward, it’s scary.
In retrospect, I wasn’t 100% sure it was the Holy Spirit. My feelings get tangled up with His voice sometimes. What if I was deifying my own words? Lord knows I’ve known plenty of people who “heard from the Lord” — including me — and it seemed pretty obvious they were just finding a religious way of stopping people from disagreeing with them. I don’t want to be that guy.
At the same time, I don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit. He moves us to love people in a number of ways, and that undoubtedly includes words of encouragement. That’s why, over the years, I’ve developed a few guidelines I use whenever I believe I’m being prompted by the Spirit to encourage someone with a message:
- I’m not going to say “God told me to” or “God showed me this.” I’m just going to give the message (“Have a good day, and don’t settle for less”), or I’m going to equivocate with something like, “This could be totally off-base here, but I was praying for you, and I got the impression that I ought to tell you [fill in the blank].”
- I’m only going to share something if it lines up with Scripture. In this case, I shared the message and then paraphrased Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” That was definitely a message from Jesus.
- I’m going to be open to the idea that I totally missed it. In the instance above, it easily could have easily ended with the woman saying, “Ohhhh-kay — I hope you don’t settle for less either?” When that inevitably happens, it’s an opportunity to ask God to help me see if I was really hearing from Him. I can learn from Him and talk with mature believers to better understand how to share in a way that’s a blessing to the Lord, and hopefully, the other person.
I don’t want to act like a walking fortune cookie who is flattering people or trying to make myself feel good by going all faux prophetic. If I push that far enough, I’ll end up moving into the realm of sinful false prophecy. But I’ll move into the realm of sinful resistance to the Lord if, in fact, the Holy Spirit is behind a nudge to encourage someone and I quench the Spirit’s leading out of fear.
If I’m going to be able to speak into peoples lives in a miraculous way, it won’t be through impressions that gurgle up into my mental happy place. It will involve a humble approach that is based in Scripture and involves a certain amount of risk. I shouldn’t settle for anything less.