Why Endings Matter

I’ve learned to value the practice of benediction

We sat together at my kitchen counter, conversation trickling to awkward silence. Things in her marriage had reached a breaking point, she said. She hoped I could help, she said. I listened and tried to give encouragement, but in my heart I knew it wasn't enough. I wanted to give her something that would last, something she could cling to even in the difficult season of her life. What I needed was a benediction—the right word that went beyond what I could possibly give.

The word benediction comes from a Latin term meaning "to speak well." Traditionally, a benediction is a short prayer for help, blessing, or guidance. Benedictions aren't just for the end of sermons. A close study of Scripture reveals the power of the final word can do more than the entire conversation before it.

That day at my kitchen counter, I was ill-equipped to guide my young friend through a difficult time. I ended up falling back on some lame words about "everything being OK," words neither of us truly believed. For me, that conversation sparked a desire to lead better. How could I provide a better "ending" when someone is looking for guidance or help?

Since then, I've discovered the power of benediction in everyday life and ministry. Knowing how to end a conversation, a prayer, or a note of encouragement can help the ones you lead refocus their hearts from their problems to the promises of our great God. Here's what a closer look at benedictions taught me.

Benedictions Are Memorable

Social psychologists call our aptitude at remembering final words the "recency effect." The principle of recency states that the things most recently learned are the ones most likely to be remembered. Apply that to the many endings in your day: From finishing an email to saying goodbye to our children at the bus stop, our lives are full of opportunities for "one last thing." Unfortunately, my "one last thing" usually ends up being tired, recycled words I've already used or reminders about buttoning coats. This is not what I want my co-workers, children, and friends to remember! When I consider the recency effect, I feel even more certain that the words I write and speak could use a tune-up.

Benedictions Give Perspective

Consider the way the Apostle Paul ended his letters. Paul ended the book of Romans with these words: "All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen" (Romans 16:27) In one sentence, Paul reminded us of the truth of a) God's place as the only true object of worship, b) our purpose in bringing him glory, and c) our identity in Christ. He condensed the entire message of Romans into one final statement. He didn't close his letter with one more reminder, but a powerful perspective-shaking blessing that reminds us of our positioning with the God of the universe, the only one who has infinite knowledge and is worthy of our worship.

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April 04, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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