Why Endings Matter
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.
In ministry, I need perspective. I need the constant reminder of what really matters. When the burden of others' struggles falls heavily on my shoulders, I can repeat this phrase to myself and lift my spiritual eyes to the truth: God is wise, he is glorious, he is eternal, and I have right standing with him through Christ. Everything becomes lighter when compared to the weight of his glory.
Benedictions Remind Us of Spiritual Truths
Consider one of Paul's standard benedictions, found in Philippians 4:23, Philemon 25, and Galatians 6:18: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." Paul reminded us that no matter what struggle we face, our deepest blessing comes not from circumstances changing, but in a settled soul. It is Christ's grace manifest in our lives that is present with our spirits—and that gives us the power to overcome any trial or struggle in this world.
So often I find myself wanting to give humanistic platitudes, "one step at a time," or "you'll get through this" or "it'll get better." The reality is, words always fail in the face of true struggle, and when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we realize that only God's power in our spirits gives us the strength to stand.
Benedictions Are a Stamp of Personal Faith
Dick Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, was known for his personal benediction, words that spoke truth and life over all he ministered to:
"You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you there. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there…Believe this, and go in His grace, and love, and power. Amen!"
My spiritual mentor and pastor is fond of this benediction as well as his own, lodged deep within my own heart after I've heard it dozens of times:
"Remember, you stand before an audience of one. The one God, the with-me God. Now go in his grace."
My pastor's words aren't unique to him, but they are memorable because of the passion and belief with which he speaks them. This simple closing reminds me every time of exactly where I place my hope.
Perhaps the words of the apostle Paul or the psalmist feel rote in your heart. But you, like Dick Halverson and my pastor, can let Scripture inform your own personal benediction. Making these words our own helps us re-center perspective, and it leaves those around us on a powerful and true note.
Benedictions are like the punctuation in our lives. The words inform the sentence before and give a sense of the sentence to come. Choose your words wisely.
Since studying the benedictions of Scripture, I've found myself pausing before ending times of counsel and care or times with my children. I've pondered what I can say to point others back to the only source of true life. And so I close with these words:
As babies evoke smiles to our faces, so does your heart evoke God's delight. He has delivered you from the power of death and defeat through his Son, Jesus Christ. So go in the power of his delight and his grace today!
Nicole Unice is a ministry associate at Hope Church in Richmond, VA, and the author of She's Got Issues, a book and DVD-based curriculum on finding God in our everyday struggles. Find out more at http://www.nicoleunice.com.