Have you ever thought deeply about the word encourage? It comes from the Latin root cour, which means heart, with the prefix en, which means to put in. Thus, the idea of encouragement is to put something into one’s heart. The heart is like a treasure box, a storage container for our innermost thoughts and feelings. We can put beautiful, life-giving things into our hearts. When Jesus was growing from a boy into a man, his mother did:
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
— Luke 2:19
We can also store ugly, death-bringing things in our hearts:
”The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil…”
— Luke 6:45
As a container, the heart is neutral. It is shaped by what we fill it with.
When Jesus was preparing to return to the Father so that the Sprit could descend upon early believers, he told his followers some pretty scary stuff about the years ahead. He wanted to warn them about the trouble they would face, so they would not be taken off guard. Then he encouraged them:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33
He wanted them to take heart, to store the knowledge of his victory in their inner treasure boxes, so when barriers rose up against them, they could hold onto peace.
We can think about the power of words in two different ways. First, we could caution about the importance of choosing our words carefully, of filtering them, because words hold the power of life or death. It is surely wise to be thoughtful and intentional with our words. Second, we could warn about what we are storing up in our hearts.
“… it is out of the abundance of the heart that his mouth speaks.”
— Luke 6:45
See, our hearts are treasure boxes with broken lids. They won’t stay shut very easily. What we put into them will leak out when we aren’t vigilantly guarding them. When we are weary, when we are careless, our hearts overflow out of our mouths.
Today, I am inviting you to tackle a challenge. Carve out some time to take a full heart inventory. What is lurking inside that box of yours that could overflow and wreak havoc? The Spirit can help you discover where the danger lies:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
— Psalm 139:23–24
Ask God for his help. Ask others you trust for feedback. What do your words reveal about what you have been storing up in your heart? Remember, it’s not just what you’ve been thinking about others. It’s also about how you speak to yourself in your heart. If you think you can store up compassion for others and condemnation for yourself, you’ve been tricked into believing a lie. If you can find the courage to conduct this heart inventory, to uproot the evil and plant good, you will experience freedom from having to diligently guard your tongue. It will overflow with love, kindness and encouragement.