February 8-9, 2003
Can You Hear Me Now?
Part 1: Words of Affirmation


How many of you have ever taken a foreign language?  Can you still speak it?  Probably not, unless you used it every day.  For the next 5 weeks, we’re going to study new languages: love languages. Each of us has a love language, a preferred way of communicating and receiving love.  We’re going to learn 5 love languages, and then try to use them regularly so that we become fluent.

What makes you feel loved?  What fills up your love tank?  For some of you, it’s words of affirmation.  That’s your love language.  When someone tells you what they like about you, that makes you feel loved and fills your tank. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

(For the greeting time: turn to someone around you and tell them what you like about them. If you don’t know them, make something up!)


ILL: In 1993, Rick and I went to Guatemala to visit Chris Sheeran, our missionary there with Wycliffe Bible Translators. 

The morning we arrived in Guatemala, Chris drove Rick and I to the bank to exchange our travelers checks for Guatemalan currency.  On the way, he explained that we’d be driving by the university and the students were collecting donations for a big party that they were having at the end of the week.  Sure enough, when we drove by the university, our car was approached by half a dozen young men—wearing hoods like the Ku Klux Klan, and carrying sticks and num-chucks!  Here in the US we wouldn’t call it collecting donations—we’d call it highway robbery!

          Luckily for everyone, I was sitting in the front seat on the passenger side, so they approached me and held out their hands and demanded money. Guatemalan currency is called “quetzales”, but I hadn’t had time to master


the language yet, so I smiled at these hooded donation-collectors, and shrugged and said, “No quesadillas.” Which means, “no cheeses”. They looked at each other, and even through the hoods I could see they were thinking, “El stupido gringo!” So they said, “Dollars”, and now I was on familiar ground, and shrugged again and said, “no dollars”. I guess I looked too stupid to rob, so they went on to the next car.  I tell this story to demonstrate my amazing ability to communicate multi-lingually.  

A few days later, the three of us visited some Mayan ruins with a small tour group. The group consisted of a French couple, a German couple, a man from Spain, our guides from Guatemala, and the three of us.  I don’t know a lick of French, German or Spanish—except for quetzales and quesadillas. When these other folks spoke to me, I smiled and said, “no speakee”.  I was able to communicate well with only Rick and Chris.

But the Spanish guy worked for the Spanish government as an ambassador, had served around the world and spoke several languages fluently.  He chatted with the French couple in flawless French, conversed with the German couple in excellent German, spoke to our Guatemalan guides in his native Spanish, and then talked to us in perfect English. (He told us that he also spoke passable Mandarin Chinese.)  Five languages—fluently!  He was the only guy in the group who could communicate with everyone in their own language—and he did it well.  It was amazing. I thought he might have been a super-spy—a Spanish James Bond—Jaime Bondo!

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language?  It’s very difficult. 

Just like people speak different languages, people also speak different love languages. Everyone has a preferred method of giving and receiving love.  Learning to “speak” others’ love languages will dramatically improve your relationships.

Your ability to communicate love to the people that matter most to you will depend upon your ability to master their love language.  For example, your love language may be as different from your spouse’s as English is from Chinese.  You may be loving her well, but if you love in English and she speaks Chinese, she’s not getting the message; she’s not feeling loved.  We must be willing to learn the primary love language of our spouse, or our kids, or our best friends—people who matter most to us. That’s what this series is about.

Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages, has identified five primary love languages.  He thinks that there are thousands of dialects within these five languages, but only five primary languages.  They are:

  • Words of affirmation.
  • Quality time.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Acts of service.
  • Physical touch.

We’re going to take five weeks each to look at these—one week each.  I hope to help you identify your love language, teach you how to identify the love languages of the people who matter most to you, and give you practical ideas to help you speak each language better.  Our goal: to be like the Spanish guy, to become multi-lingual in love, able to speak all five love languages fluently, able to communicate with everyone in our group.

See if this scene looks familiar.


Sketch: Blessing Vignettes #1


Does that look familiar?  Has it happened in your home?  You make a simple request and get a major overreaction.  Obviously, something has been building up in Ryan. He feels like his dad harps at him or nags him.  The blow up is out of proportion to the demand—move the garbage cans.  But Ryan isn’t reacting just to the demand. He’s reacting to something else, something that’s been building up in him—or maybe something that has been emptied out of him. 

1. Keeping the love tank full.

Dr. Chapman uses this word picture: he says that everyone has a love tank, and we need to keep it full.  We all want and need to be loved.  We want to know that we matter to someone, that someone treasures and respects us, wants us and loves us.  Our love tank fills up when another person loves us in the way we need to be loved, when they love us in a way we can hear and understand and receive—when they speak our love language.  When our love tanks are full, we are happy and secure.  When our love tanks are empty, we misbehave: we withdraw, or we lash out, or we seek love from someone else. 

Dr. Willard Harley, in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, uses the same idea but with a different metaphor.  Instead of a tank, he uses a bank.  We all have a love bank into which others make deposits and withdrawals.  When I do something kind, thoughtful or loving, I make a deposit in Laina’s love bank.  When I am harsh, critical, aloof or hurtful, I make a withdrawal from her love bank. Marriages work best when the love bank is full; you’ve got serious problems when you’re overdrawn. How do you make deposits? You have to discover what meets your spouse’s needs.  Each need you meet makes a deposit in the love bank.  Each need you fail to meet is a withdrawal.  In other words, you have to learn their love language.

Either way—love tank or love bank—we need to keep it full.  And that’s what this series is about. 

  • Is your spouse’s love tank full or empty?
  • Is your child’s love tank full or empty?
  • Is your parent’s love tank full or empty?
  • Is your best friend’s love tank full or empty?
  • Is your love tank full or empty?

We want to learn how to communicate love so that our spouses, our kids, our families and friends all have full tanks or banks!

So maybe Ryan’s reaction came from an empty love tank.  Let’s check in on Ryan and his dad and see how they’re doing.


Sketch: Blessing Vignettes #2


“How can you yell at me and at the same time bless me?”  Good question.  Ryan complained that his dad yells at him and harps on him—nags him.  Ryan is giving us a clue: maybe his love language—what fills his tank—is the first one: words of affirmation.


2. Love Language #1: Words of affirmation.

One of the primary ways we express love is through words of affirmation, words that build others up.  Words are very powerful.

Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Your words are very powerful.  The things you say bring life or death—you can fill a person’s love tank or empty it with your words.  Someone can say something that fills your sails with wind and makes you feel great; or they can say something that takes the wind out of your sails, deflates you. 

ILL: The two young men who shot up Columbine High School in 1999 were members of the Trench Coat Mafia, a group that felt ostracized and persecuted by other students.

In an interview with the Denver Post, one member of the Trench Coat Mafia said life for members of his group was “hell…pure hell.” He said that athletes at the school called him “faggot,” and other foul names, bashed him into lockers and threw rocks at him as he rode his bike home.

“I can’t describe how hard it was to get up in the morning and face that.”He said he did not know of his friends’ violent plans.  “I’m not saying what they did was OK.  But I know what it’s like to be cornered, pushed day after day.”

Words are very powerful; they have the power of life and death.  Here were some young people who were being verbally beaten every day, and it resulted tragically in death.  Words are very powerful.  Your words can fill people’s tanks or empty them.

It is interesting to me that the first words that God spoke to Jesus were words of affirmation.

Mark 1:11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Very powerful words.  The Father says to His Son: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  I don’t think that God said that for show; I think He meant it, and He said it because Jesus needed to hear it.  He needed to know that His Father loved Him and was pleased with Him.

And millions of sons and daughters are starving to hear the same thing.  I wonder how many of you grown-ups carry a hole in your heart because you never heard this from your father?  “You are my son, my daughter.  I love you and I’m pleased with you. I’m proud of you.” I’m amazed at how many people tell me that their dads never said that they loved them. 

If that’s you, please, don’t make the same mistake your parents did.  Go home today and tell each of your kids, “I love you and I am pleased with you.”  And say it to them often.  You can’t say it too much!

ILL: I grew up in a home where we didn’t say, “I love you,” much.  So I was a little shocked when I started hanging out at Noel’s house where they said it all the time.  They said it to each other every time they’d see each other.  Someone would come home, and Noel would say, “I love you.” And the kids would say, “Sure love you, Dad.”  Or when one of the kids was leaving, Noel would say, “I love you,” and the kids would shout back, “Sure love you.”  At first, I was stunned.  I had never heard love expressed so freely like that.  Then after awhile, I got irritated.  They said it so often that I thought they cheapened it, made it frivolous.  It seemed to slur together.  “Shurluvya.” But I think I was just a little envious, on the outside looking in at love.  Now I don’t think you can say it too much, and our house sounds a lot like Noel’s.  Of course, our house is Noel’s house…he lives with us now and brought that love with him.

“I love you.”  You can’t say it too often.  Let’s all say it together.  “I love you.”  Now sometime today, look your spouse, or your kids, or your friend in the eye, and say it to them. It’s very powerful. It fills up love tanks!

Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

What should come out of our mouths? Only what is helpful. Helpful, not harmful. What would be helpful? He tells us.

  • Words that build others up.
  • Words that meet their needs.
  • Words that benefit those who listen.

Those are helpful words.  Words that build up, meet needs and benefit others. Here are some examples of helpful words.


A. Complimentary words.

Verbal compliments or words of appreciation are powerful communicators of love. People never tire of being praised or complimented or thanked.  I know I don’t.  Sometimes people tell me, “I know you hear this all the time, but your talks really help me.” Yeah, I hear it a lot…but tell me again!  I enjoy the compliment, and it fills my tank.  And I’ll bet you’re the same way.  When someone praises you, you probably modestly say, “Oh stop.”  But inside you’re saying, “Come on baby. Keep it coming!”

Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  That means six compliments a year would have kept his tank full. You probably need more than that—I know I do!

Look on the back of your outline.  Last weekend, many of turned in examples of words of affirmation that have meant a lot to you.  We printed some of those on the back of your outline.  Many of them were compliments, words of praise.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You are triple-dog awesome!
  • Thanks for watching the kids for me. 
  • You are a great friend.
  • This tastes great!
  • You are a good listener.
  • I really like the way you…

Verbal compliments are far greater motivators than nagging words or words of criticism. Compliments fill our tanks; nagging criticism drains them.  If you want someone to do something, praise them for what they are doing. Praise them for the good they are trying to do, and they’ll probably try to do more.  Criticize them for what they’re failing to do, and they’ll probably stop trying.  I’m not suggesting flattery to get what you want—that’s not love. But I’m saying that genuine praise motivates people far more than criticism and nagging.  If you really want to help people change, praise works best.

Billy Sunday gave this excellent advice to husbands: “Try praising your wife even if it does frighten her at first.”

What would happen to the emotional climate of your relationships if your spouse, your kids, your friends heard these kinds of words regularly?


B. Encouraging words.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Encouraging words are another kind of helpful words.  To encourage means to inspire courage.  All of us have areas in which we feel insecure. We lack courage, and that keeps us from doing what we really want to do.  A few encouraging words at the right time can make all the difference.

ILL: Dr.  Rod Cooper says:

I’m strong on encouragement because someone got excited about my progress. I almost flunked the first grade. I was a terrible reader. We had three reading groups in my school. The highest group happened to be the Owls. They were in the trees above everybody else. The next group happened to be the Giraffes–head and shoulders above the rest of us. I was in the third group, the Humpty Dumptys. We were on the wall, off the wall, in the wall, and out! We just couldn’t get it together. We struggled. My mom saw me coming home discouraged and down every day.

   She started reading with me every night. I came home one day with a C on one of my papers, and I gave it to her. She smiled and started to cry. She said, “Oh, Rodney, I’m so proud of you.” She made my favorite dinner and let me stay up late. I’m thinking, “Gee, if this is what a C will do!” What do you think that did for me? It spurred me on to want to do the best. That’s what encouragement does. It makes you want to move on when you feel like quitting.

   I didn’t make it to the Owls. I got to the Giraffes, and I got out of first grade. Here I am. Today my mom introduces me, “This is my son.” She’ll put her arm around me, “This is my son, Doctor Cooper.” Then she’ll look at me and wink just to remind me from where I’ve come.

There’s a difference between encouraging someone to do what they want, and pressuring someone to do what you want. For example, maybe you want to encourage your spouse to lose weight.  But if it’s only what you want, it will feel like pressure, not encouragement.  When your spouse wants to lose weight, then you can encourage him or her. “If you decide to do that, I know you’ll do great.  One of the things I love about you is that when you set your mind to something, you succeed.”  That’s encouragement and will fill his love tank.  But saying, “You’re looking bulbous.  You ought to join Weight Watchers.”  That’s pressure, and will drain her love tank.

Here’s a couple of my favorite encouraging words from the back of the outline.

  • I believe in you.
  • I am so proud of you.
  • You are doing a great job.

What would happen to the emotional climate of your relationships if your spouse, your kids, your friends heard these kinds of words regularly?


C. Challenging words.

Affirming words aren’t all soft and mushy.  Sometimes they are hard and strong.  Love means that we do what’s best for the other person, and sometimes what’s best is hard.  Hard to say and hard to hear.  Love means telling someone the truth, and that can hurt. 

Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

An enemy multiplies kisses—he’ll just flatter you. A friend tells you truth even if it hurts.  But friends know how to do it in love.  You can tell the truth in a way that is hurtful, or you can tell it in a way that is challenging and uplifting.

ILL: One of my favorite professors in college was Dr. Bill Richardson.  We were discussing Romans 7 in a New Testament class, and I spouted some half-baked cockeyed interpretation.  When I was done, Dr. Richardson said, “That is not what this passage means, and that interpretation is not worthy of you, Mr. Wittwer.  I expect better from you.”

On the one hand, it was a searing correction.  But it was also a high compliment and a challenge.  “I expect better from you.”  And it motivated me to work harder, dig deeper and do better.

ILL: That same year, I played baseball for our college. In our first game, I struck out in my first two trips to the plate.  After the second strike out, my coach, Dave Lipp, pulled me aside and said, “You are the best player on our team.  I need hits from you.  You can’t strike out.  If you strike out, what does that do to the rest of the team? No more strike outs.”

Whoa! Those were challenging words. “You’re our best player. No more strike outs.” It motivated me—and I didn’t strike out the rest of the season.  Of course, we only played seven games—the rest got rained out—but I never struck out again.

That’s good coaching.  The best coaches challenge you to be your best, rather than degrading you for your failures.  They raise the bar and expect you to clear it, rather than just chewing you out for missing the bar.

You can tell the truth in a way that is hurtful, or you can tell it in a way that is challenging and uplifting.  The next time you feel you need to confront or correct someone you love, stop and ask yourself how you can challenge them to grow rather than just scold them for failure.

What would happen to the emotional climate of your relationships if your spouse, your kids, your friends heard these kinds of words regularly?


D. Respectful words.

1 Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Love makes requests, not demands.  This is especially important in marriage.  When you make demands, you are being a parent, not a spouse; or a tyrant, not a lover. Demanding things of your spouse can be very demeaning, and will drain the love tank.  Requests, on the other hand, affirm your spouse’s worth and abilities.  One of the affirming words turned in last weekend was, “Will you help me?”  Requests are affirming, demands are demeaning.

Requests give guidance.  “This is what I want or need.”  Demands give ultimatums, and merely drive people away.  The husband who says, “You know those apple pies you make?  Could you make one this week?  I love those apple pies,” is giving guidance.  On the other hand, the husband who says, “Haven’t had an apple pie since the baby was born.  Don’t guess I’ll get any more apple pies for 18 years,” has ceased being an adult and is making demands like a child. 

Requests respect the other person’s right to make choices.  Your mate may choose to respond to your request or deny it.  Love is always a choice.  Love can’t be demanded. 

We all have things that we want others to do for us.  Learn to ask in a respectful way.  It will fill up others’ love tanks.


There are some ideas on this love language: words of affirmation.  Let’s check in on Ryan and his dad.


Sketch: Blessings Vignettes #3.


3. Practical suggestions.

First, if this is your primary love language, don’t be afraid to let other people know. Tell them what you need.

ILL: Pastor Kurt, who we just sent out to pastor our fourth daughter church, pulled me aside one day.  He had been on staff here about a year.  He told me, “Joe, I want you to know something about me. My love language is words of affirmation.  I thrive on compliments, especially from you.  I need to know that you are happy with me.  But frankly, giving praise isn’t your strong suit, and I’m dying inside.  If you love me, tell me.  If you’re happy with me, say so.  Because that’s what I need to know we’re ok.” 

What did I think? “What a whiner.” No.  I was happy to know what he needed. I do love Kurt; I just needed to say it so he could hear it. 

So here’s the first practical suggestion: tell people what you need.  They love you, but probably need help knowing how you want to be loved.  Tell them.

Second, if this is not your primary love language and you’re not good at it, start practicing now.  If you were learning a foreign language, you might keep a notebook in which you wrote new words. You might try that for this. Watch and listen—in conversations, in tv or movies, in books or articles—for words of affirmation, and then write them down.  Or just sit and think about what kinds of things you think your spouse or child or friend might want to hear.  Or ask them to tell you.  Become a collector of words of affirmation, like this list, and then practice, practice, practice.

Third, you can magnify the effect of affirmation by saying it in public or saying it to a third person.  Praise your wife in front of others.  Or tell her mother how wonderful your wife is, and wait until word gets back to your wife! It’s huge!

Practice, practice, practice.  And here’s your first assignment.  Don’t leave here today until you have said genuine words of affirmation to someone you love.