|Encouragement is a good gift from God that helps people make it through tough times. Every Christian ought to be a regular participant in both giving and receiving encouragement.The Hebrews were going through intense persecution for saying that they were Christians. They were tempted to revert to Judaism. The author of the letter to those struggling people included these words: “But exhort [or encourage––the original term can be translated as either word depending on the context] one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).It is not an exaggeration to say that we can use a dose of encouragement every day. Oddly, practicing good encouragement can be challenging in a number of different ways.First, it can be difficult to receive encouragement. I think our pride sometimes acts like we can handle things on our own. We don’t like to feel dependent on kind words from friends. Plus, our remaining sin can twist our thinking about encouragement.Recently, I recognized a tendency in myself to ignore or minimize encouraging comments other’s made to me. That sounds strange. Believe it or not, I originally was trying to stay humble, by not taking kind words of others too seriously. Then when I mixed in another common tendency to major on criticism, I was set up for serious discouragement.
Some good friends have been helping me to do a better job of receiving encouragement. Here is my simple strategy. When someone says something encouraging to me: first, I thank them; second, I feel good; and third, I thank God (out loud or in my heart), because anything good anyone might say about me is ultimately the result of God’s work in me.
Another challenge related to encouragement is in actually giving it. Some people are great at fixing other people’s issues (or at least they think of themselves as expert fixers). If other folks around you seem to be doing well, you are content to leave them alone (assuming that they are fine on the inside too). But if they are doing something wrong, Mr. Fix-It jumps in with clear instructions about the right way to do it.
Certainly, we all need fixing from time to time, but we also just need to be encouraged. Life is hard. Our flesh pulls us toward temptations and discouragement, the devil wants to take us out, and the world system is against God and God’s people. Everyone needs a word of pick-me-up. As I noted, we actually need them day by day, according to Hebrews 3:13.
To encourage someone takes effort. A parent may feel responsible to speak up when their child is messing up, but then not bother making an effort to try to lift the heart of a struggling son or daughter if they seem fine. Some “Fixers” fancy themselves as good at criticisms and solutions, but feel awkward at inspiration.
Powerful encouragement is so worth the effort. Proverbs 15:23 says: “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” Proverbs 18:21 says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Isaiah 50:4 says: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.”
A final challenge of encouragement is to do it well. I believe that if you make any effort at encouraging someone around you, that is a great thing. I think you will be blessed as you seek to be a blessing to another soul. So please, push through any awkwardness and make a effort to lift someone else up. But, that said, with just a little thought, you can multiply the effectiveness of your encouragement.
Let me offer two suggestions to add impact to your uplifting words. First, be specific. As a pastor, I have often heard people make nice comments to me after one of my sermons, such as, “I really liked your sermon today,” or “Thanks for working hard to prepare to preach.” Those are certainly fine things to hear. But if you really want to encourage your pastor, tell him something specific that he said that really connected with your life or made you think. Those kinds of comments are so meaningful. They let him know that you are listening to the message and trying to put it into practice.
If you want to encourage your spouse or a friend it is one thing to say, “I think you are great.” It is another level completely when you say, “I think this or that (or when you did that, etc.) is so great about you.”
The second suggestion is to connect your encouragement to God. When you see someone growing as a Christian in a specific area, let them know that you see God at work. Who doesn’t want to hear that someone else detects the hand of the living God at work in them? Has the person become more kind, patient, or loving? That is always ultimately because of God. When life is tough and you feel like a mess, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. God really has been working. Other people notice, and what a blessing it is when they let you know that they see evidence of God’s grace in you.
Encouragement seems so easy and obvious, but in our wacky world even it can become challenging. But encouragement is a gift from a loving God and it is worth the work to both receive it and give it well.
By John Crotts