The obvious happened to Derrick recently.
“At a recent leaders’ retreat, eight of us sat around a circle expressing how much we appreciated each other’s contribution to our group. Men wept, laughed and affirmed one another.”
“Most of us had never experienced a group of people giving us positive and specific affirmation for our lives. What was scheduled for an hour became two hours. I walked away grateful, affirmed, and energized. We need to do this more often.”
Derrick experienced the obvious — encouragement is life-giving.
The word encouragement has its roots in giving courage to another — we plant courage “in” people’s lives. In the New Testament, the word means to urge forward and is derivative of the Greek word paraklesis which means coming alongside to give aid.
Encouragement, then, is personal and happens in relationships. It’s the ministry of giving people courage so they can move forward in life.
An obvious act of disciplemaking should be encouragement; a ministry needed more than ever today. Political divisions, economic uncertainty, and a feeling of helplessness are draining our lives. We need courage — encouragement — to move forward.
We’re exhorted to encourage one another (1Thes 5:11). Like many of the biblical commands, the authors do not give many specifics for what encouragement should look like (Philippians 2:1). For example, “What does encouragement look like in practice?” or “When do you encourage people?” Here are three marks of encouragement I’ve been reflecting upon.
Personal. While we can give encouragement from a pulpit or lectern, real encouragement happens face-to-face. We make encouragement personal because we personally know the people we’re encouraging.
Like our love languages, we experience encouragement in different ways. For example, what encourages me is a kind word about my service. I’m often filled with self-doubts about the effectiveness of my ministry. When someone describes how a conversation or an act was meaningful to them I see this as an affirmation that God is present in my ministry.
Each of us is encouraged by different things. For some it’s a recognition of their efforts, for others it’s spending time together, for another it happens with a phone call or text message. The smallest acts of encouragement have the ability to give life to others. What encourages you? What encourages the important people in your life? Take time to make encouragement personal.
Real. Encouragement must be real. When Peggy went through her experience with thyroid cancer, we heard so many cliches from people: “Sometimes when God shuts a door He opens a window.” “This is a time to build character.” “You will be able to help someone else through this experience.”
People’s motives were right — they wanted to help — but none of these statements particularly encouraged us. While some may be true there’s no guarantee they will happen in our lives. Peggy and I came away thinking, “Let’s be real about the situation and not pass-on well-worn Christian cliches.”
Being real could mean saying: “I’ve never experienced what you’re going through but if you just need someone to talk to, I will be there for you.” “I’ve gone through a health crisis and all I wanted to do was to retreat from God and others.” “When I’ve gone through crises in my life, I valued the support of friends. How can I support you?”
Let’s reduce the encouragement cliches and get real in our conversation with others.
Appropriate. We must encourage people in appropriate ways. I picture encouragement happening on a continuum that goes from presence on one end to perspective on the other. Sometimes encouragement happens when someone just sits with me, listens to me, or laughs with me. Being present doesn’t mean giving answers; it’s silently sitting with a friend.
At other times, I need perspective; I need God’s point of view. Life’s crises can drive us inward, shrinking our worlds. We need perspective, to see things as they truly are from God’s vantage point.
Appropriate encouragement discerns what will impart courage to my friend at this moment in time. I must discern whether they need presence or perspective or both.
We all need people who will speak courage into our lives. I believe that this is the heart of disciplemaking. We’re urging people on, giving them courage to wholeheartedly follow Jesus. Encouragement is so obvious to do but seldom practiced.
Who in your circle of influence needs encouragement today? Is it a co-worker, a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend, a neighbor, or a person in a discipling relationship? Consider how you can make your encouragement personal, real, and appropriate. Be a life-giver to someone.