All of us need encouragement. We need somebody to believe in us. To reassure and reinforce us. To help us pick up the pieces and go on. To fuel our flame of determination as we face the odds against us.
I don't care how influential, secure, or mature a person may appear to be, an expression of encouragement never fails to help. All of us need it. Those of us who slug it out in the trenches of leadership need massive doses of it. Regrettably, most are too proud to admit it. This pride is as prevalent among members of God's family as it is on the streets of the world.
There is more to encouragement than a quick pat on the back. It is a deliberate, strong commitment to lifting up another's spirit. The New Testament reminds us of its value:
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25 NLT)
Let's take a close look at the word itself. Encouragement, as used in Hebrews 10:25, is from the same Greek root used for the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 and 16:7. In both those verses He is called "the Helper." The actual term, parakaleo, is from a combination of two smaller words, kaleo, "to call," and para, "alongside." Just as the Holy Spirit is called alongside to help us, so it is with us when you and I encourage someone else. In fact, when we encourage others, we come as close to the work of the Holy Spirit as anything we can do in God's family.
Believe me, when Christians begin to realize the value of mutual encouragement, there is no limit to what we can stimulate others to accomplish. It is thrilling to realize that God has "called us alongside to help" others who are in need. How much better to be engaged in actions that lift others up rather than actions that tear them down!
The beautiful part about encouragement is this: anybody can do it. You don't need money to carry it out. You don't even need to be a certain age. Frankly, some of the most encouraging actions or words I've received have come from my own children at a time when my heart was heavy. They saw the need and moved right in . . . they "came alongside and helped."
I am absolutely convinced that there are thousands of people who are drying up on the vine simply because of the lack of encouragement. Lonely, forgotten missionaries, military service men and women far away from home, collegians and seminarians, the sick and the dying, the divorced and the grieving, those who serve faithfully behind the scenes with scarcely a glance or comment from anyone.
Going back to the statement found in Hebrews 10:24, we are to "think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works." In other words, we are to give thought to specific ways we can lift up, affirm, and help others. God's commands are not theoretical—especially those that relate to people in need.
Maybe a few ideas will help spark an interest in putting our encouragement into action:
- Observe and mention admirable character qualities you see in others, such as punctuality, diligence, a good attitude, thoroughness, efficiency, or a good sense of humor.
- Correspond with thank-you notes or small gifts with a handwritten note attached.
- Express appreciation for someone's extra effort that you appreciate.
- Notice a job well done and say so.
- Cultivate a positive, reassuring attitude. Encouragement cannot thrive in a negative atmosphere.
- Pick up the tab in a restaurant.
- Be supportive of someone you know who is really hurting.
Encouragement should take the sting out of life. But be careful not to create other burdens for those you want to encourage. Do what you do with no expectation of being noticed or paid back. Reciprocal expectations are guilt-giving, not encouraging actions! Also, be sensitive to the timing of your actions; a well-timed expression of encouragement is seldom forgotten.
I often think of those who did their job faithfully over an extended period of time and finally were replaced—only to be forgotten. People like former teachers and coaches, former officers in a church, former board members, former pastors, and those mentors who modeled the Christian life only to become lost in the sea of distant memories. Spend some time recalling the important people who had a part in your life . . . then look for ways to encourage them. You would be surprised to know how much it means to them to know you didn't forget them.
Let me end where encouragement begins. The desire to encourage is developed first in one's home. It is here that this vital virtue is cultivated. Children pick it up from their parents, as they become the recipients of their parents' words of delight, affirmation, and approval. Numerous surveys document the sad fact, however, that homes tend to be far more negative than positive, much less affirming than critical.
I challenge you to make your family different. Start taking whatever steps that are necessary to cultivate a spirit of positive, reinforcing, consistent encouragement in your home. Your family will be forever grateful, believe me. And you will become a much happier person in the process.