I’m sure at some point in your life you have earned a nickname. If it was anything like some of the nicknames I collected throughout High School, they may not be names you are that proud of! However, at the end of Acts Ch 4, we read of a man named Joseph, who was given a wonderful name. We’re told the apostles called him Barnabas, which means, ‘son of encouragement’. I wonder what it was like to be around Barnabas? I bet he was the most popular disciple of them all! The Bible says that God gives to some people the gift of encouragement (Rom 12:8), but that encouragement is also something that should characterise every Christian (Heb 13:3). We have all felt the disappointment of being discouraged, but what does it mean to encourage someone? How can we be more like Barnabas and have it so much a part of who we are, that it is the thing people most remember about us too?
Christian encouragement is highlighting the work of God’s grace in someone’s life. You don’t need a special occasion to encourage someone. It may be because they have been a help to you, or because you are seeking to be a help to them. The first example would be a way to thank them and show gratitude to God, the second would be a way you could build up a brother or sister in need. It’s on occasions like this that words of encouragement will feel extra sweet. Proverbs 18:21 says, ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’ If we are at a point of crisis, then a word of encouragement can be how God breathes life back to us so we can face another day. It warms our fellowship, deepens our relationships, awakens our hope and lets us know we are loved. Especially when we face trials, we often forget that God is working even in these tough times to grow us toward maturity in our faith. Encouraging someone in the midst of hardship can show them what they may not be able to see for themselves.
Christian encouragement is not the same as flattery. Flattery will make you say whatever is needed to impress the other person. It is manipulative and selfish. It indulges people based on an ulterior motive. Encouragement however doesn’t deceive or trick. It uses words to build up the other person and express gratitude to God.
Neither is encouragement simply a compliment. ‘You have lovely kids’, is a compliment. (And nothing wrong with that!) But Christian encouragement might be, ‘Seeing you with your kids after church, I just wanted to say, well done on being so patient!’ We encourage one another when we see how God is working in each other’s lives, especially on those things that matter for eternity. (In this case, we express gratitude to God that He can take a busy tired parent and bring forth in them a fruit of the Spirit!) A compliment praises the person, but encouragement always directs the praise back to God.
How to encourage one another
Before we consider how we can encourage one another, it’s worth considering why we don’t. If we know the obstacles, we can be better prepared to avoid them. Encouraging others stops being a priority when we become busy and burdened by our own problems. It might sound strange, but there is nothing wrong in a hectic day to make a diary reminder to call the person you promised yourself you would. Encouragement slips off the radar when we come to church thinking like consumers, ‘What can I get out of this service?’, rather than thinking like Jesus, ‘How can I serve my brothers and sisters?’ We will give ourselves permission to avoid encouraging others if we assume it is someone else’s job (the stewards, the extroverts, the staff). And encouragement will be far more difficult if we come to church late and leave early. Without being available for others, we lose the opportunities to speak into people’s lives. Simply being aware of these distractions can make a big difference before we even start. But once we have prepared the ground, what next?
Often encouragement can start with something as simple as a greeting. It’s not unusual for people to come to church (especially if it’s their first time) feeling awkward, anxious, or guilty. Something like, ‘I’m so glad you came to church today; it was great to share the morning with you’, could in itself, be an encouragement.
Listening is a really important aspect of encouragement. Remember, you are not just looking to affirm the person about themselves, you are wanting to affirm them in their relationship with God. When we listen carefully to people’s fears, burdens and uncertainties, we can then reflect something of God back to them, which can give them strength to face what is troubling them.
When it’s time to speak, we don’t have to worry that our words aren’t good enough. God has given us His words to use. After writing to the church in Thessolonica, giving comfort to Christians who grieve, Paul ends by saying, ‘Therefore, encourage each other with these words.’ Especially at a time of grief where no one really knows what to say, God has given us His words which can comfort, reassure and bring hope. Remember what parts of the Bible have been a help to you, and start to read the Bible keeping in mind the needs of others.
How to receive encouragement
I probably should confess, I’m not very good at this! Like many of us, I don’t feel very comfortable responding to an encouragement. So here are some tips that can help us receive encouragement with gratitude, rather than smother it in false humility.
Don’t deflect. Even by simply saying thank you, you can express gratitude and encourage the encourager.
Don’t assume the person is praising you, when they are really praising God for what He has done in you.
Don’t become proud. This is perhaps the biggest misstep when it comes to receiving encouragement from others. To be humble is not necessarily to deny it, but it will mean you must keep your ego in check. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Don’t put your hands out to always stop it (unless the encouragement is patently false). Don’t pull your hands in to hold on to it with all your might. Keep your hands moving to receive it and pass it along to God. Receive the flower of encouragement, take a look at it, and then put it in a vase for God.”
Do thank God for His work in your life. If other people are seeing a change in you, it’s probably because God is actually changing you! And that is good news. Join with them in giving that glory back to God.
Do pass it on. Now you know what a blessing it can be, make sure you put it into practice yourself.
Written by Scott Tubman. Original article can be found here.