|Douglas Frank Photo|
Many people are discouraged in life, and I can easily understand why. I have been discouraged and even in despair at times.‘“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”(Joshua 1:9). This is God Himself encouraging Moses predecessor, Joshua. We all get discouraged.
What is it that God wants us to do at these times? He wants us to encourage others. This is both a gift and a lifestyle. Scripture is full of encouraging words. In fact “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” (Romans 15:5). Paul, having been in great peril often admonishes and exhorts us to encourage one another, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1Thessalonians 5:11). This teaching occurs over 50 times in the New Testament. In fact it is a spiritual gift for some, including myself. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that there are many gifts of the Holy Spirit given in grace. “ If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:8). In their book by Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender, Encouragement, The Key to Caring, they tell us it is a unique value of Christian fellowship.
In the Book of Hebrews the writer speaks of the end of times, which I believe is coming quickly saying, “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 10:25). Different translations use “exhortation” instead. It pushes us to use our mental energies to move up and out of somewhere into someplace higher or better, less dark and more light. It is a revival word and or expression. All of our calling is to minister to needy people with the gifts we have. All Christians are called by the Great Commission to evangelize with the Good News. That is being an encourager.
Encouraging is a relational thing. It is not just words, it is listening, and being engaged and bringing words or substantive things that will encourage or comfort the disheartened. A well-timed word has power. In fact Proverbs expresses how, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…A soothing word is like a tree of life” (Proverbs 18:21, 15:4). It is about speaking light-filled words of cheer and warmth on a cold day. Since James admonishes us that the tongue has the power to sink ships we need to be careful with our words. Words aptly spoken can influence people toward or away from godliness. Have you ever been at a track meet urging, cheering and encouraging runners to finish the race strong? Do you just yell, “Quit,” I don’t think so. Perhaps on a hot day you even turn on the hose in your yard to spray on the runners as they pass by. I recall when I was a hospital administrator at a small rural hospital in Tuscola Illinois; we held a race to raise funds for some worthy cause in our Emergency Department. The lead, an attorney no less started the race with 1,000 at 1100 on an August morning heading out on a newly blacktopped road in the cornfields. I don’t know if you have lived in Illinois or Iowa, I have lived in both. Well “the corn is as high as an elephants eye, and it looks like its growing right up through the sky.” This line from Oklahoma is all true. In fact the corn was over 12 feet high and the temperature was well over 100. Tragically we had a death from heat stroke and 12 serious heat related injuries requiring EMS from the Champaign hospitals to rescue and transport. Our little ED was overwhelmed with people as we poured water and ice on fragile bodies. A good friend of mine had cardiac arrest and liver damage from the race. I can still see in my minds eye the leader of the race, who was an Olympian screaming to the spectators to spray cold water on the runners. We were beyond normal encouragement at this point, but calling on God to intervene and save lives. A cup of cold water often will do, but sometimes we need to use special skills to step into a difficult situation. This kind of encouragement requires training. Perhaps that’s why I am an EMS Trainer, Ski Patroller and a Chaplain/Pastor. Encouragement is my primary spiritual gift of the Spirit.
Well, enough of the dramatic and back to what is encouragement. It is not shallow words that are typical today. “Have a nice day, I’ll pray for you.” Really, will you really pray for them and is that what they need. Perhaps you are ill equipped to help, so go get someone else who can help. Yes life and death are in the power of the tongue. Christians are commanded to encourage on another.
Here is another story. A friend of mine was hospitalized and unable to cook. They received food by the truckload daily until as my friend said, “I developed an allergy to lasagna.” Sometimes it is not food that we need, but relational intelligence used to provide the encouragement that someone really needs. Fears can keep us from encouraging and fears of another might be what we need to address. We have a problem here Houston. Actually “fear” is at the bottom of many issues requiring encouragement. We fear rejection, pain, and the unknown. For people in fear prayer is important, as the persistent prayers of godly people are powerful. We often hide our fears or disguise with layers of ineffective coping mechanisms.
In dealing with others' needs, we need to listen. Silent presence is often a real gift. We can’t learn how to help without listening. Honest sharing can develop deeper relationships. It is about the other person not the selfish you. Do not self-protect and do not share too much. Transparency is good, but too much too soon can be a turnoff. Not all people can handle full transparency. We need to reveal ourselves like an onion; one layer at a time as Henri Nouwen gifted priest and encourager said in his book Wounded Healer.
Conversational techniques are learned. First ask God for help as you go into any situation. Exercise God control over your words. They can be a two-edged sword and yet the Word of God is are only offensive armor to protect against the evil one. Ask how you can help, don’t assume.
Notice in the quote from Hebrews above that it says, “Do not neglect meeting together.” There is power in community, especially needed today in this environment of hate and division. Our country is on the brink of going in a direction that is against life. There are powers in high places in our country that do not support our constitution or values. Biblical values and principles are core to this country’s founding and must not be denied. Find community for encouragement and strength in this time of the beginning of “birth pangs.” Yes, I believe that the End-of-times has begun. Community with the body of Christ is an essential part of this encouragement strategy that I am describing. ‘“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them’” (Matthew 18:20). Yes, there is more power in corporate prayer. Spend your time with people of the light not the darkness. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
Be dependable and available; friends do that. Overwhelmed people need people even if they want to hide when they are afraid or depressed. A good friend is accountable and accessible are well as available to help in times of need. We are God’s hands and feet. This is part of the character of the encourager.
I have been talking about being there for others as an encourager. Also, remember you too need encouragement. So, have accountability brothers or sisters who are of faith and can lift you up as well. Satan would like nothing more than to take down as encourager. Do not pretend you don’t need help for the journey as well. I have a special friend as an accountability or prayer partner. I also have a Band of Seven, men who meet every week and pray and encourage one another. We have been and continue to share our weaknesses and strengths, our wounds and our triumphs continually with one another. This is an essential part of community.
Remember that words of encouragement or motivated or prompted by love. Our encouragement is to be aimed at another’s fears. When we do that we reduce or disable the fears. Real encouragement breaks through the shell or layers of self-protection. Real encouragement is willing to go for the pain, uncovering and exposing issues. Yes, this is where the rubber meets the road. It is in the struggling that the healing can come. Real encouragers endure and persevere with others. Real relationships can bring change. God’s Word does not return void, but accomplishes it purpose of watering a soul or spirit (Isaiah 55). This is investing in another. Truth presented can “availeth” much.
Questioning is a gift of the encourager as well. Jesus asked 100s of questions in the New Testament. Why He did this was to show not only interest but to uncover true feelings and emotions of another. We can’t do much to help another unless we really know what is going on. One of the chaplains I worked with at Froedtert Menomonee Falls is an excellent questioner. He offers questions not to interrogate but to find common ground and open hearts. Ministry searches for opportunities to encourage. We must be open and welcoming willing to hear and receive whatever someone wants to share. Door openers convey acceptance without rejection, with understanding. Advise giving is not our goal unless requested of us. We are not manipulators but encouragers instead. Several principles might be helpful here. Be slow to speak and quick to listen as James 1:19 admonishes. Be gentle with your speech seasoned with grace. Do not be defensive or offensive. Don’t tell anyone how he or she should feel. We cannot should on anyone. Remember non-verbal communications are loud and apparent. Make sure you face a person, not being too close and be direct with your eye contact. Be open and relaxed. Be reflective in speech to help clarify. Open doors with questions that are not interrogating; but rather full of curious exploring. Don’t use Bible verses unless they really are helpful and might arise out of an experience in your own life. One of our goals will be beyond counseling for encouragement to enlightenment. In other words as Scripture says, “Make the most of all opportunities, full of grace and seasoned with salt” (Colossian 4:6). This is a ministry that is there to help with acceptance and seasoning that preserves, brings life and flavor. Consider how to stimulate one another to love as Hebrews exhorts. Be an Encourager!