Encouragement is an incredibly important part of the Christian life. Multiple times in the New Testament, Christians are told to ‘encourage one another.’
What is ‘encouragement’? In its broadest sense, it’s doing anything that spurs someone on in the Christian life. This can include cheering them on when they’re doing the right thing, urging them to keep going in the Christian life, or gently correcting them when they’ve gone astray.
Encouragement is really important. I think we should do it more.
But in its more basic sense, it also means just what it usually means in English: to tell someone you think they’re doing a good job, or to thank them for something.
I think this basic sense of encouragement is really important. I also think we should do it more. Here are my three theses on encouragement.
First of all, encouragement is easy.
It takes almost no time or effort to tell someone you think they’ve done a good job or they’ve been helpful to you. Whether it’s thanking the band after church for playing, telling your small group leader how much you appreciate them opening their home to you each week, or texting your kid’s Sunday School teacher to thank them for their efforts: all of these are easy to do.
Yet, despite how easy encouragement is, it’s rare. Ask most people—not just at church, but in life generally—if they feel either over-appreciated or under-appreciated, and I bet they’ll say under-appreciated! Why is this?
I think there are a few reasons.
The first is that we all operate with limited bandwidth. We’ve got so much on our plate—work, family, friends, hobbies, household jobs, etc.—that we simply don’t have the headspace to do extra things (even if they’re easy)—like encourage people.
The second is that most of us have a natural bent toward wanting things to improve. This is a good thing: wanting to make things better is a sign you care about them! But it can also mean we gloss over the 99 things we like about something—the singing, the welcome set-up, etc.—and only hone in on the one thing we don’t like. We assume people already know we appreciate what they do, so go straight to the suggestion we have for improvement.
Encouragement must be sufficiently rare that the Bible lists it as a spiritual gift!
I don’t think any of this is new. Encouragement must be sufficiently rare that the Bible lists it as a spiritual gift! (Rom 12:8) That is, though all of us are called to encourage, only some of us will do it as a natural reflex. The rest of us will have to work at it. Presumably, this is why God has to tell us so often in Scripture to encourage each other!
So encouragement is straightforward but can also be rare. But it’s essential to work hard at it because when we do, it’s powerful. I remember one day that really drove this home to me.
I was taking our then-two-year-old son, Dan, for a walk around Kirribilli one day. We’d caught the bus into the area and had then spent the next two hours walking all around its beautiful and winding streets. At the start, Dan loved it. He was holding my hand and happily jogging along beside me. But as the trip wore on, he began to tire—he was only two—and began to whine.
I picked him up and put him on my shoulders. This was fine—he was only two—but after a while, as I walked up and down the suburb’s hills, I began to tire, too. By the time we got to Kirribilli train station, we were both tired and a bit crabby with each other. As we waited for the train, I squatted down behind Dan to put my arms around him, to keep him warm. As we sat there, a little old woman came onto the platform, pulling a trolley behind her. She was the only other person on the platform, and, as she drew level with us, she looked at me and said, ‘You are a good dad. I can tell,’ and then just walked on.
That simple act of kindness from a complete stranger gave me a real lift that day, at a time when I needed it.
Now I’m not telling you this story to tell you what a good dad I am! I’m telling it because that simple act of kindness from a complete stranger gave me a real lift that day, at a time when I needed it. It obviously made an impression on me, because it happened years ago, and I can still remember it! I’d love to meet that lady one day and thank her.
It got me thinking: how powerful can even a simple word of encouragement be? Could my words have the same impact on someone?
Jesus is teaching his disciples about what’s in store for them if they work hard for the kingdom, and what’s the reward? A compliment, a word of encouragement. Jesus will say to them, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ (Mt 25:23) How all of us long to hear those words!
So let’s make sure we encourage each other, too, while we wait for that day.