This article is part of the 7 Tips series.
Opportunities to Encourage
I recently received a text message from a discouraged first-time mom. Her newborn was repeatedly waking through the night and crying inconsolably throughout the day. She was desperate for a good word and she’d reached out to me.
She wrote of her exhaustion: “Being a mom is really hard. Does it always feel this demanding?” Even though I’m no longer a new mom, sometimes I still feel the very same way. But in that moment, I knew that she craved more than my blunt honesty or my own personal experience.
My friend felt discouraged. She lacked courage to face the days ahead and the years ahead. Because she felt too weak for the work immediately before her, she was quickly losing hope that she could stand firm for the long haul.
Discouragement is a key strategy utilized by the enemy to distract, dishearten, and defeat followers of Jesus from trusting the promises of God. When we are weary, pressed down, and crushed by burdens on every side, discouragement lies and tells Christians there’s no hope. But we are not intended to give way to a spirit of fear or to give up the battle. We are not a hopeless people.
When discouragement looms large, we usually do not need to be set straight, given “how-to” advice, or offered the assurance that our circumstances will turn around at any moment. When we are discouraged and the demands feel like too much to shoulder, we need encouragement.
Exhorted to Encourage
Christians are called to extend better, stronger, more hope-filled words of encouragement than those we might find within the pages of a self-help book or from an unbelieving friend or co-worker. We require more support in order for our hope to fully be renewed.
To “encourage” means to provide support, confidence, or hope. As ambassadors of Christ we extend a better encouragement than the world because we herald a message of hope. The gospel message is uniquely able to strengthen Christ’s followers in order that we might all stand firm in the faith until the day of his return. It’s as we “encourage one another with these words,” as Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians, that the Holy Spirit will fill followers of Jesus with all the support, confidence, and hope we need.
Because Christians are called to encourage one another, we must make sure that we are crystal clear on who we are called to encourage, how we are called to provide help, and why we are called to do so. When we know the answers to these questions, we will become more skilled encouragers.
In the Old Testament, God instructed Moses to go to Joshua and “encourage him” (Deut. 1:38) to prepare Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land. Joshua needed strong encouragement for the daunting task ahead. When Moses encouraged Joshua, notice what he did not say. Not, You’re so talented. Not, I believe in you, Joshua. And certainly not, You’ve got this. No, Moses exhorted Joshua in the sight of all Israel to encourage him with these words:
“Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Moses encouraged God’s servant Joshua by way of God’s promises and for the sake of God’s purposes. And as a result, Joshua was strengthened by the Lord’s promise and presence to go forward trusting that the Lord was the source of his hope. God would fulfill his promise to Joshua and to Israel. This is the same support, confidence, and hope we need to face the battles set before us today and that we should provide to others.
Encourage Like This: 7 Tips for Becoming A Better Encourager
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was a model encourager who intentionally worked to strengthen followers of Christ. He did not mince Biblical truth with worldly “rah-rah” affirmations intended for the tickling of ears. Following Paul’s lead, let’s consider seven tips for becoming better encouragers.
1. Recognize Discouragement
Don’t ignore or overlook discouragement in others—even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. Choose to notice and step into their pain and suffering. Paul begins his letter to the church in Thessalonica by assuring them that he gives thanks to God always, constantly mentioning them in his prayers before God because of their work of faith and labor of love and their steadfast hope in Jesus. Paul can thank God and pray for them, because he knows their lives and their trials.
To become better encouragers we must do more than take note of what’s going on in the lives of others. We can seek to understand their trials and sorrows so that we can petition the Father on behalf of our discouraged friends that he might meet them in their lack. When we share in the joys and the sorrows we learn how to give thanks and pray. Our presence and curiosity can be more encouraging than our words.
Pray for the Spirit to give you eyes to see and understand discouragement in others.
2. Encourage to Build Up & Strengthen
What’s the point of providing encouragement? Paul commends the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:8–11 for their ongoing track record of encouragement. And he urges the people to keep up the good work for a very specific purpose. He instructs, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up.” We must understand that encouragement isn’t simply about making others feel better. Encouragement is meant to strengthen the heart so that we will stand firm, take heart, and be built together in the faith. For this is the will of God for your sanctification. Without encouragement, hearts grow weary. With encouragement, God strengthens his saints to stand firm and take heart as they are made more and more like him in holiness.
Pray for God to direct your steps to saints who need your words of encouragement to build and strengthen them in their walk of faith.
3. Be Patient as You Encourage
As fellow recipients of God’s grace through Christ, we must be patient with the weary just as God has been patient with us. Paul writes that we are to “admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak.” But specifically, he exhorts us to “be patient with them all.” Why? Because it’s easier to respond with annoyance or frustration to those who exhibit weakness and discouragement or to those who struggle in ways we don’t. It’s far more challenging to exhort and encourage with the patience and grace of the Father. Christ will often call us to sacrifice our own timing, agenda, and personal comfort in order that we might patiently admonish and encourage with his timely care.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to produce the fruits of love and patience in your own heart as you attempt to tend sacrificially to others.
4. Encourage With Gentleness
Paul’s words are careful and cautious as he encourages believers. He assured the Thessalonians that he was not lying, deceiving, or attempting to be a people pleaser. He didn’t come with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed. He didn’t even seek glory from people (1 Thess. 2:4–5). Paul’s words of encouragement weren’t brash or bombastic. Instead, he was intentionally gentle among the believers, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. (1 Thess. 2:7–8).”
Pray the Holy Spirit might help you to encourage through gentle words, offered purely for the care of others, and that he would grant grace to the hearers.
When discouragement looms large, we usually do not need to be set straight, given “how-to” advice, or offered the assurance that our circumstances will turn around at any moment.
5. Encourage to Comfort
Strength isn’t the only benefit of encouragement. Paul writes to Philemon (Philem. 1:7) that he had “derived much joy and comfort” from his love, because the hearts of the saints had been refreshed through him. When believers share in Christ, we also share in a common comforter. Christians encourage best by sharing words and promises of Christ’s comfort. This is why Paul is filled with comfort in affliction and overflowing with joy because “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us” (2 Cor. 2:8). God encourages and comforts his people through his word and through the faithful presence and testimony of his body.
Pray that you might encourage others by comforting them with the comfort you’ve received through Christ.
6. Encourage Others for Their Benefit and Yours
Encouraging others is mutually beneficial. We learn as we are able to successfully strengthen and hearten others, and even as we make mistakes. We become better encouragers through the process of providing and receiving encouragement. As we encourage others in the hope we’ve found, we are sanctified and built up. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 that despite his extensive suffering and trials, his coming to Thessalonica was not in vain because in observing the church’s faith, perseverance, and ongoing hope in the gospel, he has been encouraged. Their testimony of faith affirmed his work and renewed his desire to continue laboring among the saints.
Like Paul, encouraging others in the faith encourages us to continue fruitfully laboring even in the midst of our own trials and suffering.
7. Encourage One Another with These Words
Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica to encourage one another with specific words. “These words” were words that remind the struggling believers of the truth that in Christ “we will always be with the Lord.” First Thessalonians 4:17 says that when we provide these words, God’s people take comfort from one another. This is because God’s people are intended to find their greatest strength and comfort in the presence and promises of God.
As followers of Jesus who earnestly desire to “encourage one another,” let’s begin by acknowledging how difficult it can be to provide others with good words of encouragement. Then, ask the Spirit to humble us and allow us to see and meet the needs of others who are discouraged; patiently, gently building up to strengthen and comfort the body of Christ with the good news of God’s trustworthy promises. And let us faithfully seek the Spirit’s help as we strive to become better encouragers.
When my weary friend texted me, I paused and asked the Spirit for wisdom and words of truth and grace. What could I say to encourage her in her pursuit of holiness and in her need for strength and comfort? Then I responded with the assurance that Christ was near in her weakness. I told her it’s ok to cry and feel overwhelmed. And I invited her to cry out to God and ask for his mercy. I assured her I would be lifting her up in prayer to the throne of grace. And I shared a psalm that had comforted me when I’d felt the same way. Then, I left the encouragement to the Spirit who is able to uphold and strengthen her better than I could.
While encouragement may not come naturally or easily, it can be learned and practiced by the grace of God. We are not naturally better encouragers because we are older, further along in our faith, are married, or have kids. As we labor diligently by grace, may the Spirit enable us to more skillfully encourage and exhort one another.
Lindsey Carlson is the author of A Better Encouragement: Trading Self-Help for True Hope.
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