All of us can develop the attitudes and skills that will make us effective encouragers. But that is especially true when we believe in Jesus and let his life flow through our lives.
But first, let’s consider an important question: Does encouragement come easier for some people than others? I think so. Some of us naturally do it, perhaps due to the way we naturally see people. Others- though they care just as much- find that encouragement takes more effort and practice. But even if it is difficult for you to express encouragement, Christ can make it happen. Christ’s life, in our life, creates fruit that is far beyond our personal capabilities. You just have to ask him to help you, be willing to make a few changes and take a few chances.
Now, let’s sketch our portrait.
Encouragers have a personal experience of God and his resources. You could take all of God’s resources- his power, his love, his faithfulness, his wisdom, his provision- put them in a big box, and label that box, “Grace.” The best encouragers live in God’s grace. Like clothing stored with potpourri absorbs the fragrance, their lives become permeated with the fragrance of God’s grace. People sense it even without words.
Encouragers know that connecting people to God is the best way to help them find strength. They do this through prayer, sharing appropriate scriptures, maybe even sharing a song that speaks to the person’s need.
If you want to be a better encourager, develop a treasure of life-giving, affirming resources. In this miraculous high-tech age we have tons of resources available and new ways to share them. WhatsApp, Messenger, , Skype – I use them all. Sometimes I send someone a link to a song on YouTube that has been especially meaningful to me. But don’t rely on the net alone. Build up a treasure in your own heart.
Encouragers affirm: they remind people who they are, what God has in mind for them, and how he values them. They look for progress and tell the person what they saw.
Affirmation works wonders, especially in the family. Moms and dads have to tell their children what they did wrong, but do they ever remember to tell them what they did right? It’s like water on thirsty ground.
Encouragers accept people and their struggles. But they never condone any behavior or attitude that dishonors God and damages the person or other people.
Encouragers learn how to be present and patient. The mystics call this, “The Ministry of Presence.” Many people feel that everyone is too busy to give them any attention. That’s why being there, really being there, is so valuable.
Encouragers have learned or are learning, how to listen. To listen more effectively, slow down your internal clock. Give as much time and silence as you can. Of course, there are limits. But most of us will do better if we can learn to be present and to listen.
Encouragers are not waiting for the opportunity to force their latest discovery on others.
Encouragers do what they can to help. They may help you dream, but they also help you do. Encouragers try to discover practical things to do that can help: gifts, work, assistance, even money.
Encouragers learn to discern truth and deceptions when they listen to people.
There are times when the most encouraging thing we can do is to give someone a more truthful perspective.
Encouragers know their limitations.We can help many people, but we cannot help everyone. Sometimes their needs are deeper than our resources. And sometimes you are not the right person to help. That leads to our next point:
Encouragers help others bear their burdens, but know when to step away.
I think our portrait is looking pretty good, don’t you? Let’s add one last touch and call it done, at least for now:
Encouragers are not helping primarily because they need to be needed. Feeling needed is nice, but it cannot be the reason we help.
I’ll close with some words from St Paul to his friend, Philemon:
“Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” – Philemon 1.7