Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. -- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Christian encouragement is a command. But like the command to evangelize, we often find it awkward to employ in everyday life. It doesn’t have to be awkward, though. Like any other skill, we get better at it with practice. With that in mind, here are five suggestions to help you grow in your ability to encourage others.
1. Turn to the Word
Not everyone is naturally comfortable crafting the perfect words for a given situation. In practicing encouragement, I have found that the fewer words I use of my own, the better. This realization has relieved me to encourage all the more, and with greater truthfulness, I do believe. I don’t need my words to encourage; I need God’s Word.
Let the Scriptures be your starting point for encouraging others. Share with fellow believers where you see the Spirit working in and through them. Point out the fruits of the Spirit you see growing in them (Galatians 5:22-23). Affirm them in their spiritual gifting and faithful use of those gifts (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).
Celebrating someone’s spiritual fruit and gifting is a good start toward true Christian encouragement.
2. Be Specific
Our encouragement is most meaningful when we take enough interest in others, allowing us to be specific. Be observant of those in your believing community. Who is quick to volunteer and serve others? Who models self-control in their words and actions? Who exhibits patience with those who talk perhaps more than their fair share?
Based on what you observe, offer concrete examples of how you have seen this person live out their faith. It’s deeply encouraging to hear, “I saw God’s grace at work when you did this or said that.” Specific examples bless the hearer and show that you have taken genuine interest in them.
3. Be Intentional
Give thought to who, specifically, could use encouragement. My ministry team and I recently set aside some time during our team meetings to encourage one another. We choose an individual in advance for each meeting, then take intentional time to tell them specifically how we see them being used by God. It deepens us as individuals and as a community.
Whether we work for a church or not, we are all doing the work of ministry, and because it is difficult work, we all need encouragement. The best way to be intentional is to think ahead and praise based on where you see faithfulness and fruit of the Spirit in a brother or sister.
That is intentionality in encouragement, and it draws from the depths.
4. Be Selfless
Have you ever held back from encouraging someone because you were afraid you might feed their pride? Have you ever withheld encouragement because you viewed someone as a rival in your work environment or your circle of friends? We all have. But Christian encouragement and flattery sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Don’t let fear of being seen as a flatterer cause you to curtail your genuine words of encouragement. Don’t let your own insecurities inhibit your praise of others. The one who encourages practices selflessness, taking the words of Proverbs 12:18 to heart: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
We have a choice to be selfish or selfless in our encouragement: We can either harm by the selfishness of our silence or diminished praise, or we can heal by the selflessness of our fruitful words driven by the Scriptures.
5. Be Courageous
Don’t just encourage for godly things already done, but encourage the pursuit of godly things not being done, as well. We, ourselves, often need godly courage to give someone else godly courage.
If a friend is looking at pornography, find words to encourage them toward desiring Christ-likeness instead of illicit images. If a friend is engaging in gossip, find words to encourage them toward Christ-honoring speech. Be gracious rather than legalistic. The more you can identify with your friend’s battle, the more loving your encouragement will be. Use Christian courage to confront sin with kindness and gentleness.
I believe encouragement should take its place alongside any list of spiritual disciplines. We should practice it often. I’ve found few exercises to be more challenging and affirming to my walk with Christ and to my ability to benefit my brothers and sisters.
When we encourage someone, we have the opportunity to speak healing truth into their life. We do this by grace through a heart changed by Christ and words drawn from Scripture. In this way, may we strive to excel in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).