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 find it awkward to employ in everyday life. It doesn’t have to be awkward, though. As with any other skill, we get better 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 to craft the perfect words for a given situation. When I practice encouragement, I find the fewer words I use of my own, the better. This realization relieves 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 where you start when you encourage others. Share with fellow believers where you see the Spirit at work 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 gifts and faithful use of those gifts (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).
To celebrate someone’s spiritual fruit and gifts is a good place to start for true Christian encouragement.
2. Be Specific
Encouragement is most meaningful when we take a serious interest in others, which allows us to be specific. Observe 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 deeply encourages others when they 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 a genuine interest in them.
3. Be Intentional
Give thought to who, specifically, could use encouragement. My ministry team and I 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. Because the work is difficult, we all need encouragement. The best way to be intentional is to think ahead and praise 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 or not encouraged 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. Christian encouragement sits at an opposite end of the spectrum than flattery.
Don’t let the fear that you might be 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 need godly courage to give others godly courage.
If a friend looks at pornography, find words to encourage them towards a desire of Christ-likeness instead of a desire for illicit images. If a friend engages 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 your encouragement will be spoken with love. 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 that challenge and affirm my walk with Christ or strengthen my ability to benefit my brothers and sisters as much as encouragement does.
When we encourage someone, we have the opportunity to speak the truth that heals into their life. We do this by grace through a heart changed by Christ and words that are drawn from Scripture. In this way, may we strive to excel as we build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).