Michael Bungay Stainer is an author and speaker who lives in Toronto. I subscribe to his email newsletter, which always ends with the same signature: “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.”
Totally corny. He really has no idea how I’m doing. And yet I find that even a somewhat generic encouragement makes me smile. We’re so starved for encouragement that we sometimes don’t mind getting it through an email blast.
I have a friend who has consistently encouraged me. I went through a hard time a few years ago. He always made a point of coming up to me, asking how I was doing, really listening, and then saying that he was praying for me. I always felt encouraged after seeing him.
Years later, I realized that he acted that way with everyone. I watch him in action now and see him showing up in a room with intentionality and looking for people to encourage. I watch how God uses him to encourage others, and it’s powerful.
Encouragement is a biblical command (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Encouragement is important business,” write Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. “It merits our careful attention, not only because Scripture tells us directly to think about it, but also because it represents one unique value of Christian fellowship. Any group of compatible people can enjoy themselves, but Christians can enrich their social enjoyment with the knowledge that when they spend time together, they can have an eternally significant impact on one another.”
Showing up with an agenda to encourage could be make an eternal difference in the life of another person.
How to Encourage
Being a positive person and affirming everyone, like Michael Bungay Stainer, may be a good place to start. I know people like that, and I am definitely enriched by them.
But the real power seems to be when we decide to show up with the intention to encourage specifically. Proverbs speaks about the power of our words to encourage others (Proverbs 12:25; 15:4; 16:24). When we pay attention to those around us, we can often find a word that will strengthen the other and help them overcome the discouragement that’s around us. The surprising part: we often end up feeling more encouraged ourselves.
I propose two actions.
First, let’s resolve to become more grateful and encouraging in general. This means embracing many of the commands of Scripture: to stop grumbling, to put up with others, and so on. It means growing the fruit of the Spirit. Assume the best of others. Be slow to take offense, quick to offer grace. I’ve noticed that the godliest people I know tend to have a gentle, encouraging presence. Becoming less cranky and more thankful is a good way to start.
But then let’s show up, like my friend, with the intention to encourage one another. Pray for opportunities to encourage. Really listen. Look out for people who need extra encouragement. Enter a room with an agenda to encourage and how honor to others. Don’t be fake. Ask God to give you specific words that will strengthen them to continue to grow in the middle of hardship.
And watch what God will do.
We all need encouragement, and we can all give encouragement. I can’t really think of many things more necessary and helpful than practicing the ministry of encouragement.