“…encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”
How do you feel about words? Do you remember things people have said to you?
I used to be able to remember the exact words people had said, and find it odd that others couldn’t. They’d be telling a story and I’d think, ‘that’s not how they said it! Why the paraphrasing?’ Now I feel increasingly frustrated that my memory isn’t what it used to be. I don’t know if it’s just natural as you get older, but I think there might be four other contributing factors living in my house, who have given me ten years of broken sleep.
But I do still remember things people have said to me, if not verbatim. I put both my husband and my brother on edge when I start a sentence with, “I remember you said once…” because it’s usually something they neither remember saying nor still agree with. On the plus side, at least they know I listen!
The other day I found a Thank You card someone had sent me in 2014 after a camp we were on together. As I read it I realised that I had remembered, 5 years on, an exact phrase from the card which had encouraged me, and treasured it in my heart. It wasn’t anything spectacular – in fact, if you’re interested, it was that she appreciated our “down-to-earthness” – but I’d hung on to it nevertheless.
This got me thinking that we underestimate how much adults need and appreciate encouragement. We know that children need to be affirmed. Teachers in school know to praise good behaviour much more than they rebuke the bad. If you’ve read any parenting books or online articles you’ll have been told to do the same with your own children. I wrote a blog post years ago about this which I still recommend!
It’s true that children love to be praised, especially for specific things. So not just “oh aren’t you clever!” which can sound a bit false, but “I’ve noticed that your handwriting is really improving, you’ve clearly been working hard on it. Well done!” And if we can affirm character traits in our children, then all the better. “You’ve been so kind at sharing your Christmas chocolate with people,” and even, “that reminds me of how God shares all the good things in our lives with us.” Children love this and it’s really effective, but when do we think we grow out of our thirst for encouragement?
I’m not convinced we ever do.
I mean, honestly, which of us would not be thrilled if tomorrow a friend gave us a sincere, specific word of affirmation and then shared how it reminded them in some way of what God is like? Or it showed them how God has been working in us?
I think this is a wonderful way to be a blessing to our church family and wider community. And it doesn’t cost a thing! Plus, the more you do it the more it will become a good habit. Here are some examples of ways you could bless people with your words:
- If you have people in your church who have been serving in the same way for years, now is the time to thank them. They’re the least likely people to be thanked or encouraged for what they do. The longer someone serves, the more they’re taken for granted.
- If you take one encouragement from the Sunday sermon, go up to your pastor and tell him it. Don’t assume he knows!
- If you have a visiting preacher at your church, email him the following day to thank him for coming and give him a couple of things you found encouraging from his talk.
- If there’s something you really like about your children’s teacher, why not tell them?
- Try not to let people squirm out of your encouragements. Imagine you’re passing them a gift and they’re trying to give it back or drop it. Just keep handing it back to them. Look them in the eye and say, “I’m trying to encourage you, please don’t shrug it off.” Or something like that! “Shut up and listen to me” might also work.
- You could send encouragements via text or – better still – a postcard popped in the post. This is a different way of doing it and may be a good place to start if you feel nervous about doing it face to face.
You might read this and think, “I’m not that kind of person.” The truth is that I’m not either. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else in order to encourage others. You need to do it in your own way, but the sad truth is that hardly anyone is “that kind of person.” As a result, people around us are starving for words of affirmation.
Also, I would argue that we do all know how to praise and encourage. We love to tell people how good a particular film or book is, or even the reasons why we love a certain person. But why don’t we say those things to the person directly? I know it’s not British. But godliness isn’t British, folks.
As with other gifts – hospitality, evangelism, giving – some people will be better at this than others. But that doesn’t leave the rest of us off. We should all be trying to encourage others. And you never know, you might find you’re better at it than you thought.
And you might even save someone’s life:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Hebrews 3:12-14.