She started her statement casually, “I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but…” and then it came, one of the most encouraging things I had heard in weeks. She shared a thoughtful praise about how our senior pastor (Greg) and I complement each other as preachers. And no, I had never heard the encouragement quite that way before!
If I ask you to think of the most encouraging thing that was shared with you in your high school years, you can probably think of that encouragement pretty quickly. Think about the impact that encouragement had on you. Think about how it shaped your life path. Pretty remarkable, right?
For me, the encouragement that stands out most was given to me as an eighteen year old by my senior pastor, Roger Barrier. He invited me to lunch, and, as we scooped spicy Albondigas into our mouths and chomped on Carne Asada burritos, he shared that he believed that God would call me to be a senior pastor one day.
It’s interesting that near the end of Moses’s life, God tells Moses not once, but twice, to encourage Joshua.[i] God knew the leadership burden and the opposition that Joshua would face. He knew the shadow Joshua would live in as the leader following Moses: the man who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the man who had met God face-to-face on Mount Sinai, the man who delivered the Ten Commandments to God’s people.
It’s not a mistake that God placed Barnabas (the son of encouragement) at Paul’s side. It’s not a mistake that encouragement is a theme of the early church in general. In fact, from chapter 13 on in Acts (when the missionary journeys of Paul begin) encouragement pops up no less than seven times. Again and again the church encourages Paul, and Paul returns the favor by encouraging them.
It’s no surprise then that Paul ends his letter to the church at Thessalonica with these words, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”[ii]
We are called to be those who are marked by encouragement. So, why is encouragement so hard for us? Why do we withhold encouragement? For some of us, we withhold encouragement because we just get busy. I like to write encouragement notes to volunteers and co-workers at New Life, but it’s amazing how quickly the weeks (and sometimes months!) go by between when I write them.
Some of us withhold encouragement because we are too focused on ourselves. It requires a humble heart that is focused on others and not ourselves to offer up encouragement. To the extent that we are self-focused, we will never be able to be strong encouragers.
Finally, I’ve heard from time to time that some people don’t offer encouragement because of fear that it might stroke the other person’s pride. In fact, one statement that always makes me chuckle is the encouragement that is preceded by, “Don’t let this go to your head, but…”
We never see in scripture that it is our responsibility to protect someone else from being proud. And it is certainly not our responsibility to humble someone else. That is God’s responsibility alone. Our responsibility is to encourage (and yes, the flip side is that we are also to exhort: speak hard truths in love). Don’t withhold encouragement for fear of it ballooning someone’s pride. You are missing out on what God has called you to.
Friends, let us be those marked by encouragement! What a powerful tool we have when we encourage one another!
[i] Deuteronomy 1:28; 3:28
[ii] 1 Thessalonians 5:11