Sunday, February 5, 2017

Be an Encourager

I published a blog earlier on the topic of encouragement that was true and well written but failed to really capture what I was trying to say. I have been simmering on the topic of encouragement lately because I have witnessed its power on both the giving and receiving ends. Encouragement is potent because it is able to discharge discouragement of its strength. We have all experienced the potency of discouragement and all of the after shocks it can bring in our hearts. However, encouragement not only dominates discouragement, it has the potential to reinvigorate our souls with strength we did not know we had. It is for this reason that I think it is necessary for us to sharpen our skills at delivering effective and meaningful encouragement.

First, it is important to note that encouragement is not flattery. Flattery has at is deepest core a desire to get something from the other person. At it's worst, flattery is the desire to use your words to manipulate an outcome from another person. Whether that is some sort of transaction or just the desire to convince them that you are a nice and likable person, flattery is about you, not the other person.

Encouragement on the other hand is always about the other person. The motivation behind encouragement is to confer strength upon the recipient. Encouragement results in a sense of invigoration, fortitude, or renewed confidence. Encouragement has the power to take an idea and make it an action. It is a propelling word or deed that advances the spirit of another person. True encouragement makes a mark on the hearts of people.

If this sounds weighty and rare, it is because so many people have the intention of achieving encouragement but fail to consider how or what encouragement actually is. Below is an encouragement outline that helps distinguish flattery from encouragement and improves well-intentioned compliments to become compelling encouragement.

1. The Thinking Test- Does this word or action pass the thinking test? What I mean by that is, does it pass the guide we are given in Philipians 4:8?  Is it pure, lovely, true, noble, right, praiseworthy, or excellent? If not, then, it is likely not a thought that we ought to share.

2. The Helpful Test- Is this word or action helpful? Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, except that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." This one is harder because we don't always know the needs of others. However, this verse does show us that if we are working to be helpful in our words of encouragement, we need to ask ourselves about its effect. Will this word build up or tear down? I have known a good number of "nice Christian" folk who undoubtedly thought they were being helpful but failed to consider the destructive effect of their words. Discouragement and encouragement can be distinguished by considering their effect.

If our words or actions pass those two tests, I think there are some ways that we can elevate the impact of our encouragement.

1. Be specific- Vague compliments will not result in lasting encouragement. "Hey, great job today" fails to help the other person see the impact of what they did or said. For all they know, you are just being nice. A non-specific comment can easily be dismissed or forgotten.

2. Draw out the significance- Help the other person see that what they said or did was important or meaningful. Situating your specific observation into a larger context, helps the other person recognize the role that what they did or said had in your life. If they said something during a conversation that really impacted you, tell them why. I don't know how many times I have had someone say to me, "Hey, thanks so much for being vulnerable in that conversation. I always thought I was the only one." That kind of comment helps me know that the risk I took in that conversation was worthwhile because it helped someone else become more open and feel more understood.

3. Consider the delivery- Public praise is sometimes appropriate. However, if what you feel led to say is intensely personal or maybe really significant, consider taking the time to go to them one on one or even write it down. I am a hoarder of well written notes of encouragement. They are stuck in every nook and cranny of my home and office. We may get this one wrong sometimes but these are the kind of mistakes I am ok making.

And Finally, my regular motto...
4. Say the good thing- I can't tell you how many times someone has sent me a text at just the right time to tell me that they are praying for me. Or when they have said something that was exactly what I needed to hear. Unfortunately, I don't think we do this enough with one another. I think we get intimidated or dismiss the nudge to text someone because we don't think it matters or sometimes because we don't want them to think we are being cheesy spiritual. We rob one another and ourselves when we hesitate to say the good thing. I have become more regular in just being willing to risk it and say the good thing and it seems that God keeps giving me opportunity after opportunity to be a strength giver to the people in my life.

Encouragement should not be bound up only in the closest relationships in our lives where we feel the safest to give love. Rather, we need to be risky encouragers. Notice the good in others and say it. Make it meaningful if you can and say it. Sometimes it really is not much at all. If your server is young and doing a great job, tell him so. If the checker at the grocery store seems stressed out by her day, offer her your patience and say something good to her. Say the good thing.

This world is long on downheartedness and short on cheer. We can be agents of change if we just consider how to offer relief through love in the form of an encouraging word.

"Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always." -Unknown