Play word association with “goose” and you are more likely to come up with “golden”, “egg”, “fois gras” (if you have a penchant for pâté) and even “silly” rather than the word “encouragement”. Surprisingly though, encouragement is a major attribute of the goose. A flock of geese flying in formation is characterised by their frequent honking as the geese honk to encourage the ones out in front to maintain speed.
Geese do not, however, have the monopoly on encouragement. Walk into any bookstore and there are multitudes of books for inspiration and encouragement. Parenting Classes preach on the merits of using encouragement as a means of helping children reach their potential. In the Business arena “positive reinforcement” is expounded as a tool to improving staff morale, job satisfaction and ultimately production.
The same phenomenon is equally apparent on a sports field through the cheering of fans, giving rise to the “home court advantage”. Indeed, sport testimonies abound as to the role that the encouragement and cheers from the crowd had in giving competitors the determination and ultimately the edge to press forward to a win. At the Oscars and Sports Awards, winners are always paying tribute to that parent, spouse or mentor that encouraged them and gave them the courage to press on to their goal.
As prevalent as encouragement appears to be in the secular world it should be even more so around Christians. Encouragement should be one of our defining characteristics. In fact it should be something that comes instinctively to us. We are exhorted by Paul to be encouragers.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Encouragement is a powerful tool. It is about strengthening the heart. Physician George Adams, when explaining how vital encouragement is, described it as being “oxygen to the soul”. The dictionary defines encouragement as “to inspire with the courage or confidence (to do something). To stimulate by approval or help.” Encouragement is about inspiring and strengthening someone. In other words “putting courage in”.
There are many references to encouragement in the Bible. Paul’s letters are full of encouragement. It is recorded in Acts 15:32 that Judas and Silas, who were prophets, encouraged other Christians. David after finding his and his army’s families taken captive sought encouragement from God before facing his army (1 Samuel 30:6). In fact, the very Word is there as an encouragement to us.
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Furthermore, the Bible tells us that one of the benefits of meeting together is the opportunity that it provides to encourage, uplift and strengthen each other.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
So how do we encourage those around us?
Purposefully and prayerfully seek ways of encouraging others. Make it a habit. When you create habits, they ultimately become part of your character and you find that encouraging others will come naturally to you.
Celebrate people’s achievements, joys and blessings. Often we assume that just because things are going well for people that they don’t need to hear encouragement from us. But this is not always the case. Furthermore, it is sometimes tempting, in moments of other people’s blessings, to dwell on the lack in our lives and then to withhold our joy for them as a result. Rejoicing with each other builds up the entire body. Everyone benefits.
Encourage others in their ministries and giftings by practically sowing through acts of service. This can encompass anything from providing hospitality to each other, babysitting to allow hard working parents a night out, assisting with transport for outreaches, coming early to help setup at church, and helping with the dishes after morning tea. Use your own giftings in support of others.
Financially sowing into someone’s ministry or just giving someone a gift is always a great encouragement to the recipient. It may help them buy that necessary piece of equipment or simply give them the opportunity for a treat.
5. The tongue
Encourage people with sincere words of affirmation. Challenge yourself to find something positive to say to the person serving you at the Checkout counter or to the person sitting next to you at church. Refrain from negativity or gossip that counteracts against encouragement and brings a person down. We need to ensure that what we say edifies and builds up others. Remember that there is life and death in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)
Passing on your wisdom and knowledge especially to the younger generation is a great way to encourage. There may be someone wanting to enter the same profession as you that could benefit from your advice. Or there may be someone who could benefit from your life experiences and lessons learnt, whether it be finances, relationships, work or ministry.
So how about it – before you next head to church think about what you could say or action you could take that would encourage someone to fulfill their God given potential. In other words, start honking!!!