Friday, May 04, 2007

Learning to Encourage

These days I’m thinking about encouragement. Not because I’m a particularly encouraging individual but precisely because I’m not. Sadly, I tend to be critical, self righteous and ungrateful – often with those closest to me.

Yet, I’m being drawn to grow in encouragement. I know of the power of encouragement because I have felt its effects. I know how a word of encouragement can carry me through tough times. I’ve felt renewed strength from someone thanking me for my relatively minor contribution. I’ve benefited from a reminder of a biblical truth applied to my circumstance.

So, I'd like to grow in this grace of encouragement – to be applied at home, at work, at church and in my community.

Here’s what I’m realizing as I’m pondering this area in my life –

Genuine encouragement isn’t just a technique, a set of platitudes or even a mindset – it’s a grace from God. It’s not easy being an encouraging person if you’re not encouraged in your heart. Our encouragement is rooted in God and ultimately comes from Him.

Here’s how Paul prayed for the Thessalonians –

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess 2:16)

We should be purposeful about growing in encouragement but we should begin by looking to God who by His grace, gave us eternal encouragement and hope. If I reduce encouragement primarily to a set of techniques, I’ve clearly missed the mark.

Also, encouragement isn’t just about making others feel better about themselves. True encouragement infuses hope and strength. In the above passage, Paul’s prayer for encouragement was to result in strengthened believers.

That said, here are simple steps I’m pursuing to be more encouraging.

1. Slowing down to take an interest in those around me. I’m often so single minded and goal oriented that I fail to notice people around me, much less take an interest in them. Yet, when someone extends the genuine courtesy of inquiring about how my family is doing, I deeply appreciate the care. Especially at work, we are reminding people that they are more than the sum of their production. Our interest expresses our belief that they are created in the image of God

2. Saying thanks. Taking the time to say thanks for small gestures of work or effort is important. It expresses to the individual that their contribution, though small is not insignificant. It reaffirms that their efforts did not go unnoticed by you, nor by their Creator.

3. Be gracious to others when they fail. We all make mistakes but it is one of the blind spots in my life that I am more aware of the mistakes of others than I am of my own. May I learn to extend the grace, I’ve received from God and others.

4. Be generous to others when they don’t expect it. What an opportunity to reflect God who overwhelms us with His generosity. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32. Enough said on this point.

5. Remind others of God’s truth. Nothing is more encouraging than unfailing truth. In the toughest of times, our pithy sayings and axioms may fall short but God’s word will never fail us. I want to learn to incorporate this at home, at church but also at work.

6. Communicate observed evidences of grace. Even when we think there is little to encourage in others, it may simply mean that we're not looking in the right way. We need God's help to see the evidences of His grace at work in their lives. It may be observing how someone demonstrates patience in a difficult situation. It may involve the use of a particular gift or skill.

Needless to say, there are more ways to be encouraging but I’m just starting this journey…

No comments: