Recently we led a family retreat for a local church. Their theme included encouraging others. Although my husband is well-known as an encourager, he realized that he did not have a single sermon or lesson on the topic. So combining his own experience, observation, and biblical concepts, he wrote a lesson he called Portrait of an Encourager.
I’d like to share some of his thoughts with you. I’ll include some personal examples that might bring these home to you, my friends, who are living and working in cultures other than your own.
Remember: anyone can encourage. After all, the Great Encourager, the Holy Spirit, dwells in us. He helps us and helps us help others.
Encouragers have a personal experience of God’s grace and mercy. In order to get to our field and serve for any time at all, we have many personal experiences with God. We share many of these experiences with those we serve to encourage their faith. But even when we are not telling our stories, they are a foundation for our life and faith. We must never forget our history with God.
Encouragers affirm: they remind people who they are, what God has in mind for them, and how he values them. I’ve been so encouraged at times when my prayer partner not only reminds me of God’s words about me, but brings up specific ways she has seen God’s plan unfold in my life.
Encouragers refresh others. Our world is so full of tired and burdened people. Sometimes refreshment comes through an act of kindness or a word at the right time or a song or a smile. One of our senior agency leaders visited us in Nigeria. We kind of dreaded it, actually, for we thought of him as a rather severe man. Were we surprised! He refreshed our group of weary workers with a steady flow of jokes and stories. He encouraged us in many other ways too, but laughter was a good medicine, refreshing our souls.
Encouragers help people find the right perspective. Many times the help our friends and family need is a different point of view. People can become so fixated on what is wrong that they can’t see their value or any progress. When we are too close to a situation, we see all the flaws and wrinkles. When given a broader perspective we can see variations in color and texture that give the whole a richer design.
Encouragers are not waiting for the opportunity to force their latest discovery on others. They take the time to hear where others are and what they are struggling with. We can be tempted to share our latest revelation, as though one idea will fix everyone else’s problems. There are many times when lessons we are learning in God’s school do help others, but it’s best to use restraint until we are sure our ideas really will help. Unsolicited advice is rarely encouraging. So perhaps introduce the idea by saying something like, “You know, I just read something in a book that inspired me. Could I share it with you?
Encouragers have learned, or are learning, how to listen. Some of us are born listeners. For us, speaking might even be harder than listening. But almost all of us are easily distracted and have to learn to listen prayerfully. Looking past someone, fidgeting, or looking at our dumb smartphone makes it seem that what they have to say is not important to us. Me? I listen well, but I also fidget a lot. I need to practice keeping my hands still in order to communicate concern and interest to others.
Encouragers know their limitations and when to step away. In our desire to help, we may get in over our heads. We are not all professional counselors or pastors or doctors. We need to know the limit of our abilities and responsibilities. If we don’t, our help may hurt. Or we may become so drained that we are ineffective in our service to those we are responsible for. It is not a sin to tell someone that we are not the best person to help them, and then do what we can to find the help they need.
Those are some of our ideas, but what about your experience? Could you share some special ways that you have received encouragement, or effective ways you have given it?