“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
-I Thessalonians 5:11 NLT
Did you know that you can feel encouraged by encouraging others? Getting that mindset off yourself, and focusing on others?
How do you give encouragement? Does it always involve praising someone? Sometimes encouragement is a little more difficult than just telling your friend how nice they are, or what a great job they did on something. Sometimes we think it might involve giving advice. You have a friend going through a tough time, so you want to help by offering some suggestions. But you might give advice to someone thinking you are helping and encouraging them, only to find they weren’t happy with your advice, or took it the wrong way.
What I want to say today comes from lessons I’ve learned – and haven’t always followed. As teachers, our main goal is to help students learn and to encourage them; but when we are the “boss of the classroom”, it’s also easy to get a little carried away with authority and not be that helpful. So today, I want to share two things I learned over my life as a teacher, and pray that God will give me the strength to follow those things myself.
“Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.” I Thessalonians 5: 14 NLT
Have you ever met a person who is just plain negative – that person whose glass is always only half full? Have you ever met a person who just always seems to be needy – they are always struggling with some problem or another? Have you ever met a person who makes more bad decisions than good ones – who makes you wonder how they can be so easily duped? I don’t know about you, but I tend to want to walk away. It just seems too overwhelming. In Alternative Education, I met a lot of students that those questions described. They were making bad decisions. Everyday seemed to bring a new crisis that had to be solved yesterday. They were certain they couldn’t do anything right – especially not schoolwork.
The first thing I learned was that encouragement even in those situations is given through praise, not helpful advice. So, when I heard the crazy story of the latest fiasco in their lives, I listened carefully, and figured out something in that story that they did right, and praised them for that. When they were sure they couldn’t do something, I would remind them of something they did well. Or sometimes, I would help them get started on a project, and then encourage them by saying how well they had done on the little things already. We respond so much better when someone is encouraging us and telling us we are doing something right.
That verse in Thessalonians tells us to encourage those who are timid and take tender care of those who are weak. I’m convinced that a lot of encouragement for those who are struggling is praise. Tell someone they did a good job. Tell someone that they made a good decision. Find something good to say. They don’t need to be told to “suck it up”, or “try harder” or “that was a stupid decision”. They know that already. They need to hear that someone thinks “they have what it takes”.
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29 NLT
That verse reinforces what I’ve just said. But there’s another lesson I’ve learned in encouragement and it ties into the idea that you encourage someone by helping them see “they do have what it takes”. I tend to jump in with advice – that’s just me. I hear a problem and my problem-solving brain hops to attention. Years ago, I had a wonderful mentor in Bob Glass, who was our Child and Youth Worker (CYW) in alternative education, and I can thank him for teaching me how to encourage people. Here is his big piece of advice – ASK QUESTIONS.
So, you’re listening to a friend talk about some problem with their child. My advice (lol) is – don’t give it! Instead sympathize and say you understand. Tell them it will work itself out. Whatever you think is loving – but not advice. So … when do you give advice? You don’t, unless you are asked. And even then, you don’t give advice – you ask questions. For example, if your friend says they are at their wits end about how to deal with their son’s temper tantrums, and asks you for advice – start thinking about what questions you can ask. Things like: How often does he have temper tantrums? What seems to start the tantrums? What do you do when he has a tantrum? Does that work? Do you think he was upset about something else and this was the last straw? Can you see the tantrum coming? Can you stop it before it starts? What do you do when the tantrum is over? (I’m sure there are tons more questions you could ask.)
What you want to do is have the person figure out some solutions all on their own. You also want them to recognize where they may have gone wrong without you telling them. It actually takes practice to do that – learn to ask the right questions. Don’t worry if you think you made a mess of it when you first try to use questions to help someone. Keep trying. But see how that empowers a person? They figure out how to deal with a situation on their own, and that gives them confidence – encouragement.
This doesn’t mean you never give advice. After the questions, you may share that you have some ideas that you’ve tried or that you have heard from someone else. But keep that word ENCOURAGEMENT right in the front of your mind. Friends with problems want the reassurance that “they have what it takes” so they will be encouraged to keep on trying.
Encourage your friend to pray about it, and tell them you will pray for them too. In fact, as you close that topic of conversation, pray with them right there. I understand that is hard to do. It’s easier to say you will pray, leave it at that, and then pray for them later. That is what I tend to do myself; for some reason I don’t get, I shrink away from praying for people in their presence. So, take a deep mental breath and pray right then. I know – I appreciate it so much when someone prays with me.
“In the past you have encouraged many people: you have strengthened those who were weak. Your words have supported those who were falling; you encouraged those with shaky knees.” Job 4: 3-4 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words. Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace with be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13: 11 NLT
Our song for today is Overcomer by Mandisa.