The Greek verb “to encourage” literally means, “to come alongside.” It’s what happens when I leave an interior light on and my car battery gets depleted. Someone pulls alongside, uses jumper cables to make a physical connection, and “gives me a jump,” infusing my car’s weak battery with power from his battery.
In John 14:16, the noun form of the word is what Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit. Though the Spirit indwells believers, He figuratively comes alongside us to comfort as well as to challenge us. The ministry of being an encourager is a clear command for all Christians (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25). The Holy Spirit often incarnates His encouragement of people through our own efforts.
When a person is temporarily discouraged or chronically depressed, he or she especially needs our encouragement. Some folks’ emotional tank is deeper and needs more positive input to stay anywhere close to full. Or life circumstances may temporarily deplete one’s emotional tank, leaving it in need of refilling.
One way I’ve found some relief from my own depressive episodes is to ask the Lord to bring someone to mind who needs encouragement. These are among the strategies I use to shift my focus off myself and my pain, and beam it on the need of someone else.
Write a Hand-written Letter of Affirmation
Slide the letter into an envelope and send it snail mail. Don’t type it and don’t give it in person. There’s something about receiving a positive note in the mail that enhances the element of surprise and augments the effect of the letter.
In 25 Ways To Win With People, leadership guru John Maxwell says that a hand-written note eclipses even the power of a face-to-face affirmation. Here’s his research-based remark: “When a word of encouragement is written down for another person, it is often perceived to be more genuine than when it is spoken.” Perhaps the rarity of a hand-written note in this era of texting, emails and Facebook explains the greater emotional impact.
Select one of these ways to start a hand-written letter* this week. Get specific in your content, and provide anecdotes when possible.
*”I thank God for you because….”
*”I’m glad you’re my (wife/husband/child/pastor/friend) because….”
*”You’ve ministered to me in the following ways….”
*”I know you feel like a failure right now, but here are reasons you aren’t….”
*”I know you beat yourself up when you’re depressed, but let me make you aware of ways in which God is using you….”
*”I see that God has cultivated the following traits in you….”
*(I have an aging friend who cannot write well by hand due to arthritis. But don’t let this limitation keep you from sending an encouraging letter in some other form.)
Compliment the Person In Front of Others
A private, one-to-one compliment, if voiced instead with others around, would instantly skyrocket in value. It would be like pouring 10 gallons of affirmation into the person’s emotional tank instead of just five gallons.
Years ago, my senior pastor took a couple minutes in a Sunday worship service to praise recent innovations in our adult Sunday School program. I served as the Christian Education Director. He publicly complimented my efforts, even though the basic idea for the new structure came from his lips over lunch with me. I merely put form to his vision, then implemented it. The unexpected public affirmation earned him a lot of capital in my mind. That was a pastor I wanted to serve with and to keep pleasing! (Kudos to the late Rick Perrin!)
Save a compliment for your spouse for when your kids are within earshot, or when you’re eating out with friends.
Mention a child’s positive trait or accomplishment when you’re introducing him or her to someone.
Praise a recent initiative by a church staff associate when you’re in a staff meeting, not just in a one-to-one setting.
If you know someone who’s going through a rough time, when possible, publicly affirm traits exhibited by this person, or ministries he’s engaged in that are bearing fruit.
An old maxim says it succinctly: criticize in private; praise in public.
Let A Person Know When You’re Praying for Him or Her
Our intercession may reap dividends even when the other person doesn’t know. But the person’s awareness of your prayers will make him or her feel loved and special. Knowing that another person is praying is a way in which God whispers, “I have not forgotten you.”
Let Randy know you will be praying for him on the anniversary of his wife’s death. Inform Stuart that you’re praying for him weekly until he finds a job. Let Susan know you’ve asked the Lord to give her doctors wisdom in diagnosing her symptoms. Let a despondent friend know you’re praying for his or her sustenance and resiliency.
One way to let another know you’re praying is when he or she calls you with a personal prayer request. Why wait? Intercede over the phone before you hang up, rather than just assuring the friend that you’ll pray in the days ahead.
One of my best friends practices this phone intercession regularly. When I call him during a particularly rough bout of depression, or I want prayer for a special speaking engagement, without fail, he says, “Let’s pray right now.”
No wonder I dedicated my last book to Howard Blomberg!
Way back in 1982, my predecessor on the Christian Education faculty at Columbia International University applied the first and third suggestions all at once. She mailed me a couple pages of a hand-written letter near the end of my first year of college teaching. She understood the adjustments and pressures of preparing and teaching through courses for the first time. When the letter arrived, despite my classes being well-received by students, exhaustion and stress-related symptoms dominated my life.
Except the entire two pages were a prayer to God on my behalf. Not a single word was addressed to me. Yet her encouragement was like a fresh supply of oxygen to a soul short of breath.
(Ruth Ann, if you’re reading this blog from heaven. I salute you once again!)
What other heart-massaging forms of encouragement have you either given or received?
Ask the Lord this week for the name of someone to encourage. Apply one or more of these approaches to give this person a jump!