“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11)
What kind of effect do you want to have on people? How do you want them to feel after they’ve had a conversation with you?
I want people to feel energized after a conversation with me. I hope the burdens that they carry will become lighter. When I am at my best, my goal is that the other person leaves the conversation with hope strengthening within them, vision clarifying before them, and a new vigor empowering them to meet the challenges of the day.
In short, I hope they feel encouraged.
In the earlier posts in this series, we laid a foundation for encouragement: good questions and active listening. These tools help us understand the other person. If we do not begin with understanding, we will not be able to encourage. The very act of trying to understand is, in of itself, encouraging. Simply listening with empathy, curiosity, and caring is often enough to encourage someone.
However we also encourage by contributing new thoughts and materials to the conversation. To be encouraging, we must make our goal the “building up” of the other person. Encouragement is constructive and has in mind the flourishing of the other person. With that aim in mind, here are some ideas for speaking encouragement:
Words of Affirmation. As you’ve been growing in your understanding of the other person, you certainly have made some observations about their gifts, their experiences, their blessings, their contributions, and their high points. Simply call attention to these positive things. Tell them the good things you’ve noticed about them. Everyone loves to hear what they’re doing well.
Scriptures of Encouragement. Scripture is a useful tool for encouragement when it is handled wisely. When seeking to encourage, don’t share scripture as though you were a diagnostician offering a prescription. Rather, try something like “In the past, I’ve found comfort in this scripture…” or “A verse that’s really helped encourage me…” or “This verse really inspires me…” We trust that God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and the Holy Spirit will work as you humbly and gently scatter God’s word in conversation. (This, by the way, is why it is so vital for us to continue to grow and develop in study of God’s word: so we’ll have a deep reservoir of scripture and encouragement available to us in our ministry.)
Your own story. Your stories are God’s gift to you. When we humbly and gently share our stories, we communicate to the other person that they’re not alone in the struggle. The vulnerability of sharing our own story also helps to deepen our relationship with the other person.
A word of caution: Encouraging is not “fixing” someone. I observe that when I rush to offer solutions and fix problems, I often don’t have the effect I intend. When I say “You know what you should do….” or “Why don’t you do this….” the conversation often becomes a tug of war with me trying to persuade the other person about my solution. Slowly, I’m learning that spiritual conversations are not the best forum for unsolicited advice giving. I’m learning to let go of having a predetermined outcome to my efforts at encouragement. I don’t have to “make someone feel better.” I think of myself as scattering seed, some of which might come up to fruition.
A final word of encouragement: You are not alone in your efforts to encourage. They Holy Spirit is active and working in the other person and in you. Not only that, the Holy Spirit is the one who will ultimately bring about growth. Learn to listen to the nudge of the Holy Spirit. I often experience that nudge as a moment of insight or a sudden intuition. As we learn to trust those instincts and act on them with humility and gentleness, we grow in our sill of speaking encouragement.
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