The Gift of Encouragement

by Clyde M. Narramore

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Tom was all smiles as his high school English teacher handed him his corrected assignment.

"This is excellent work," it read.

Tom glanced at the remark several times, then carefully put it in his notebook. After class the teacher said, "Tom, you are a very good student and you're going to go a long way in life. Have you considered going to college?"

Up until this year, Tom had been on a starvation diet as far as encouragement was concerned. Coming from a dysfunctional family, he was shuffled back and forth from one home to another. Much of his time in high school had been spent hanging around with a gang of near delinquents and underachievers. The farthest thing from his mind was going to college. But this year he had an English teacher who never failed to encourage him.

The years passed, and Tom is now married, has a family, and-wouldn't you know it-is a college English professor. "As I look back," Tom says, "I attribute my success to that high school teacher. When she first began to encourage me, I felt happy and a little embarrassed. No one had ever encouraged me like that, and before the year was over, I felt like I was really worth something and that somehow I would like to go to college."

Encouragement-one of the most important things in life! It lifts us above a mundane existence and reveals exciting possibilities. It helps us through difficult times. And it challenges us to be all that we were created to be!

Each day we hear or read about great athletes, fine musicians, talented artists, successful businessmen, and prominent politicians. We watch them on TV and read about them in magazines. And I suppose we've all wished we, too, could be the best in some field. But have you ever considered being a "star" encourager? The New Testament records the activities of such a man. His name is Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement."

The apostles sent a letter to the
Gentiles in Antioch: and when
they read it, they rejoiced
over its encouragement.

One day an elderly woman, recently widowed and alone, was deeply discouraged. She sought out her pastor's wife for counseling. After listening compassionately for some time, the pastor's wife who often counseled and encouraged people said, "I think I can help you, but you will have to promise to do the simple thing I'll ask of you in this envelope." After much discussion and her assurance that the "prescription" in the envelope would neither hurt her nor anyone else, she opened the sealed envelope. The note simply said, "Go to the nearest nursery and choose your favorite flower seeds. Raise enough flowers to be able to give a small bouquet to at least one member of your church each week who is sick, in despair, or who just needs a little encouragement."

Doubtful of the effectiveness, she followed her counselor's advice. In a few months, she was taking flowers to this one and that one in her church. If you should ask her when her discouragement lifted, she would have a hard time telling you just when. Was it after the first five hugs and grateful thanks? Or the next five? Regardless, she encouraged others, and they encouraged her in return.

You may not be a professional athlete or a trained counselor, but the "encouragement season" is always just beginning, and you are more than eligible to join the team if you wish to become one of the world's greats!

What Encouragement Does

Encouragement prevents us from giving up. "The apostles sent a letter to the Gentiles in Antioch: and when they read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement" (Acts 15:30).

Have you ever watched a long-distance runner? If so, you've noticed the last lap or the "home stretch" is when he picks up the pace and finishes strong while well-wishers are cheering and screaming, even though the runner felt he had "nothing left" just moments before. He gets a new burst of energy. What makes the difference? Training, endurance, and encouragement.

Encouragement is an equally powerful spiritual force in the lives of all who "run the race" for Christ. Encouragement reminds us that we have a "great cloud of witnesses" lining heaven cheering us to finish faithfully just as they have done.

If you have ever received an unexpected phone call from a dear friend which interrupted an evening of loneliness, discouragement, or a frustrating day at work, you know the power of encouragement first-hand. Words of encouragement strengthen hearts weakened by adversity, give us the courage to go on, and remind us that we are not alone-someone cares.

Encouragement enables us to move ahead. The Lord told Moses to "command Joshua, and encourage Joshua and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see" (Deuteronomy 3:28 NKJ). There were many things Moses could have done. But God knew what Joshua needed most-encouragement. And this is true of you and me and the people around us. We all need encouragement.

I remember the day I was talking to a lady who had been criticizing her pastor. I then asked her if she had been encouraging him. "Him?" she exclaimed. "He doesn't need encouragement. He's in the limelight all the time telling people what to do!"

"Well," I said, "that's probably just the kind of person who needs it."

Children who are encouraged daily achieve far more than those who hear constant criticism from parents and teachers. There is no limit to what children or employees will attempt to do when they receive consistent encouragement.

Encouragement banishes fear and promotes courageous behavior. Most people can do much more than they are now if they are only encouraged. A daughter-in-law, a cousin, or a person next door can actually do great exploits if he or she is encouraged. And you are the person who can make it all happen if you will just say the words!

"And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. Thus, he said to him, "Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father shall not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also" (I Samuel 23:16-17).

What a blessing Jonathan was to his friend, David. And you can do the same for those you know.

When we encourage others, we become an example of God with "skin on." Our Heavenly Father uses you and me to encourage one another-encouragement comes to us through Scripture reading, quiet times and prayer. But human encouragement is yet another way God uses to bless and minister to His people. God puts His people in strategic places to encourage others with just the right words at just the right time.

Encouragement helps establish our vocational identity. In the book of 2 Chronicles, we read about Josiah setting the priests in their offices. But he didn't just put them in office. He "encouraged them in the service of the house of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 35:2). Each of us needs to know that our work is important and we need to be encouraged. How different from those who never quite seem to know where they belong or that their daily activities really matter.

When a person feels encouraged
and on top of things, he usually
has better judgment.

What about you? Did you receive much encouragement while growing up? Even if you didn't, you can break that cycle. Do you know a child who desperately needs feedback and support? Then reach out to him, and in some way encourage him. People often go the wrong direction because they are not encouraged. Being fearful, they often do the thing that's easiest or the most popular. But when a person is encouraged, he is more willing to make tough choices and become a winner. He can also commit his life to serving God and others. But without a vision of his possibilities, he won't (Acts 11:23).

Encouragement leads to good choices. People tend to make decisions based upon how they feel, rather than what they know. Therefore, if a person feels discouraged, he is likely to give up and do little, or make poor choices. But when a person feels encouraged and on top of things, he usually has better judgment. He moves ahead based on the facts and on his true God-given gifts rather than on negative or confused feelings.

Encouraging words help us get along with one another. Notice this portion of Scripture: "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus" (Romans 15:5).

Encouragement helps to create a positive atmosphere in which people can live and work in harmony. If, for example, you visited for a week in 10 different families, you would find that family members who were getting along the best would be those where encouragement was the order of the day.

Encouragement keeps us from destructive choices. It puts a priority on worthwhile projects rather than on useless or sinful acts. Take Jack, for example. He was a teenager who floated around town accomplishing almost nothing. Before long he was involved with three other guys who were up to no good. Anyone who observed him closely knew that he was at a crossroads in his life. Unless someone intervened, Jack could easily end up joining a gang or getting involved in criminal activities. But fortunately for Jack, his aunt came to live with the family for several months. She took a liking to the boy and encouraged him at every turn.

"Jack," she said, "I believe you'd make a good doctor - maybe a surgeon. You're intelligent, you're not bad in science, and you have good coordination. Why don't you set your goal to being the best surgeon in the state?"

Jack blinked a few times and said, "Oh yeah?"

But he kept thinking about what his aunt had said. With her daily encouragement, he was willing to go the following summer to a Christian camp where he received daily doses of encouragement. When he returned home, he seemed like a new person. He began school that fall with a new zeal and purpose. After finishing high school, Jack attended a Christian college, then went to medical school. His aunt's encouragement directed him away from a life without purpose to one of happiness, fulfillment, and productivity. A good directive is found in the book of Hebrews: "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'today' lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13).

Encouragement helps us to become encouragers ourselves. Make no mistake about it. Encouragement is contagious. Some time ago, a young college student attended a youth activity. New to the group, he did not know that Friday night was "pizza night." Not having enough money, he quietly said, "I think I'll just pass tonight." The perceptive youth pastor sensed his financial situation-after all, he had been a student himself-and said, "That's OK, it's on me tonight." Hunger won over embarrassment and the student gratefully accepted the free pizza with the condition that he would pay back his pastor the next week. The pastor's response surprised him. Turning to him face to face for added impact he said, "Please don't pay me back with money. But if you wish to pay me, you can do it in a better way. Someday you'll be in a situation where someone else has little money. Buy them dinner, tell them this story, and suggest they do the same."

The student never forgot that story-in fact, he has told it many times. Is encouragement contagious? You bet it is. What tradition of encouragement might you start, even today?

Few In The Field

It may seem strange there are so few people in this world who encourage others. You would think that since encouragement is one of the most important things in life, many people would be busily administering it. But that's not the case. It's quite rare to find a person who regularly encourages others.

Stephanie, a young mother, said one day, "I never ever remember anyone encouraging me during the years I was growing up. You would have thought someone would have made some kind of encouraging remarks. But I guess they were all thinking about themselves. Fortunately, I married a wonderful guy who encourages me a lot every day. When we were first married, I couldn't believe he really meant what he said. Encouragement and compliments were foreign to me. But, of course, now I don't think I could live without it."

In short, as you become an encourager yourself, you'll discover that you are a "rare breed." But that just makes your ministry of encouragement all the more significant. It's such an unusual commodity.

Someone has said that it takes seven positive comments to counteract one negative remark. Look around, you'll note that people are starving for encouragement. Many receive little or no encouragement during a given week. Choose to be an encourager, and you will render a service that few perform, but millions desire. But can we learn to be an encourager if we have not been sufficiently encouraged ourselves? The answer is an emphatic "yes." It will take some understanding and a lot of growth, but we all can do it.

Like people for their strengths;
don't dislike them for their weaknesses.

Why Some People Do Not Encourage Others

All day long we go around rubbing off on each other. Some contacts produce positive results because the other person is full of encouragement. On the other hand, there are people with whom we rub shoulders but wish we hadn't. They seldom have an encouraging word to offer-in fact, they may be negative, critical, competitive, or disinterested.

Why are there people NOT able to encourage others? There are a number of reasons. Let's look at several:

  • They may not be aware of the importance of encouraging another person. They haven't stopped to think what it would accomplish. They're absorbed with themselves.
    There is a wonderful instance of this relationship recorded in the book of Ruth, chapter two, verse four. Boaz, the employer, greeted his employees with, "The Lord be with you," and the employees responded, "The Lord bless thee." What a way to start the work day! Yet some employers neglect the importance of being an encourager of the people in their employ. The same is true of parents, pastors, and many others.
  • They may not have received much encouragement in their own childhood. It would seem strange to thhem. It just isn't part of their way of life. These people may tend to notice flaws and weaknesses and point them out. But they don't balance this with compliments and words of encouragement. I have a little maxim I like to follow:
    Like people for their strengths; don't dislike them for their weaknesses.
    We should always be able to find something to encourage one another in.
  • They may have a poor self-image. He may think so little of himself that he just can't reach out to others. He might be afraid of how his words of encouragement would be received. Who am I? he thinks, and if he were to answer his own question, the reply would in all likelihood be, I'm a nobody. And again, this attitude is usually related to his early experiences. A healthy self-concept had not been built and reinforced by parents and others who could have helped him develop positive feelings about himself. Now, as an adult, he has little encouragement to share.
  • They may have little or no joy of the Lord in their lives. They may be Christians, but for some reason they haven't developed spiritually. They don't personally enjoy the confidence that comes from a close walk with the Lord. They don't let God encourage them from His Word and through communion with Him in prayer and through fellowship with other Christians. Such people do not usually look to God and expect Him to guide them. So they see few, if any, instances of God's working in their own lives with which to encourage others.

Fortunately, people can change. With time and commitment, someone who has never been able to encourage others can become a great encourager.

The Ultimate Encourager

There are many people who encourage us, but the ultimate source of all encouragement is God, our Creator. So let me share the ultimate foundations of encouragement-God's encouragement to us. Right after he put the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, God encouraged them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. God told Adam to name all of the animals. And He gave Adam and Eve each other to love, support, and encourage. He didn't leave them in the garden abandoned and alone. His presence was with them. We should all be encouraged to know that God, the Creator of the universe, has gifted each of us and wants each of us to live a meaningful, fruitful life.

But God's encouragement didn't stop with creating us and gifting us. When Adam and Eve sinned (Romans 3:23), He didn't leave them in their failure. He pursued them and provided a way out.

God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for us and to become the great mediator. In fact, God says in His Word, the Bible, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5). One of the clearest messages of Scripture is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Now we're beginning to feel ENCOURAGED! Even though we sin, God sticks with us. We can relate personally to Him and be forgiven and live as His sons and daughters.

This seems so easy, but for some people it's rather hard. Somehow they feel they need to work for their salvation - to do something to earn it. But that's not true; salvation is entirely of God. It's even He who gives us the little faith we need to step up to the plate and say, "God, I don't understand it all, but I believe you, and I surely need you to come into my life just now. Forgive me of my sins and be my Lord and Savior."

How about that for encouragement! It really boggles the mind. We're so tiny-so microscopic-while God is our Creator and the King of kings. But now we're one with Him for eternity!

Your eternal contract is assured in this portion of God's Word: "I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28).

Wait on the Lord: be of
good courage, and He shall
strengthen your heart.

Now you've done it! God has offered you salvation, you've accepted it, and now you're part of the family of God!

From this point on we're never alone. God promises us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 12:5).

What encouragement and assurance! Regardless of our location, our condition, our health, or our situation, God is with us. In fact, the Holy Spirit indwells us. I've always been thrilled with this verse: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38, 39).

Your new position in Christ also means that He will guide you all through life-no matter what. As you read God's Word each day, pray to Him and devote each 24-hour period to Him, He will cause you to live a fulfilling life that is rich and honoring to Him. Listen to these encouraging verses:

"Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).

"Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart" (Psalm 27:14).

"Cast your burdens on the Lord, and He shall sustain you" (Psalm 55:22).

"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

Make mistakes? Yes, we all make them, but God is there to forgive and to lead. Proverbs 3:5-6 assures us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." So often in life we can't tell the beginning from the end, nor can we figure out just what's happening, but God understands all things and He surely does direct our paths.

Friend, many volumes would be required to explain all that God does for us. But one of the most important is that He will lead us home to Heaven to be with Him. As His disciples watched Christ ascend to Heaven, He said to them, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also" (John 14:2, 3). That takes you and me from the time of birth to the time of death when we are released to be in His holy presence forever. NOW THAT'S ENCOURAGEMENT!

As you walk through life, this tremendous encouragement that God gives you will enable you to encourage others!

The Bible says that as we are encouraged and comforted, so we can comfort others: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Once we have sensed God's comfort and encouragement, we are commanded to encourage one another. I Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing."

Who Needs It?

Everyone you know, everyone you meet, needs encouragement.

Husbands and wives
Sometimes men and women who are great encouragers in public are not so aware of the need for encouraging their own husband or wife.

One woman said to me, "I wouldn't encourage my husband. He already has the big head." His wife didn't see beneath his overly confident exterior to his inner need for encouragement and support. He no doubt felt insecure and was reflecting this in his apparent "big head." Indeed, one of the great blessings of marriage is having a spouse who understands and encourages you.

No child should ever go through one day without hearing his mother or father, or both, say warm, helpful, encouraging words.

"Oh, but if you only knew how ornery my kids are," I've heard a parent say, "you'd have a hard time saying nice things to them." Maybe so, but these children are the very ones who need their parents' encouragement the most. They are not likely to get much from anyone else, especially if they are the "acting-up" kind. But you can almost watch a child change as a parent begins to compliment him. The reverse is also true. Keep withholding praise and compliments from a child and he'll wither inside and his behavior will begin to demonstrate how he feels.

Encouragement is to emotional growth and maturity what food is to physical growth and well-being.

Brothers and sisters
"That's my brother," Mary said to her friend when a boy began to play his trumpet. When the performance was over, she rushed to him and said, "You were just great, Bill!"

Not all brothers and sisters are like this. But they should be taught to encourage each other. The family is a learning center where lifetime habits are formed.

One day a woman pointed to a cute little girl and said to me, "That's my granddaughter." There was a world of pride in her voice. Then the grandmother added, "I have to keep telling her she's beautiful, because her mother keeps saying to her, 'I wish you weren't so ugly.'"

Most mothers aren't like this. But some are, and children go through life suffering from an unhealthy self-concept as a result. It doesn't always have to do with the child's looks. "You're stupid," or "slow," or "clumsy," a parent may say. It doesn't take long for the child to feel this is true, and it can become self-fulfilling in his life. Grandparents can do wonders for their grandchildren by offering tons of encouragement and praise.

Nothing so motivates a person
to greater productivity than to know
that he or she is appreciated.

Children and grandchildren can be equally encouraging to grandparents. Few things in life uplift senior citizens than words of affection, appreciation, and encouragement from their children and grandchildren.

There's no better way to bring out the best in an employee than to make him feel adequate and important on the job. I know a person who seldom walks past a desk in his organization without pausing to express his appreciation to the staff member.

It takes so little time or effort just to notice a person or say something that makes him know that you know he is there and is an important part of the organization.

In a sense, the employer who has learned the value of complimenting and encouraging his staff is really doing himself a great favor. For nothing so motivates a person to greater productivity than to know that he or she is appreciated.

Some children don't know what it is to leave home in the morning with the blessing of an encouraging word from a parent. All the more then, the teacher needs to be mindful of how important a helpful word and a smile is to the children who spend several hours each day in his or her class.

Many a young person has grown up to be a better person and to be more successful in life than he otherwise might have been because a teacher reached out to him with encouragement.

The pastor and people
In every church service there are those who are rarely encouraged by others. What an opportunity then, for the pastor to exercise this "gift of helps" at every level of his ministry.

No pastor will ever have all the hours it would take to meet every need of every member of his congregation, even if he were equipped to do it. But there are certain things he can do, and one of the most important doesn't take all that much time.

A good sermon encourages people. It gives them hope and helps them see the wonderful things God has for them in life. Even a very direct, honest message about our sins and failures should end on an incredibly encouraging note. We can be different. God has forgiven us. Let's move ahead!

And don't forget your pastor. He needs encouragement, too.

First Steps To Becoming The World's Best Encourager

Research tells us that it usually takes 30 to 60 days to form most new habits if the desired behavior is practiced daily. Why not take up the challenge to encourage just one person each day. Who can you encourage? There is no end to the possibilities.

With time, the Lord will begin to give you a keen eye and heart for those who need encouragement the most. Maybe your grandchild or a co-worker is going through a tough time. Perhaps you know of a family who is reeling from the loss of a job or a loved one.

Encouragement can become an exciting adventure. But be careful, it's highly habit-forming! Try encouraging others for a month or two and you will begin to feel like you and the Lord have a great secret going. Through prayer, God will also place upon your heart those who need encouragement the most. In other words, you are listening and observing intently.

Encouragers listen for those who need encouragement. They soon begin to develop a heightened awareness of those who need one of life's most important things - ENCOURAGEMENT!

Dr. Clyde Narramore is the Founder of the Narramore Christian Foundation, was President for half-a-century, and is a well-known radio and conference speaker, and author.

2004 - 2005Narramore Christian Foundation. Used by permission.