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8 Ways to Practice Encouragement

8 Ways to Practice Encouragement

"My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ." (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

Every day we cross paths with hurting people. A word of encouragement, an act of kindness, or a caring smile may be enough to keep them on their feet. We want to be encouragers but may not know where to start. Let's explore eight ways we can practice encouragement and build each other up.

1. Listen to Those Who Are Hurting

"You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry." (Psalm 10:17, NIV)

Sometimes the best encouragement we can offer is simply a listening heart. Listening doesn't require that we fix anything or even that we arrive at a solution. Listening sends the message, "I'm here for you. I want to understand and share your pain." We often miss opportunities to give encouragement because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.

I once had an elderly neighbor who loved to talk—a lot. One day I was out walking when I turned the corner, and there she was. I knew I could breeze by her with some lame excuse, but in a rare moment of wisdom, I chose to stop and listen. I am so glad I did. Her 42-year-old son had just died, and she desperately needed some encouragement.

When we listen to people, we validate their feelings. We invite them into our lives by giving them the most precious gift we have—time. Listening is encouragement.

2. Comfort with Your Words

"But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief." (Job 16:5, NIV)

The spoken word is powerful and can bring great comfort. The idea is not to speak many words but the right words. Consider this:

• The Lord's Prayer contains 71 words.

• The Gettysburg Address contains 272 words.

• The Ten Commandments contain 139 words.

• The Declaration of Independence contains 1339 words.

• A U.S. government order setting the price of cabbage contains 26,911 words.

When it comes to words with impact, being long-winded is not a value. But speaking the right words can be life-changing. The words we speak are like seeds. What we plant will grow. We can speak words of encouragement that God will take and use to bring hope and give comfort.

3. Get Involved

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father … encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, NIV)

When our son Jered was in second grade, there was a little boy in his class that no one liked. Johnny was a bully and often obnoxious. One Monday morning, Johnny came to school with both arms in casts from his shoulders to his wrists. Over the weekend, he had fallen out of a tree and broken both arms. The teacher announced to the class that Johnny would need a "volunteer friend" for the next six weeks while he was in the casts. This "friend" would have to help Johnny do everything, from completing class assignments to feeding him lunch and even needing to accompany him to the restroom. After a few painful moments of silence, one hand went up. I have never been prouder of our son, who volunteered to be Johnny's helper. Jered had struggled to like Johnny, but his sensitive heart could not bear to see the look on Johnny's face when there were no volunteers.

I wondered what the next few weeks would hold for Jered. As it turned out, I was the one who learned some very important lessons. First, Jered and Johnny became friends. Second, because everyone in the class liked Jered, the other children decided that if Jered liked Johnny, then they could like him as well. But the greatest change was in Johnny himself. His behavior totally changed. It was as if he decided that since Jered and the other kids liked him, he was free to like himself.

4. Be an Encourager

"Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints." (Philemon 1:7, NIV)

Sometimes we must become actively involved in someone's life to encourage them. Every day we cross paths with hurting people. Just a word of encouragement, an act of kindness, or a caring smile can be so helpful. The key to constant and daily encouragement is to vary our forms of encouragement and which people we encourage. Encouragers look for opportunities to work. Acts 4:36 tells us about a man who came to Christ, and his life was changed so dramatically that he sold his land and brought the money to give to God through the early church. Now that is very impressive. But the most impressive thing about this man called Joseph is that the disciples changed his name. They called him Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement."

The message is clear. Just as Christ has come into our lives to encourage us, we are to give that encouragement away. Don't miss this truth! The more encouragement we give, the more we will receive in the circle of encouragement – just like a boomerang.

Jesus promises, "If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you." (Luke 6:38, NLT)

5. Demonstrate Great Patience

"Encourage them with great patience." (2 Timothy 4:2, NCV)

Encouragement takes persistence, and persistence takes patience. Just because you have encouraged someone once does not mean that your role of encouragement in their life is over. They did not become discouraged overnight, and they will not often become encouraged overnight.

My husband first began making wooden furniture years ago. My job was to stain and finish the pieces after he completed them. I had never worked with wood or stain and didn't know much about how to accomplish the task. But I knew who did. I headed to our local hardware store and explained to a sales clerk that I wanted to finish some furniture—today. I was in a hurry! I had the perfect spot for it in our living room and wanted to get this staining business over with quickly. The sales clerk smiled and patiently explained that it takes time to achieve the best finish. He obviously did not understand my timetable, so I tried to explain again. Ignoring my words, he said that a beautiful finish requires repeated layers of stain and lacquer with time to dry in between. There are no shortcuts if you want the final product to be right.

Encouragement is like that. It takes layers of love and great patience to replenish, restore, and put courage back into a heart. Patience is an essential part of encouragement.

6. Offer Sensitive Instruction

Second Timothy 4:2 also says that we are to encourage others with careful instruction, being sensitive to the condition of the learner, to the one who is in need of encouragement. Learning does not begin with the truth. Learning starts with the learner and requires loving flexibility.

When our daughter Danna first played softball, her coaches were her dad Dan and Garland Robertson, our youth pastor. Jered was an assistant coach. At one of their practices, Danna was having trouble hitting the ball. Garland was pitching—and that may have been the problem. Dan was giving her instructions—and that may have been the problem. For whatever reason, she was not hitting the ball. Finally, Jered pulled her aside and worked with her for 30 minutes. He was gentle and gave suggestions with great sensitivity. All of a sudden, the girl who was missing every pitch hit five in a row. Instruction that is wrapped with encouragement really works. No one cares how much you know until they know just how much you care. I have heard it said that advice and instruction are like snow. The softer they fall—the more profoundly they stick. Sensitive instruction is encouragement.

7. Stay Close

It is encouraging to know that we are not alone, that someone else is close by, in the rocking boat with us. Remember that one of the definitions of encouragement is "to be beside." Sometimes the best way to encourage someone is to simply stay close by. Join them in what they are doing. Shared joy is a double joy, but shared sorrow is half a sorrow.

God has given us to each other so that we can share the load. A shared load is always a lighter load. The words of Ecclesiastes 4:12 give us a wonderful promise: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." When a cord is doubled, so is its strength. But when a cord is tripled, it is ten times stronger.

Encouragers look for opportunities to work. We all need the closeness of relationship. We all need to know we are loved. We all need encouragement. Staying close to those who need you brings them encouragement.

8. Practice Encouragement Daily

"Encourage one another daily." (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)

An encourager is one who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become, and still gently invites you to grow. How often do we need to practice encouragement? Daily. Continually. Constantly. Are you an encourager? Would your friends suggest changing your name to "Son or Daughter of Encouragement"? Would your spouse or your children? What about your neighbors or that person in your life who is struggling to find a ray of light in their darkness? You can't out-give God! The message is clear. Just as Christ has come into our lives to encourage us, we are to give that encouragement away. The most amazing truth is that the more encouragement we give, the more we will receive in the circle of encouragement.

Jesus promises, "If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you." (Luke 6:38, NLT)

This cold and dark world is hungry for the touch of someone who cares, for a word of kindness, for an act of compassion. This world—your world—is reaching out to you for encouragement. How would you rate yourself as an encourager? There are people in your life – placed there by God - who need a word of encouragement from you. Look for them. Seek opportunities to be an encourager.

Sandhill cranes are not only interesting creatures but also great illustrations of biblical encouragement. These large birds that fly great distances across continents have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No bird stays out in front all of the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle turbulence well. Third, while one bird is leading, the rest of the birds are honking their affirmation. Now that is biblical encouragement! That is encouragement that works. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul tells us to "encourage one another and build each other up." Let's love each other well and be encouragers!

Photo credit: © Getty Images/lorenzoantonucci

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.