The COVID-19 Pandemic has raged on longer and more intensely than we ever expected. The 2020 Presidential Election revealed a deepening political divide in our country, and the killing of George Floyd and the events that followed led us to the blunt realization that we have not come nearly as far as we’d hoped to erase racial inequities.
In addition to these massive challenges on a national scale, individuals too are struggling under the weight of worry and uncertainty. According to one survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in June 2020, over 40% of respondents reported some adverse mental health or behavioral health condition related to COVID-19. Over 25% of respondents 18-24 had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey.
In the midst of these overwhelming global and personal crises, it’s tempting to throw your hands in the air and wonder what any one of us could do to make a difference. It’s difficult to resist the urge to hunker down and simply take care of yourself.
However, could it be that there has never been a greater opportunity and genuine need for followers of Jesus to truly encourage our neighbors? More than ever before, every one of us needs to take to heart these words from scripture: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’” (Hebrews 3:13).
Notice Scripture doesn’t say “encourage on occasion” or “encourage when life is good.” No, it says “Encourage one another DAILY”—that’s every day! And to further emphasize the point, that phrase is followed by these words: “as long as it is called ‘Today.’” The last time I checked, EVERY day is called TODAY.
In a book titled, Encouraging the Heart, authors Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes discovered something fascinating. In their leadership programs, they asked this question: “Do you need encouragement to perform your best?”
Only 60% of respondents said “yes.” They could hardly believe that 40% of respondents said they didn’t need encouragement. So they re-worded the question and asked, “When you get encouragement, does it help you perform at a higher level?” An amazing 98% said “yes.” That is the power and impact of encouragement!
And while encouragement may be something we can survive without, who would argue that encouragement may be the very thing your neighbors need to truly thrive in the New Year?
What if you took this command to “Encourage one another daily” very literally in 2021? What if you begin this new year with a simple and powerful determination to encourage your neighbors every single day? And what if it wasn’t just you?
What if thousands or even millions of people had that same resolve to simply and persistently encourage their neighbors every day?
Let me give you 5 simple ways you can encourage your neighbors in the new year. And these ways require nothing more than what you bring with you everywhere you go: YOU!
1. Encourage with Your Eyes
Encouraging your neighbors begins with opening your eyes to see the opportunities around you. One of the best ways to do this is to begin each day with a simple prayer: “Lord, help me to see my neighbors the way you see my neighbors.”
Pray that prayer and you’ll begin to see your neighbors with the eyes of Jesus. In the midst of his growing popularity and demanding schedule, Jesus still had the uncanny ability to see the needs of those around him. Opportunities cross your path every day, but you often fail to notice them because you don’t see through the eyes of Jesus.
Begin with your eyes and look for opportunities God puts in your path to be an encouragement to your neighbors. Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 16:13). Which leads me to the second way you can encourage your neighbor.
2. Encourage with Your Ears
It’s been said that God gave you two ears and one mouth because he wants you to listen twice as much as he wants you to speak.
One of the greatest ways you can encourage your neighbors is to listen to them. Listen to their struggles, their longings, their dreams, and their fears. In his book Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, David W. Augsburger writes: “Being heard is as close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Too often we are slow to listen and quick to speak and because of that we rarely ever fully hear people. Perhaps that is why James, the brother of Jesus, urges us: “Quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19, NIV)
3. Encourage with Your Mouth
While you need to use your ears to listen more than your mouth to speak, never underestimate the power of your words to encourage your neighbors.
Catch your neighbors doing something really well and comment on it: “Your flowers look great this year!” or “You’re such a fun dad. I love how you’re so involved with your kids!” or “Your house has never looked better. I love what you’re doing to it.”
Do you remember a time when someone spoke a word of encouragement to you, and how you held onto it long after it was spoken? You can offer that same simple gift of an encouraging word to your neighbors.
4. Encourage with Your Hands
One of the most impactful ways you can encourage your neighbors is to roll up your sleeves and offer to help. One of Jesus’ closest followers, John, wrote these words: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and truth" (1 John 3:18).
If you begin with your eyes and truly notice your neighbors, you’ll see their circumstances and what they’re up to or up against. Then, if you listen with intention and offer a word of encouragement, my hunch is you’ll discover very practical ways you can encourage them with a helping hand.
It might be as simple as offering to chip in with house or yard work. It might mean offering to assist as they bring in groceries. The size of the task is not nearly as important as the simple offer to help.
5. Encourage with Your Feet
Finally, you can use your feet to encourage your neighbors. Who hasn’t been in a situation where you simply needed someone to do something for you? It might have been to run an errand, or to pick up the kids after a school outing.
It may have been to buy some extra supplies from the store. Remember what a hot commodity toilet paper was when the stay-at-home orders were first issued? I would’ve been delighted had a neighbor offered to pick up some extra toilet paper, paper towels, or disinfectant wipes for me.
When you encourage with your feet, you’re doing something for your neighbor that they can’t do for themselves.
You can find even more practical ways to love and encourage the people around you in Jon and Dave Ferguson’s book BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbors and Change the World.
Remember, your neighbor is not just the person next door. Your neighbor is anyone in need of encouragement. Now go and encourage your neighbors with everything you’ve got: YOU!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LoveTheWind
Jon Ferguson is the network pastor and co-founder of Community Christian Church, just outside of Chicago. He is also the co-author of B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, available on Amazon and in stores nationwide January 5, 2021. Learn more at www.bless-book.org.