It’s easy to become discouraged in life. When the car breaks down again, when you’re worn out from work and its only Tuesday, when you’re struggling with the same sin, when people are difficult to work with, when your health is failing, when you continually hear of tragic events in the news, it seems like discouragement is just a normal part of life. But it’s not meant to be. Discouragement does not come from God. After all, he is called “the God of encouragement” (Romans 15:5). God does not want you to live discouraged because discouragement steals your joy, zaps your energy, and reduces your motivation to press on. And so what is needed, perhaps today more than ever, is the ministry and art of encouragement. But what is encouragement? Is encouragement just sanctified flattery? Is it just nice compliments or a pep talk? What is it? And why is it so important?
Encouragement builds people up
The word that’s translated encouragement in the Bible is the Greek word paraklesis, and it means to come alongside someone to give them help, comfort, strength and support. It means to give heart back to someone, to make them strong in their spirit again. Now think about it — the word courage is in the word encourage for a reason. When someone encourages you, they strengthen your resolve to get up and keep going. Christian psychologist Larry Crabb defined it this way: “Christian encouragement is the kind of expression that helps someone want to be a better Christian even when life is rough.” Encouragement in the Christian community is what strengthens a person’s faith, affirms him or her in Christ, and puts wind back in his or her spiritual sails. Encouragement inspires courage.
Encouragement takes many forms
It’s helpful to remember that you can receive encouragement or give encouragement in a variety of ways. It doesn’t always have to come through a spoken or written word of encouragement. Sometimes doing the right thing when its hard can encourage others. You see this in the beginning of Philippians; Paul’s joy and confidence while he was in prison encouraged the other believers in their faith by watching Paul live out his. Encouragement can also come by praying for someone or giving something special to someone. It can take many shapes and forms.
Encouragement is a biblical command
All throughout the Bible, Christians are called to encourage each other. This means that encouragement is not an option; it’s an obligation. Encouragement is part of a Christian’s duty. When believers are feeling comforted and strong in their faith, they are called to share that comfort and strength with others. They should look around for people in the church who may be alone or in need of encouragement. However, because this is a command, some distinctions here would be helpful. Encouragement is a part of teaching but it’s also distinct from it. Teaching says, “This is the way that you should go.” Encouragement says, “Let me help you to get there.” So, if teaching is the information, encouragement is the motivation. A similar type of distinction can be made when it comes to exhortation. Exhortation is a call to action. To exhort someone is to charge them to do this or that, but encouragement is applying the truth to motivate that call to action.
Encouragement is a universal need
It can be hard to admit sometimes, but each person needs encouragement. Just like a fire needs oxygen to keep burning, every person needs encouragement to keep going. But here’s the thing — a person’s deepest longing, when it comes to encouragement, is to be encouraged by something that’s not dependent upon your circumstances, what you own or how you look. In other words, what’s needed is more than a surface-level compliment. This is one of the reasons that Christianity is so unique. It offers this deep and lasting encouragement through knowing the God of the Bible.
Encouragement is found in God
Many psychologists will argue that everyone is looking for a person that they deeply respect to put their arm around them and accept them just as they are. What truly gives people encouragement is finding a relationship that cannot be broken despite their own personal brokenness. Yet, when it comes to God, how can a holy God embrace sinful man without denying his justice and holiness? The answer is the cross of Jesus. God can put his arms around sinners because he stretched out his arms to die for that sin on the cross. In the gospel, the Judge has become the Savior. And this is so important to grasp because if you’re in a performance-based relationship with someone, then you’re ultimately going to be looking to yourself to find encouragement in that relationship — “Am I doing good enough?” “Am I keeping up?” “Am I earning their acceptance?” Many people don’t find a relationship with God to be all that encouraging because they’re trying to relate to God based on their works instead of based on God’s grace in Jesus. But it is the grace of God that meets humanity’s deepest need for encouragement. And the more a person receives this from God, the easier it is to give it away to others and to participate in the important and powerful art of encouragement.
Jeremy McKeen is the Lead Pastor of Truth Point Church (PCA) in West Palm Beach. He graduated Florida Southern College with degrees in Philosophy and Communications, and from Knox Theological Seminary with his Masters of Divinity in Christianity and Culture.