This world is a discouraging place, and prophecy says it will get even worse. Yet God wants us to be happy. In fact, He commands it! Deuteronomy 12:7 says, “[Y]e shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto ….”
In society today, the toxicity of discouragement flows freely—far more than the healing balm of encouragement. We easily absorb the spirit of sarcasm, put-downs, judgment, biting humor, complaining and negativity.
God wants us to rise above the negativity and to help others to do the same. He instructs us, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up …” (1 Thessalonians 5:11; New International Version). To encourage someone is to inspire him with hope, to fill with courage or strength of purpose. It implies infusing him with life, energy or vigor.
When was the last time you encouraged someone else?
Most of us don’t naturally do this. Why not? If you find it especially difficult to say uplifting things to others, examine yourself and your personality to try to discern why this is so. Here are a couple of common reasons: For one, we tend to pay more attention to negative things than positive. A single adverse item can preoccupy our thoughts, obscuring a whole slew of good and praiseworthy things. On top of that is our natural self-absorption. We don’t tend to pay enough attention to others to notice things worth complimenting and encouraging.
Reorienting our thinking to notice the positive is a splendid goal to pursue.
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes about gifts God gives people. Verse 8 says to focus on the gift of “exhortation.” The Greek word for “exhort” is parakaleo, which means to call to one’s side; to come alongside to help. It combines the ideas of exhorting, comforting and encouraging. This is a gift worth developing and using, and one we can all have if we let God direct our thoughts and we train ourselves to think on the needs of others. Come alongside others and help them.
Pray for God to help you appreciate others and recognize when they need encouragement. Then back that up with genuine, consistent effort to pay attention and develop your awareness of situations where providing reassurance, support or comfort would be timely.
Paul tells us to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report—to set our minds on virtue and praise (Philippians 4:8). This means overcoming that natural negative bias. Look for and notice these positive qualities in others. If you are attentive, you will begin to find plenty of things to praise. The more observant you are, the better you will be able to offer a compliment or encouraging word for very specific things, even seemingly trivial things that most people would overlook.
At times we may think positive things about someone; the key is to take the extra step: Vocalize it to the person. Or write a note of encouragement; even a few short lines can do wonders. And try to do it as soon as you think of it. If you wait, you will probably forget. Tell the person how what they are doing brightens your day or makes your job easier. If they’re going through a difficult period, be sure they know you’re thinking of them.
Sincerity in encouraging others is critical. God seeks sincerity and truth in His people (1 Corinthians 5:8). The real value of an encouraging comment is how sincere and true it is. Don’t give insincere praise, and never flatter (Proverbs 26:28; 28:23; 29:5).
Brett McKay, in an Art of Manliness article on giving compliments, advised relaying “secondhand compliments”—compliments not spoken directly to a person but which you pass along: Hey Bruce, I was talking to Jim, and he mentioned how much he appreciates your contributions here and enjoys working with you. This can also mean complimenting someone to someone else. When those compliments reach the recipient, that can really mean a lot to them.
Work to develop the habit of encouraging others. Building a positive habit is never easy. Challenge yourself to give some encouraging words to a handful of people each day: a loved one or friend, a co-worker, a clerk at a store. Don’t neglect the value of even complimenting a stranger: “Hey—I like your shoes!” This benefits both the other person and yourself, because it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Becoming aware of others in this way is really a matter of orienting our thinking to God’s way of give.
God says, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me …” (Psalm 50:23). By giving encouragement, we glorify and honor God. God is very positive. He believes the best in others (1 Corinthians 13:7). God is an Encourager, always looking for things to praise and encourage us with. Even when we make mistakes, fail and sin, Jesus Christ is our Advocate—our parakletos, one called alongside to help (1 John 2:1).
Follow Christ’s example. In a discouraging world, be an encourager.