I learned about the power of encouragement during one of the lowest times of my life. I was 30 and single, attending Bible college on my meager savings, fighting sickness, facing constant car repairs, and watching my parents battle cancer and heart problems.
Then one morning, a professor asked for our prayers for some overwhelming things in his life. We were stunned to action. Several of us formed an anonymous “Barnabas Committee,” named for the New Testament’s “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Throughout that semester, we sent our professor notes (attached to little gifts like candy bars) to remind him that we were still praying for him. We did the same for other profs facing personal challenges.
As I helped encourage these teachers, I discovered the truth of Proverbs 11:25: “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Even though my problems didn’t go away — they actually deepened when both my parents died a short time later — my reaching out to others helped keep my focus on God’s love and power.
Over the years, as I’ve told this story, I’ve heard from people who started Barnabas Committees of their own. They reported the same result: that God encourages them and fills them with joy as they reach out to others.
Encouragement is more than prayers and notes. God can use us through many verbal, emotional, practical, and spiritual ministries. And anyone can be an encourager. Even the great Bible teacher F.B. Meyer (1847-1929) once remarked that if he could live his life over again, he’d spend much more time in the ministry of encouragement.
We can practice encouragement in eight simple ways.
Proverbs 16:24 says "pleasant words bring healing to the bones." Bring healing to someone by telling how you appreciate a certain positive quality you see in her. When I was discouraged halfway through holding seven estate sales, a neighbor boosted my spirits by simply saying, “You have things so clean and nicely arranged.” When appropriate, share a verse from Scripture that helped you in a hard time.
Have you ever considered how the New Testament epistles are “encouragement notes” to the churches? Ours don't have to be lengthy — even a postcard will do. But a note saying “I care” or “I’m praying” will mean much to someone who is lonely, grieving, or discouraged about wayward family members, unemployment, or health issues. Be creative with your family, like writing things like, “I love you” on the banana in their lunches.
Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted." But often the Lord sends us someone on His behalf. Remember the observation of social scientists that only one-fourth of communication is verbal. Even when we don’t know what to say, just being there encourages.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus constantly touched people, including “untouchables” like lepers and a bleeding woman. Scientists have now documented the positive effects of touch. God has wired us to be that way! Anything from a light touch on the forearm to a tight hug can communicate that you care.
Sometimes people feel like a laden ocean liner needing a tugboat to nudge it into a safe dock. Helpers use ordinary skills to encourage others. They may sew or mend, do odd jobs or shopping, rock a baby for a harried new mom, drive you to the doctor, or show up with an old pickup when somebody needs to move.
Proverbs 21:26 says "the righteous person gives without sparing." Givers recognize situations where money, food, clothing, or the loan of equipment will better lift people out of their encouragement. Some simply give beauty, like a bouquet of flowers from their yard in a vase.
This ministry is best defined by its Greek word, philoxenia, which literally means “brotherly love of strangers.” So defined, it changes from “entertaining” to simply loving people by providing a meal or bed in the name of Christ. This ministry can target people whose life situations make them “emotional strangers,” such as those hurting from marriage breakups, financial problems, or physical challenges.
“You help us by your prayers,” Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 1:11). No matter our circumstances, we can — and must — pray. God hears the prayers of His people, and wants us to pray for each other. Jot prayer needs in a small notebook, and follow up with a note or phone call.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Mathias Klang