In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was a model encourager who intentionally worked to strengthen followers of Christ. He did not mince Biblical truth with worldly “rah-rah” affirmations intended for the tickling of ears. Following Paul’s lead, let’s consider seven tips for becoming better encouragers.
1. Recognize Discouragement
Don’t ignore or overlook discouragement in others—even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. Choose to notice and step into their pain and suffering. Paul begins his letter to the church in Thessalonica by assuring them that he gives thanks to God always, constantly mentioning them in his prayers before God because of their work of faith and labor of love and their steadfast hope in Jesus. Paul can thank God and pray for them, because he knows their lives and their trials.
To become better encouragers we must do more than take note of what’s going on in the lives of others. We can seek to understand their trials and sorrows so that we can petition the Father on behalf of our discouraged friends that he might meet them in their lack. When we share in the joys and the sorrows we learn how to give thanks and pray. Our presence and curiosity can be more encouraging than our words.
Pray for the Spirit to give you eyes to see and understand discouragement in others.
2. Encourage to Build Up & Strengthen
What’s the point of providing encouragement? Paul commends the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:8–11 for their ongoing track record of encouragement. And he urges the people to keep up the good work for a very specific purpose. He instructs, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up.” We must understand that encouragement isn’t simply about making others feel better. Encouragement is meant to strengthen the heart so that we will stand firm, take heart, and be built together in the faith. For this is the will of God for your sanctification. Without encouragement, hearts grow weary. With encouragement, God strengthens his saints to stand firm and take heart as they are made more and more like him in holiness.
Pray for God to direct your steps to saints who need your words of encouragement to build and strengthen them in their walk of faith.
3. Be Patient as You Encourage
As fellow recipients of God’s grace through Christ, we must be patient with the weary just as God has been patient with us. Paul writes that we are to “admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak.” But specifically, he exhorts us to “be patient with them all.” Why? Because it’s easier to respond with annoyance or frustration to those who exhibit weakness and discouragement or to those who struggle in ways we don’t. It’s far more challenging to exhort and encourage with the patience and grace of the Father. Christ will often call us to sacrifice our own timing, agenda, and personal comfort in order that we might patiently admonish and encourage with his timely care.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to produce the fruits of love and patience in your own heart as you attempt to tend sacrificially to others.
4. Encourage With Gentleness
Paul’s words are careful and cautious as he encourages believers. He assured the Thessalonians that he was not lying, deceiving, or attempting to be a people pleaser. He didn’t come with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed. He didn’t even seek glory from people (1 Thess. 2:4–5). Paul’s words of encouragement weren’t brash or bombastic. Instead, he was intentionally gentle among the believers, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. (1 Thess. 2:7–8).”
Pray the Holy Spirit might help you to encourage through gentle words, offered purely for the care of others, and that he would grant grace to the hearers.
5. Encourage to Comfort
Strength isn’t the only benefit of encouragement. Paul writes to Philemon (Philem. 1:7) that he had “derived much joy and comfort” from his love, because the hearts of the saints had been refreshed through him. When believers share in Christ, we also share in a common comforter. Christians encourage best by sharing words and promises of Christ’s comfort. This is why Paul is filled with comfort in affliction and overflowing with joy because “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us” (2 Cor. 2:8). God encourages and comforts his people through his word and through the faithful presence and testimony of his body.
Pray that you might encourage others by comforting them with the comfort you’ve received through Christ.
6. Encourage Others for Their Benefit and Yours
Encouraging others is mutually beneficial. We learn as we are able to successfully strengthen and hearten others, and even as we make mistakes. We become better encouragers through the process of providing and receiving encouragement. As we encourage others in the hope we’ve found, we are sanctified and built up. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 that despite his extensive suffering and trials, his coming to Thessalonica was not in vain because in observing the church’s faith, perseverance, and ongoing hope in the gospel, he has been encouraged. Their testimony of faith affirmed his work and renewed his desire to continue laboring among the saints.
Like Paul, encouraging others in the faith encourages us to continue fruitfully laboring even in the midst of our own trials and suffering.
7. Encourage One Another with These Words
Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica to encourage one another with specific words. “These words” were words that remind the struggling believers of the truth that in Christ “we will always be with the Lord.” First Thessalonians 4:17 says that when we provide these words, God’s people take comfort from one another. This is because God’s people are intended to find their greatest strength and comfort in the presence and promises of God.
As followers of Jesus who earnestly desire to “encourage one another,” let’s begin by acknowledging how difficult it can be to provide others with good words of encouragement. Then, ask the Spirit to humble us and allow us to see and meet the needs of others who are discouraged; patiently, gently building up to strengthen and comfort the body of Christ with the good news of God’s trustworthy promises. And let us faithfully seek the Spirit’s help as we strive to become better encouragers.
When my weary friend texted me, I paused and asked the Spirit for wisdom and words of truth and grace. What could I say to encourage her in her pursuit of holiness and in her need for strength and comfort? Then I responded with the assurance that Christ was near in her weakness. I told her it’s ok to cry and feel overwhelmed. And I invited her to cry out to God and ask for his mercy. I assured her I would be lifting her up in prayer to the throne of grace. And I shared a psalm that had comforted me when I’d felt the same way. Then, I left the encouragement to the Spirit who is able to uphold and strengthen her better than I could.
While encouragement may not come naturally or easily, it can be learned and practiced by the grace of God. We are not naturally better encouragers because we are older, further along in our faith, are married, or have kids. As we labor diligently by grace, may the Spirit enable us to more skillfully encourage and exhort one another.