A few weeks ago, the Sunday school lesson that ended up falling to me in the teaching rotation was about encouragement. God has graciously taught me a lot about encouragement over the years, mostly by way of the encouragement I’ve received from other people. There have been low times when people have lifted my spirit through encouragement. At various times I have been encouraged to teach women, to pursue writing, to start this website!
These examples typify the things we envision when we think of encouraging others. We want people to feel good and do great things. Usually, those are worth encouraging. But as I was preparing to teach that lesson about encouragement, God showed me something I’d been overlooking: more so than encouraging any particular feeling or action, simply encouraging people toward greater intimacy with Christ should be on the forefront of our minds. When someone is close to God, that alone takes care of so many of the things that we often try to bring about through our external encouragement. We miss the point if we are not spurring one another on to a greater love for the Lord.
Are we doing that? Do we know how?
Here are five ways that we can encourage people to grow closer to God:
1. Express your joy in the Lord.
Ephesians 5:18b-20 says: be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Personal compliments and rah-rahs are nice, but people who express their joy in the Lord don’t have to do much else to encourage me. It encourages me when I’m around someone whose love for God is so vibrant that they naturally express it. It makes me want the same thing.
2. Start being okay with sin.
When I say, “be okay with sin,” I mean stop being so surprised by it. When people confess sin, it’s usually because they want to overcome it. So when someone is trying to live out repentance, let’s stop going bug-eyed over the sins of their past. We can cringe at the sin people humbly admit, or we can rejoice over them turning back to God. But only one of these is actually encouraging.
3. Let people see the real you.
One of the most encouraging passages of scripture to me is Romans 7. If you read through it, you see that Paul – that great apostle – struggled with sin. I don’t mean to say that I take pleasure in his failures, but I do find encouragement from the fact that even an incredibly faithful man still struggled with sin. Also, I like that I have no idea what sin this passage refers to. The principle I take from this is that we can be honest about our struggles with sin without necessarily giving all the details. Those details can be useful and appropriate at times, but the details aren’t the point. The point is, allowing people to see that we struggle – despite our faithfulness – reminds them that God will use them too. And that’s encouraging.
4. Look for a real need and meet it with individual attention.
One-on-one attention goes a long, long way toward encouraging people in the Lord. Imagine you know a young mom who has told you she is struggling to discipline her children in a God-honoring way. You could invite her over and let her hang out. Let her see how you interact with your children. Let her ask questions. Pray with her. Suggest a helpful book, and ask if she’d like to read it with you.
Bible study. Marriage. Trials. Sin. Every place where people are challenged to respond with greater faith, commitment, or obedience is an opportunity for us to offer encouragement. Many people already sense how God is leading, but they may not know how to live it out. Enough of that! Look around. Make some time. Share individual, practical encouragement that helps someone step into the place God is already leading them.
5. Develop a habit of asking people about their growth in the Lord.
This one might make a lot of people squirm. Because what business is it of ours to ask another person how they are getting along with God?
Well, actually, it is our business. Part of the culture – the normal, expected behavior – of the Body of Christ is that we have a deep concern for others’ growth in the Lord. Because of that we make it a habit to ask people how they are doing with God – what struggles or joys they’re experiencing. When these conversations are normal and expected, growth in the Lord is on the forefront of our minds. We stay focused and encouraged to pursue God. (If having those kinds of conversations feels strange to you, consider that it just might not be part of the culture in your immediate sphere. But enough people making it a habit can change the culture!) Even if you are the odd-ball, ask those in your sphere how they are getting along with God. People will catch on that you care about their growth in Christ, and that is encouraging!
Is this list helpful? Will you encourage someone toward the Lord?