We’ve all had those times when our friends are going through a really rough time or have a less-than-pleasurable experience coming up. They pour their hearts out to us and sometimes we just don’t know what to say. This world is no stranger to suffering. We’ve all experienced hard spots in our lives at one time or another.
As a sister in Christ, it can be so hard to know what to say. Just saying “It’s going to be okay” seems like so little. One of my friends once said, “People tell you it’s going to be okay. But how do you know that? How can you say that when you don’t really know if it’s going to be okay? Maybe it will never be okay.” I had to agree with her. We all want to help our friends, but giving them a hug and offering well-meaning advice just isn’t enough sometimes.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, it says:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
As Christians, we know we are supposed to encourage and be encouraged. But how do we encourage? How do we truly speak to someone and “build one another up” in Christ.
Before I talk about how to encourage, a couple of words on how not to encourage.
Flattering people is not encouraging. Although we sometimes think we’re being nice or polite to people, flattery is actually a form of deception according to the Bible. Romans 16:17 – 18:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.
Obviously, this verse is talking about flattery in the stronger sense of the word. What I’m talking about is over-complimenting. Complimenting is fine and a nice thing to do, but it must be sincere. Flattery is usually done to earn favour for yourself, rather than for the benefit of the other person.
Telling people it’s going to be okay because things usually work themselves out isn’t usually very encouraging, but it can depend on the situation. Generally, if something sad or tragic has happened, telling someone that time heals all wounds isn’t going to help. Saying something along the lines of, “things can only get better” may be reasonable, but not always true and not truly encouraging. If someone is really hurting, that’s usually the last thing they want to hear.
So what is real encouragement? Here are five ways to encourage each other.
Be a witness.
One way to encourage others is to share with them what Christ has done for you. I have had a a few opportunities to do this. When I was fourteen, my ten-year-old brother was diagnosed with leukemia. Of course, this was really hard on the whole family, but now I’m able to share how God stayed near to me through the whole experience and how He came through. (My brother has now been cancer-free for three years since finishing treatment!)
Remember, although you may be going through a really rough time, God is bigger. Even if you can’t feel Him right now, He is there if you cry out to Him. And He does come through. Every time.
Share your faith.
And by “faith”, I mean the actual faith—the mustard seed kind, not religion. So what I mean here is remind other Christians about what they believe and what you believe. God is powerful, and we can trust Him. Trials test our faith and God will reward the faithful. Sometimes, we run low on faith. Telling someone to get it together is not going to help. We need to be strong for our friends and add to their faith when it’s running low. Seeing other people’s faith often encourages us in our own. Be that other person to someone.
…that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:12)
What greater way to encourage someone than through prayer? Ask the ultimate Encourager to be near to them in the darkest moments. Pray with people, too. I always feel so encouraged after praying with a close friend. Not only does it remind you that you’re not alone in this, but that you’re together in Christ.
Hebrews 10:24 – 25 says this:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Sometimes we just need togetherness. Fellowshipping (i.e. hanging out) with other Christians can be a huge encouragement. Relationships are built and in a corporate setting, worship itself is an encouragement. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and remind ourselves who’s in control of everything and that He loves us.
Know that you are loved and then go love others. Love requires self-sacrificing service, and when we serve others, we are an encouragement to them. We show Christ’s love and remind our friends how much they are loved by Christ.
…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ… (Colossians 2:2)
Those are my thoughts on how to be an encouragement to others. What are some ways that you have been encouraged? Let me know!