A Primer on Encouragement

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. (Acts 20:1,2 ESV)

When studying this passage in Sunday school this spring, we had to address the question, “What is encouragement?” “Encouragement” is one of those Christian-y words that can bring a soft, Precious Moments haze to our thinking. We often use it as a replacement for “feeling good.” I was encouraged to know you were thinking about me when my father was in the hospital. But is that what this word really means?

What is Encouragement?

If we are to interpret Acts 20 correctly, we need to learn what “encourage/encouragement” means. Additionally, since we are charged with “encourag[ing] one another” as a Biblical imperative (1 Thess 5:11), this is not only a matter of interpretation, but obedience.

A quick Bible search will help. Frequently the words translated “encourage” are used in parallel with other words or phrases which mean “to strengthen” or “to build up.” This can be seen in 1 Thess 5:11, Deut 3:28, Acts 15:32, and 1 Cor 14:3. There is also a note on 1 Cor 8:10 in the ESV that indicates “fortified” or “built up” is an appropriate way to translate this word. We should further consider the meaning of the English word “encourage,” since translations from Hebrew and Greek take this definition into account: this dictionary suggests that “encourage” means “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence,” “to stimulate by assistance,” or “to promote, advance, or foster.” “Embolden” and “hearten” are listed as synonyms for “encourage.”

How to Give Encouragement

How are you strengthened? How are you built up? It may give you a warm feeling to know that someone is thinking of you or missing you, but does that really strengthen you? Does that equip you for the challenges and tasks that lie ahead of you? How are you emboldened or heartened in your Christian walk?

Before offering some practical suggestions on encouragement, let me make one appeal. Encouragement is individual. Though there are some activities or approaches that apply broadly, the work of encouragement within a local church must be preceded by the work of getting to know your neighbor. While a preacher or leader can encourage a congregation from the front of the sanctuary, encouragement is more meaningful and effective on a smaller scale. If you know how your friend is wired and you are aware of his or her particular struggles, you will be much more effective in your encouragement.

With that said, here are four ways to encourage a brother or sister in Christ.

Speak Gospel Words

Often the most encouraging action is a loving reminder of the gospel. When we are lonely, dejected, or mourning, we need to be reminded of God’s faithful, unconditional love. When our lives seem overrun with disappointment and failure, sorrow and sadness, we need to hear again of our great savior, Jesus and his work on our behalf. We must be careful not to bring the gospel to our believing friends in a trite, little-orphan-Annie sort of way. (“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar!”) But if our speech is seasoned with salt and we are frequently conversing about the things of God, reminding a friend about what is true will be natural, loving, and encouraging. Remember, the enemy of our souls wants us to forget this great truth in favor of believing his lies. We will fight against Satan and the darkness within by speaking the truth in love to one another.

Pray

This is one of the ways I have felt the most genuine encouragement over the years. A friend who is praying for me is doing far more than merely thinking of me—he is lifting my concerns up before the God of the universe. And, in his mysterious way, this is how God carries out his plan. How emboldening it is to know that someone is asking the only one who has ultimate power to work on my behalf, pleading that his will be done!

Prayer by itself will encourage, because God really does hear, provide strength, and work. But telling a brother about your prayers for him can accomplish much within his heart.

Identify God’s Work

When you feel trapped in a stubborn sin pattern, you might despair of God’s grace. You might believe the lie that you are not growing, and maybe you’re not God’s child at all. Enter a friend. With a bit of distance from your struggle, he can remind you how much growth God has given you in the last year or six months. What an encouragement it is to know that God has not abandoned me over a long period of time, and that he is at work in me! And if God has been at work in me over the past year, and if his word says he is committed to me, why wouldn’t he continue to work in my life? In my experience, the more specific you can be here, the better.

Give Practical Help

In the way that an archer is emboldened to stand and fire his arrows if he does not also have to hoist his shield, so we can strengthen our friends for good works by shouldering some special or everyday burdens for them. By babysitting you may free a couple to strengthen their marriage on a date; by supplying a meal, you may give that sick mother another crucial hour to rest; by swooping in with a mop, broom, and sponge you may teach that single man some of the skills he needs to make his apartment more inviting for the members of his evangelistic Bible study group. Remember, encouraging is more than doing something nice—this is no mere muffin-delivery service. The goal behind an act of encouragement is to strengthen and build up.

Showing God to Others

In the end, encouragement is one way to image our God to a fellow Christian. We can speak to, work for, and hug our friends in a way that provides a small echo of the earth-shaking ways God has spoken to, worked for, and loved us.

Post credit | Photo credit (license)

Links for the Weekend (2023-01-06)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

What Not to Expect from New Year’s Resolutions

There are some helpful and sobering truths in this post about New Year’s resolutions.

While nothing is wrong with celebrating progress, these juxtaposed images can influence us in subtle ways. A steady diet of before-and-after pictures can slowly skew our expectations and perspective on reality. They whisper lies that can trickle down even into our spiritual lives.

Winning Your Child’s Heart with Winsome Words

This article offers a brief glimpse at the power of our words and how a small change in our intentions can have a big effect.

My years as a parent have helped me understand that my words do more than guide my children through their day. They shape how they think about themselves, other people, and how the world works. Most importantly, my words are one way my children learn about the gospel.  

Encouraging in a distinctively Christian way

Encouragement is not the same as a compliment, nor is it gratitude. This article looks at 1 Thessalonians to get a grip on encouragement from the Bible.

Christian encouragement has gospel content rather than simply nice platitudes. For example, if someone is grieving a loss, the best many people can offer is to say that they are “sorry for your loss”. Some well-meaning people saying things like “they are looking down on you” or something like that. Yet if we are a Christian trying to comfort and encourage a grieving brother or sister in Christ, we can say so much more than this. We can speak of the comfort we have in Jesus. We can speak of our future hope with no more crying or mourning or pain. In other words, we can point people to Jesus, not just express empathy to them.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-06-17)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why Self-Help Is Not Encouragement

Sadly, much of what passes for encouragement among Christians is more like self-help mantras. Lindsey Carlson helps us understand what Christian encouragement is all about.

Encouragement based on self-confidence has produced a world of under-encouraged Christians. Our confidence is too often in our own desires and feelings, both of which are subject to change. When our confidence is shaken, our heart grows quickly discouraged and we’re far less likely to endure the trials set before us.

Help! I’m terrified of evangelism!

If evangelism feels like a scary enterprise, this article is for you. It’s a simple, down-to-earth list of ideas about how we might start talking to other people about Jesus.

Don’t overthink evangelism. You don’t need to come to every interaction with a non-Christian with a checklist of items to include in the conversation. But don’t censor yourself. Talk about the church service you attended on the weekend. Pray for help from God for courage and clarity. Mention something you have been thinking about from Bible study. Thank God for the weather. Let your faith be seen by others, and you will find opportunities to talk about the One who matters most.

Should I Pray Someone Else’s Prayers?

Chris Woznicki writes about using The Book of Common Prayer to help him pray. Coming from a “low church” Baptist background, this wasn’t natural, but he has found it helpful.

You can feel free to adopt the words of biblically-based, gospel-centred, Christ-exalting prayers written by someone else as our own. I would encourage you to find written, historic prayers, like The Litany that help you to articulate the content of your heart as you pray to God. Doing so has been helpful for me and it might be helpful for you too.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Praying “God, Be With Us.” If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-04-22)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Bible’s Not an Instruction Manual

The Bible’s main message is not about what we should do; it’s about what has already been done. That’s a crucial difference!

The Bible is incredibly practical. We don’t have to make it that way. It’s already that way. There are lots of practical things in it, and we do need to teach them. But we must never teach the practical points as the main points. The practical stuff is always connected to the proclamational stuff. The “dos” can never be detached from the “done” of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.

Are You Discouraged? Run to the Word of Christ.

It’s marvelous that we have the Word of God to read. Kristen Wetherell reminds of us three things the Word does for us.

Jesus gives you his Word to strengthen your faith in Him. In your doubts, do you need to remember who God is today? In your discouragements—in all the trials that make life hard, that make you forget how loved you are, that bring you to suspect God of holding out on you—do you need to remember all the ways Jesus has served you?

I Am Proud Of You

All of us need encouragement, and our youth are no different. Craig Thompson writes about the difference it makes to tell young people he is proud of them.

To be honest, it shouldn’t be this easy to make kids cry. They should be built up and encouraged so regularly that a kind word doesn’t reduce them to tears. But, we apparently live in a world where many kids need are not being built up. We desperately need moms and especially dads to step up and step in. Kids need to know that they are precious and important.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Learning to Embrace Tension. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (1/7/2022)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Neglected Ministry of Specific Encouragement

I’ve never heard of anyone who has been encouraged too much. Here’s a short, practical article on how to give and receive encouragement.

Herein lies the primary difference between worldly compliments and biblical encouragement. Worldly compliments exalt self; biblical encouragement exalts God. When someone receives biblical encouragement, she walks away praising and thanking God—not praising and inflating self.

Say Hi to the Old Lady on the Porch

Here’s a delightful story about an unlikely friendship in Memphis between two women who didn’t have many other people in their lives.

So I waved back, because if a cute old lady waves at you and you don’t wave back, you might be the biggest jerk ever to exist. But day after day, wave after wave, it began to feel weird to not stop and say hello. How many times can you wave and not actually speak without it getting awkward? And I was curious about her. Who was this old woman who sat on this porch in her rocking chair, her hands folded nicely over her stomach as she rocked, waved, rocked, waved? So one day, I stopped my bike and said hello.

A Sonnet for Epiphany

Epiphany is January 6 on the church calendar, and Christian poet Malcolm Guite wrote a poem for the occasion. In the winter it feels like we all could use a little more poetry in our lives.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (12/11/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Surprising Ministry of Encouragement

“Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.” Ray Ortlund writes that encouragement is essential to this gospel culture that the best churches cultivate.

Encouragement is what the gospel feels like as it moves from one believer to another. The ministry of encouragement, therefore, isn’t optional or just for people with a knack for it. Real encouragement has authority over us all. It deserves nothing less than to set the predominant tone of our churches, our homes, our ministries. So, let’s think it through. And then, let’s get after it.

Christmas in a Minor Key

If Christmas is merely a superficial celebration, this might be a year to pitch it. How can we drum up interest in tinsel when the pandemic has made life so hard and so sad for so many? Doug Eaton argues that these miseries give us a greater reason than ever to celebrate this year.

The arrival of Jesus into our world is the answer to a world lost in darkness. Christ, God incarnate, entered our sin-riddled world. From his first breath, he was to be known as the Man of Sorrows, and he would endure it all because of his great love for us. We have a Savior who can sympathize with our weakness, and he went to the cross to atone for our sin.

The Gentle Tug of Spiritual Disciplines

I enjoyed the way Craig Thompson contrasted his dog’s need to go outside with his practice of the spiritual disciplines.

There is more. Your spiritual disciplines will not usually yell at you, but when you neglect them, there are reminders. Learn to tune your heart and mind to the gentle tug of spiritual disciplines. Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed? Could it be that you have allowed the noise of the world to drown out God’s love in your life? The gentle tug of spiritual disciplines is a bit more like a hunger or a longing than a begging and demanding.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (6/26/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Keith Mathison reflects on what the behavior of Christians during crises communicates to the unbelieving world. Will we wring our hands in panic, or will we trust the Lord, who controls all things?

Christians need to be encouraged by what God has revealed to us in Scripture, and that is the fact that the enemy simply cannot win and will not win – even if he kills us. Re-read Revelation 20–22 if necessary. The enemy is already on death row. His judgment is sure. Whatever happens here and now, however difficult it may be to experience, is part of God’s sovereign plan that ultimately ends with the final judgment of the enemy and our inheritance of a new heavens and new earth where we will be face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

Let’s Talk: Battling Discontentment

The Gospel Coalition has launched a limited-run podcast for women featuring discussions between Jasmine Holmes, Melissa Kruger, and Jackie Hill Perry. Check out this episode on contentment.

Be an Intentional Encourager

This is a helpful meditation on Hebrews 10:24 by Cindy Matson. She views the verse in the context of the book, and gives attention to each of the author’s commands. I commend this teaching on encouragement.

However, in another sense, I am responsible, particularly for the brothers and sisters in my local church. I am accountable to them. I am obligated to intentionally find ways to give them reasons to love God, their neighbor, and their enemy; and to do good deeds. The writer of Hebrews tells us that this doesn’t happen by accident. If I don’t carefully consider how I’m going to do it (and of course then do it), I’ll never get around to it. Rarely, do we accidentally stumble into godliness.


Thanks to Maggie A for her help in rounding up links this week!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (5/22/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

When My Idol in Motherhood Is Me

I’m guessing that every parent has had to grapple with anger at their children. Aurlyn Wygle took the time to think about the cause of her anger, and she came to a startling fact: her biggest problem as a mother was not the sin in her sons, it was the sin in her.

The more that I lay this idol at the feet of Jesus, the more He gives me eyes to see my sons the same way He sees me—with compassion, and like sheep without a shepherd. I certainly still have frequent moments of anger. But now I know that the anger is pointing to a deep-rooted sin inside of me, not them. The Lord is working to expose this in order that I might lovingly and graciously engage my children, raise them in righteousness and enjoy them.

Life on Life Discipleship

Podcast host Karen Hodge and guest Cheryl Mullis talk about life-on-life discipleship within the church. What sort of transformation could a culture like this create? This podcast is a resource produced by the PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM).

Flattery is not Encouragement

We are commanded to encourage each other but forbidden from flattery. The problem is, they can sound very similar! How can we tell the difference, both in ourselves and in others?

It’s difficult to distinguish between the two because it’s often a matter of motive. Flattery is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “praise excessively especially from motives of self-interest.” Sometimes flattery is detectable because it is “excessive,” but other times it’s simply the motive of the speaker that differentiates it from encouragement.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Learning to Lament. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for her help in rounding up links this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.