For years William Wilberforce pushed Britain’s Parliament to abolish slavery. Discouraged, he was about to give up. His elderly friend, John Wesley, heard of it and from his deathbed called for pen and paper. With trembling hand, Wesley wrote:
Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery shall vanish away before it.
Wesley died six days later, but Wilberforce fought for 45 more years, and in 1833—three days before his own death—saw slavery abolished in Britain.
Even the greatest ones need encouragement.
The first and most obvious way to encourage someone is to tell them something good about themselves. What can it be in our nature that we do not encourage people when we see them? Everyone we meet has reason to be despondent or depressed about something and could do with a little lift of their heart. Tell people how much you appreciate what they are doing for the kingdom every time you get the opportunity. Thank them for their faithfulness, for their sacrifice, for their example.
The second way in which we can encourage someone is by taking action toward them. What would be a good example of this? What about simply holding your spouse? Other examples include handshakes, hugs and even simple, sincere eye contact.
The most valuable thing you can give, of course, is your time. Just being with the other person can mean so much to them. And this can be dramatically expanded if you will listen to them. I find that so hard to do . . . to take the time to sit and listen to someone who may have so little to say that is important to me. One of the keys I have learned—or, rather, I am trying to learn—is to ask open questions and then paraphrase back what the person says after each pause. This can be incredibly reassuring to the other person when they know you have not only heard, but understood, what they have had to say.
David knew all about listening when he wrote of the way God encourages us: “You hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” (Psalm 10:17).
The third way to encourage someone is to take action toward that person’s world. We have a good friend, born in Kenya, who recently became an Australian citizen. As you can imagine, this can be quite emotional—surrendering one’s nationality in favor of another—albeit he is now proud to be an Australian. My wife, Rae, and I decided to give up an evening just to be with him. I cannot tell you how much it meant to this man to have us there . . . and it will come as no surprise to you to know that we got so much joy out of knowing that our presence was really encouraging to him.
Why do we go to funerals? The main reason is to encourage the bereaved. It is not as Yogi Berra once said, to ensure they will come to ours!
Another great way to encourage someone is to support their cause. In the good old days, I was too proud to ever give anyone less than $1,000—it seemed so paltry. However, now that we have passed through absolute poverty ourselves, I have learned that $100, while generally not meaningful in financial terms, can really encourage the recipient.
The fourth way to encourage someone is to pray for them. I know that it is often so tritely said, “I will pray for you,” but it’s very encouraging to be told that someone is going to lift you up in prayer.
It is much more encouraging, however, to be told that you have been prayed for. Have you ever received a telephone call from someone who tells you that he has prayed for you that morning? And, even better, when that comes in the form of a hand-written note. This is such a lost art—so few of us take the time to write and tell people how we feel about them. It is so encouraging to be told—often quite unexpectedly—that the writer had prayed for you that day.
Another great way to give encouragement is to ask the person to pray for you. In fact, this happened to me recently. I received an email from a minister, asking if I would pray for his church as they considered a new location. That really gave me a boost. To think that he would think my prayers worthy of the time he took to write to me like that meant a lot to me.
The final way to encourage someone would seem to be an oxymoron: confronting them to encourage them. But I believe that it is truly the right thing to do in very limited circumstances. By limited circumstances, I mean one percent of the time. Sometimes it is appropriate to challenge a friend. As we read in Proverbs, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (27:6, ESV).
In a world of political correctness, that is what true friends with backbone will do. They are interested in the long-term good of our souls. Ungodly friends cheer us towards destruction … they simply bequeath flattery
There are times when we must confront people, if we are to encourage and affirm them. People who have become alcoholics or are suffering from some other addictive behavior, people who have become blind-sided with a sexual fantasy. Men, I believe it is up to each one of us to confront our friends who are having an affair, or otherwise cheating on their wives.
Rae confronts people very effectively by simply asking questions, getting the person to think, rather than tackling them head-on. She tries not to overpower them and finds this approach is often really effective with other women.
When Paul was giving instructions to his new minister, Titus, he said: “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15).
During the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, we were living in America, but we came back to Australia for the occasion, bringing a number of friends. In fact, we had nine people staying in our house in Sydney.
One of the most memorable events of the Games was the heroic effort of Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim the previous January, had only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate, even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.
When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone.
Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press journalist, “charmingly inept.” He never put his head under the water's surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the end, he “ran out of puff” and virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he might drown!
Even though his time was over a minute slower than what qualified for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood as one and cheered the swimmer on. After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life.
When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.” Encouragement can get you through.
I pray that we will all be winners as we run the race the Lord has set before us— that we will always encourage those who are struggling—keeping our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (see Hebrews 12:2).
Finally, in the exquisite words of Paul, who wrote to the Thessalonians: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
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