The Gift of Encouragement

Is there any blessing as meaningful as a well-timed word of encouragement from a loved one? Is there anything quite as uplifting as being strengthened and built up by a leader, mentor, or shepherd… someone you greatly respect and who sees that you’re a little discouraged?

 Such is the gift of encouragement. It’s a gift from God. It’s a gift for the encourager. It’s a gift to the one being encouraged.

 I don’t know if the writer of Proverbs 15:23 had encouragement specifically in mind, but his words are certainly appropriate here:

A man finds joy in giving an apt reply –and how good is a timely word.

 Amen to that! Encouragement is a blessing to both parties. Proverbs 25:11 puts is this way…

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

 What a beautiful picture of encouragement. I’m sure that those two verses had much more in sight than encouragement, but it seems to me that they cover at least that.

 Encouragement has been on and off my mind for many years, but has resurfaced over the last couple of weeks. One reason is that the men’s groups at my church have just begun studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus.

 These letters cover a lot of ground to be sure. Paul urges Timothy and Titus to faithfully teach the truth and stand firm defending that truth when the occasion calls for it. He tells them that they must live godly lives and admonish others to do the same. He reminds them to be about the ministry to which they had been called. He instructs them on how to choose and develop leaders for their churches. And that just scratches the surface.

 And yet, running through all of that instruction and reminding, is encouragement. After all, these are young men. They aren’t as experienced or as educated as Paul. They’re facing some genuine obstacles in their churches. They lack boldness, especially Timothy. But there they are, placed as pastors… as shepherds of God’s people.

 Can you imagine the doubts they must have had? The insecurities? The fears? The decision to just escape from it all, as Demas did, must have looked attractive to them at least once (2 Tim. 4:9-10a). If anyone needed encouragement, it was Timothy and Titus. And that’s exactly what they got. The Apostle Paul liberally sprinkled words of encouragement to both men throughout his letters to them. How encouraging, for example, would it have been for them to read these words at the very beginning of the letters?

To Timothy my true son on the faith… (1 Tim. 1:2)

 To Titus, my true son in our common faith… (Titus 1:4)

 Paul knew these men. He knew their hearts. He is likely the one God used to bring them to faith in Christ. He is certainly the one who discipled and nurtured them to become the godly men they were. They traveled with the Apostle during much of his ministry. They saw the way he regularly encouraged the churches he visited. Paul wrote in Romans 12:8 that if a person has the gift of encouragement, then need to get busy exercising that gift! That’s exactly what Paul did throughout his ministry (Acts 14:22; 20:1-2). Thus, it’s no coincidence that he tells young Timothy and Titus to do the same in their ministries.

 Well, a good question to ask about now is, “What does it mean to encourage someone?” What is encouragement? Vine’s Bible Dictionary uses words and phrases such as, “to urge forward or persuade.” “To stimulate to the discharge of the ordinary duties of life.” In some cases it can mean “to comfort” someone. It also means “exhortation” and “consolation.”

 Some of the definitions from Dictionary.com include…

  • “inspiring with courage, spirit, or confidence”
  • “to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.”

 In the midst of our busy, hectic, restless, sometimes painful, depressing, fear-filled lives, don’t we all deeply desire to be urged or persuaded to keep moving forward; to fulfill what we’ve been called and tasked to do each day; to be comforted and strengthened; to be inspired and lifted up?

 All of this and more is encouragement. What a beautiful gift it truly is.

 The second reason I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gift of encouragement is because I believe it is one of my gifts… perhaps my primary gift. It occurs to me, however, that to faithfully live out this gift – or any gift – you have to imitate Christ by putting others before yourself. A selfish, self-centered person will not see the needs of others because he or she isn’t looking for them. And even if those needs can be seen and identified, the self-focused person probably won’t allow himself or herself to be “inconvenienced” enough to respond faithfully.

All too often, I confess, “I am the man.” This describes me more than I care to admit.

 But God gives us gifts in order to use them. He wants his people to be built up, strengthened, and encouraged to be the people he created, redeemed, called, and gifted them to be… a people who will glorify him and bless and serve others. For this to happen we must die to ourselves – our comforts, conveniences, agendas, etc. We must put others and their interests before our own. We must love with the same Christlike-sacrificial love with which we have been loved. Our gifts and blessings will flow out of such a love and life.

 My gift of encouragement is not for me… it’s for others. Your gift, whatever it may be, is not for you… it’s for others. And yet, what a blessing we receive when we are faithful to our calling and serve others according to our giftedness.

Gracious Lord, thank you for your patience and continual encouragement in my life – through your Spirit, through your Word, in and through worship, and through my brothers and sisters in Christ, the list goes on and on. Thank you.

 Father, please help me to die to myself and live more fully and faithfully for you and others, so that I might bring much glory to you and blessings in the lives of those you have entrusted to my care. I thank you for the gift of encouragement. Help me use it to build up and strengthen my family and the body of Christ at Southside UMC and beyond.

 In Christ I pray,
Amen.

 Grace and Truth,
Dale

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