How to Give Good Encouragement

by Ashley Ross
When I was in college, I had the privilege of being discipled by a wonderful, godly woman named Joanna. Though slightly younger than me in age, Joanna was wiser in the faith and greatly shaped my walk with Christ. I remember once after a community group meeting, Joanna looked at me and said, “Ashley, you’re a Barnabas.”

“Thanks!” I replied. “What’s a Barnabas?”

Joanna smiled and explained that in the New Testament, a man called Barnabas was a companion and source of encouragement to the apostle Paul at different points in his ministry. In fact, the name Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’ (Acts 4:36). Joanna was saying that similarly, I was a companion and source of encouragement to her.

While I won’t doubt Joanna’s assessment of me, in retrospect I do think she showed a large amount of grace in that compliment. I remember my “encouragement” in those days being rooted in wanting to make people feel better, and simply putting a smile on their face. And while that’s not a bad thing to want, the fact is that true encouragement runs much, much deeper.

Listen to the Full Story

For a lot of us, the instinct to encourage too often begins and ends with the exhortation to “look on the bright side.” We’re quick to point out how “it could be worse” or “at least it’s not as bad as” someone else’s situation. This kind of comparative form of encouragement is based on convincing the person to feel differently about their circumstances. However, usually what is prompting us to give encouragement in the first place is a person experiencing genuine sadness, disappointment, or grief. If our encouragement is to be received, we have to start by properly acknowledging the circumstances that prompted it.

Acknowledging the difficulty of what’s happening grounds our encouragement in the reality of what God has ordained and prevents us from being positive simply for the sake of being positive. We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and we can’t do that unless we first acknowledge those burdens. If the person knows that you’ve genuinely taken the time to understand what they are upset about, they are more likely to take you seriously when you speak into their discouragement.

Share God’s Promises, Not Your Own

After acknowledging the truth of their situation, we want to speak hope into their discouragement. It’s tempting to say, “It will get better,” or “This or that will happen”, but we need to be careful that we do not make promises that God has not made. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know whether that illness will get better, whether that person will find a spouse, whether that job will come through, etc. Such statements might reflect our most sincere hope for that person, but those outcomes are not within our power to guarantee. Instead, we can remind a person who is struggling of the rock-solid promises that God makes in his word.

Here are just a few promises from Scripture that a Christian can cling to, regardless of their circumstances:
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • And surely I [Jesus] am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
  • And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  • If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8)
And there are so many more. The more we speak God’s promises to one another, the easier they become to recall.

Point to God’s Past Faithfulness

In addition to speaking of God’s faithfulness from his promises, we can speak of his faithfulness in past experiences.

In the Old Testament, there are several times where God’s people create a visual reminder of what the Lord has done for them. After God speaks a promise to Jacob, Jacob sets up a pillar of stone to memorialize it (Gen 35:11-15). After God miraculously leads the Israelites across the Jordan, Joshua commemorates it with a pile of 12 stones of remembrance (Jos 4). Samuel sets up the ebenezer stone when God helps Israel defeat the Philistines (1 Sam 7). In these instances, the stones remind people of God’s faithfulness and his steadfastness to act on their behalf for his glory and their good. Similarly, we can serve as ‘stones of remembrance’ to one another by reminding each other of how we’ve seen God work in each other’s lives in the past. Can you think of specific instances of answered prayers, divine intervention, or daily graces that God has provided for that person? Encourage them by simply reminding them of the constant presence and provision of a Lord who never changes.

Encourage Regularly

It’s worth noting that encouragement isn’t something that we only give in times of hardship. Day to day we can encourage in the form of affirmation as we’re living out our callings in life together. Did a meal, sermon, article, worship song, act of service, conversation, or piece of art bless you? Take the time to thank the person who provided it to let them know how what they did made an impact on you. Is someone taking on a challenging task, either in one moment or in their day-to-day life? Recognize that, and if appropriate, come alongside the person. The ministry of your mere presence may mean more than you could ever know.

Finally, encouragement doesn’t need to be complicated. Never underestimate the power of simple phrases like, “I see how hard you’re working,” “You’re doing a great job,” “I’m proud of you,” or “Keep going.” They may not seem like much but they can be incredibly powerful and encouraging for a person in need of hearing them. These words may not be deep theological promises, but when genuinely spoken from one believer to another they are sacred weapons against loneliness, despondency, and discouragement.

As you consider these things, I exhort you to stop and think about who in your life is in need of encouragement today. Think about some of the most encouraging things others have said or done for you that you could imitate for them, and what promises of God might bless that person’s heart. Encourage others often and in specific ways, and you’ll see their spirits lift—and you may even put a smile on their face after all.
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