We are good at encouraging others with an arm around the shoulder, or kind words, or a prayer. We will try to pick one another up when we feel down. We will seek to support one another in tough times, often trying to give one another something good to focus on instead of the difficult circumstances.
We need to keep doing that, but, I wonder if there’s a particular type of encouragement that we don’t do so well, or so often.
On my Sunday off I was worshipping in the church I grew up in. I got chance to catch up with a bunch of good friends. One lad in particular I had seen the day before too and we’d had a good chat about what he was up to at the moment. He's 10 years my junior and I've know him his whole life. At church he encouraged me in two particular ways.
First of all he was singing. That might sound strange but lads his age often shy away from singing, unless it's at a football match.
Secondly, he had a notebook with him for sermon notes. Again, not something all 20-somethings do, in fact, not something many people do full stop.
I didn't get chance to speak to him personally about it on Sunday so I sent him a text on Monday morning saying pretty much what I just wrote above and encouraging him to keep going strong in the Lord.
I wanted him to know that his commitment to Lord was evident, that God was working in his life (as far as I could see), and that it was great to witness that.
I also wanted to be specific, not just generally saying I was encouraged by him. That might have made him feel good but to know what specifically encouraged me will challenge him to keep going.
That's the kind of thing we can all do, it’s simple and it’s quick, and yet it's something I rarely do. To my shame that’s the first time I think I have specifically encouraged someone like that for ages.
I'm not great at encouraging people, but I want to be better at it. I think I expect others will do it. But will they actually?
I did what I did because we all need more encouragement in our Christian faith and because seeing him doing those things brought me great joy.
I hope by God's grace to notice things like this more in people's lives and then to tell them that it is blessing to see God working in them.
We all need encouragement to keep going, to look to Jesus when times are tough, to persevere when hope seems lost.
We need to keep pointing one another to Jesus.
We are a family in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and we need one another.
There's plenty of things in this world to discourage us, plenty of things that will bring us down.
In our lives we can often feel discouraged by sins we know we struggle with, and when we give in we can feel like we’ve gone backwards, we feel we are growing less holy rather than more so.
It is much easier for us to see spiritual growth in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. So let’s encourage one another.
Some of you might be thinking, “I don’t want to make them big headed by praising them.” Then my response is, make sure you tell them that you are thanking God or praising God for His work in their lives and praying that it will continue. That’s not inflating their ego, it’s delighting in God’s grace and spurring a brother or sister on.
Encouragement is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8) and yet it is not always one we think about or seek after, if we seek after any at all.
Look at Barnabas, "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), who is willing to take a chance on Mark when Paul will not (Acts 15:36-39). They disagree sharply and part ways.
But look at the result; later in Paul's life Mark is of great value to him (2 Tim 4:11). Would that have been the case of Barnabas had not encouraged him?
Let's seek to encourage one another.
I’d love us to be a church full of encouragers like Barnabas. And I pray it starts with me.