Have You Encouraged Anyone Lately?
ELENA was just 17 years old when doctors discovered that she had ovarian cancer. Her mother, Mari, had to cope with the anguish of seeing Elena in excruciating pain.
Eventually, Elena was transferred to a hospital in Madrid, Spain, 1,200 miles [1,900 km] from her home in the Canary Islands. In Madrid a team of doctors was willing to operate without blood. (Acts 15:28, 29) But shortly after the operation began, it became clear that Elena’s condition was terminal. The cancer had already spread throughout her body, and the surgeons could do little. Elena died eight days after arriving in Madrid.
Mari did not have to face that terrible ordeal alone. At their own expense, two Christian elders accompanied her and her eldest son to Madrid and remained there until Elena’s death. “They helped me fill the terrible void I felt inside,” explains Mari. “I will never forget the encouragement they gave me. Their spiritual support and practical help were invaluable. They were a true ‘hiding place from the wind.’”—Isaiah 32:1, 2.
Jehovah is pleased that loving shepherds such as these care for his sheep so tenderly. (Proverbs 19:17; 1 Peter 5:2-4) Giving encouragement, however, is not just the privilege of elders. All Christians meet together to receive spiritual instruction and to ‘encourage one another.’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Encouragement is an intrinsic part of Christian association.
What Does Encouragement Involve?
Just as a beautiful flower droops when deprived of water, so individuals—both in the family and in the congregation—can wilt from lack of encouragement. On the other hand, timely encouragement can fortify those who face temptation, lift the spirits of the depressed, and invigorate those who are serving God faithfully.
The Greek word translated “encouragement” includes the thought of consolation, exhortation, and comfort. Therefore, encouragement is not limited to telling someone he is doing well. It may also involve providing practical assistance and spiritual help.
Actually, the Greek word translated “encouragement” literally means “a calling to one’s side.” Walking side by side with our spiritual brothers and sisters enables us to give immediate support if one of them should tire out or stumble. (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10) Interestingly, Jehovah’s people “serve him shoulder to shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3:9) And the apostle Paul called a certain Christian a “genuine yokefellow.” (Philippians 4:3) Pulling together under the same yoke by serving shoulder to shoulder makes the load lighter, especially for those who are not spiritually strong.—Compare Matthew 11:29.
They Gave Encouragement
Since encouragement is so important, let us consider some Scriptural examples of it. When God’s prophet Moses was nearing the end of his life, Jehovah assigned Joshua to be the leader of the Israelites. This was not an easy assignment, as Moses himself well knew. (Numbers 11:14, 15) Hence, Jehovah told Moses to “commission Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him.”—Deuteronomy 3:28.
During the time of Israel’s judges, Jephthah’s daughter willingly complied with her father’s vow by giving up the possibility of having a family in order to serve at Jehovah’s sanctuary. Did her sacrifice go unnoticed? No, for Judges 11:40 says: “From year to year the daughters of Israel would go to give commendation to the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite, four days in the year.” Such visits must have been very encouraging to the self-sacrificing daughter of Jephthah.
Giving encouragement sometimes requires courage. During the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey, he encountered fierce opposition in several cities of Asia Minor. He was thrown out of Antioch, barely escaped execution in Iconium, and was stoned and left for dead at Lystra. Shortly thereafter, however, Paul and his companions returned to these cities, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: ‘We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.’” (Acts 14:21, 22) Paul was prepared to risk his life to encourage these new disciples.
Yet, new disciples are not the only Christians who need encouragement. Years later Paul experienced an arduous journey to Rome, where he was to stand trial. As he approached his destination, he may have been somewhat disheartened. But when he arrived at a point 46 miles [74 km] southeast of Rome, his spirits rose. Why? Because brothers from Rome had come to meet him at the Marketplace of Appius and Three Taverns. “Upon catching sight of them, Paul thanked God and took courage.” (Acts 28:15) On similar occasions, our just being present may be very encouraging to fellow believers.
Seize Opportunities to Give Encouragement
Many, indeed, are the opportunities to give encouragement. Was your heart moved by a good student talk delivered by a brother or a sister in the Theocratic Ministry School? Are you glad that there are spiritually strong teenagers in the congregation? Has the endurance of the elderly ones impressed you? Did you admire the way one of the pioneers used the Bible in the house-to-house ministry? Then give commendation, and say something encouraging.
Encouragement plays a vital role in the family as well as in the congregation. It can help parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Telling a child that he has done well, and explaining why, can be so encouraging! During the teenage years, when young ones face many temptations and pressures, constant encouragement is vital.
Lack of encouragement during childhood can be quite detrimental. Today Michael, a Christian elder, is outgoing, but he says: “My father never once said I did anything well. So I grew up lacking self-esteem. . . . Although I am now 50 years old, I still appreciate being reassured by my friends that I am doing a good job as an elder. . . . My own experience has taught me how important it is to give encouragement to others, and I go out of my way to give it.”
Who Needs Encouragement?
Hardworking Christian elders deserve encouragement. Paul wrote: “We request you, brothers, to have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you; and to give them more than extraordinary consideration in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13) It is easy to take the hard work of the elders for granted. But words of sincere appreciation and encouragement can make their load seem lighter.
Those among us who are enduring difficult circumstances also need encouragement. “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak,” the Bible counsels. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Single parents, widows, teenagers, the elderly, and the infirm are among those who may feel depressed or spiritually weak from time to time.
María is a Christian woman who suddenly found herself abandoned by her husband. She said: “Like Job, I wanted to die at times. [Job 14:13] Yet I kept going, thanks to the encouragement I received. Two elders, whom I knew very well, spent many hours helping me to see the value of continuing in full-time service. And two understanding sisters also consoled me, listening patiently as I poured out my heart. By using the Bible, they enabled me to see things from Jehovah’s viewpoint. I don’t know how many times we read Psalm 55:22, but I do know that by applying this scripture, I slowly recovered my spiritual and emotional balance. This all happened 12 years ago, and I am glad to say that I have continued in full-time service until now. My life is rewarding and happy despite occasional emotional pain. I am convinced that encouragement during a time like that can make a great deal of difference in a person’s life.”
Some need encouragement because they have made mistakes and are now struggling to rectify them. Perhaps they have received loving reproof. (Proverbs 27:6) The elders who have given the reproof can be alert to give commendation when they see that the Scriptural counsel is being applied. Their words of encouragement will have a double benefit—confirming their love for the erring one so that he does not become “overly sad” and reminding him of the benefits of applying the counsel.—2 Corinthians 2:7, 8.
A certain elder made a serious mistake and lost his privilege of oversight in the congregation. “When the announcement was made about my removal as an elder, I thought that the brothers would feel uncomfortable in my company,” he says. “Nevertheless, the elders kept the reason strictly confidential and went out of their way to give me encouragement. The rest of the congregation likewise extended love and companionship, which definitely promoted my spiritual recovery.”
In our busy lives, encouragement is easy to overlook. But how much good it can do! To give effective encouragement, you must keep two things in mind. First, think about what to say, so that your encouragement is specific. Second, look for the opportunity to approach a person who deserves commendation or who needs to be built up.
The more often you do this, the happier you will be. After all, Jesus assures us: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) By encouraging others, you will encourage yourself. Why not make it your aim to give encouragement to someone every day?