A couple years ago I was invited to receive some training to become a certified coach for the family of churches I belong to. I was informed that the training would help me coach people who were planting churches, and it would also help me be a much better leader in the local church I was serving. “Sign me up!” I thought.
Before we began the training, we were supposed to read Bob Logan’s Coaching 101. In typical fashion, and in full disclosure, I made sure to semi-read the book on the flight down to the training location in Nashville. As I read the book, however, I found myself constantly thinking that what I was reading was much different than what I envisioned coaching to be. You see, in my experience of playing numerous sports at a competitive level, I assumed coaching simply meant that I could yell at people a lot and tell them what to do and what not to do. Most of my coaches in high school and in college seemed to do those things well, and I knew I could be really good at yelling at people, too.
Yet as I read Logan’s book and spent time going through the coach training, I came to understand that the type of coaching I was being invited into was much different than my expectations. In fact, I was learning that good coaching was really just a lot of good encouragement. Our team of potential coaches were training to help people process their ideas by asking the right questions in order to best encourage people!
The reality is, it took a lot of work for me to become better at encouraging people. I went through training, had numerous discussions, received my own coaching, and practiced coaching others in order to become one. It was very challenging and took a lot of time, but the rewards have been really good.
But guess what? Not everyone has to spend a year being trained on how to be encouraging (though training can always help). There actually seem to be many people who are especially empowered by the Holy Spirit to encourage others. Have you ever come into contact with someone like that? They just seem to really encourage you, support you, and are simply just there for you? Or perhaps you are someone who constantly is encouraging others! What you may or may not realize is that encouragement is a very important focus within Scripture.
There are actually numerous examples of the importance of encouragement in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul’s last words in his second letter to the Corinthians told the church to “Be joyful, grow to maturity” and “encourage each other” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT). This emphasis on the importance of encouraging and being encouraged appears to be standard to Paul. He sent a man named Tychicus to encourage the hearts of the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:22), whom he also sent to the Colossians for the same reason (Colossians 4:8). This is the same reason why Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 3:2). Paul commonly challenged the churches he was affiliated with to “encourage each other and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11 NLT).
GIFTED TO ENCOURAGE
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans the following concerning this spiritual gift:
“If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.” (Romans 12:8 NLT)
On one hand, there’s not a lot of really deep theoretical reflection behind this verse. On the other hand, it’s deeply practical. If the Holy Spirit helps you to be encouraging… be encouraging! So what is the spiritual gift of encouragement? What does it mean to be encouraging? Is the spiritual gift of encouragement the same thing as the type of encouragement that is listed in all of the previous verses mentioned? What is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and being encouraging?
When Paul writes of the gift of encouragement, he uses the Greek word parakaleō, which can be defined as the act of instilling someone with courage by cheering them on, comforting them, and just being overall encouraging. It’s where someone comes alongside another person and inspires them in a way that gives them peace, courage, and comfort. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, stated, “The teacher transmits knowledge; the encourager stimulates.” In some way, shape, and fashion, those with the spiritual gift of encouragement are able to stimulate a sense of courage and strength into people. The value of this spiritual gift in the ancient world cannot be appreciated enough, as Leon Morris notes:
“For many people in the early church life was a pretty grim affair; there must have been a continuing need for people who could encourage others, and it is interesting to find that there were people who had a gift for this sort of thing.”
I think many of us in today’s culture would argue that a great need for encouragement exists today and that the Holy Spirit appears to be working through many people to bring this gift into the life of today’s Church.
ENCOURAGED TO LIVE FOR CHRIST & THE KINGDOM
A number of biblical scholars believe that the context of Romans 12:8 indicates that the Apostle Paul was probably thinking the type of encouragement coming from this spiritual gift was toward living out the truth of the gospel. He envisioned people, under the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing encouraging thoughts and words to others in order to stimulate their lives and continue centering on Jesus, his mission (which is our mission), and the overall cause of the kingdom.
When I was a teenager and struggling in my faith, I had a hard time trusting God. While I believed in God and knew that Jesus had died for people’s sins, I had a hard time accepting those truths for myself. God seemed very distant and most of what I heard from Christians seemed to apply to everyone but me. I had a hard time understanding God’s love and desire to have a relationship with me.
Looking back on that season of my life, I can now see that God used a man named Monte to encourage me. Monte was a good friend of my parents and our families tended to spend a lot of time together. Every time I was around Monte, he was encouraging. He had what appeared to be an uncanny ability to always say the things that I needed to hear. Sometimes he would talk to me for thirty minutes and sometimes it was just a few sentences. No matter the length of our conversations, I was always encouraged. His conversations challenged me to keep seeking after God’s presence and kingdom (Matt. 6:33) and to not give up.
PRAYING FOR THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
The Apostle Paul writes several times to the Corinthians that they should desire the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 39). One of the ways that we can respond and apply this command to desire spiritual gifts is to begin praying for the Holy Spirit to empower us with them! Imagine if every Christian started praying to God and asking for him to bless us with gifts of encouragement for the sake of the world around us. The Church would make an immediate impact on the lives of people.
In my opinion, it makes perfect sense to ask the Holy Spirit for more encouragement because the Holy Spirit himself is referred to by Jesus as the Encourager and Comforter! In John 14:16, Jesus told his disciples that the Father would give them another Encourager (Advocate or Comforter). Therefore, praying to the Great Encourager for the gift of encouragement seems to make good sense.
Perhaps the following prayer would be helpful:
“Holy Spirit, thank you for your presence. Thank you for making the love of God the Father and Jesus’ work on the cross real to me. Thank you for inviting me into your kingdom and allowing me to partner with you in your work. Would you please empower me with gifts of encouragement so that I may stimulate the lives of those around me to live powerfully for the cause of Christ? Would you give me the right words and the right actions to help comfort those around me? Help me to be aware of opportunities to be a blessing. In Jesus name, amen.”
If you prayed those words (or similar words), might I suggest you take a few minutes and think about the following two questions:
• Who around me could use some encouragement?
• How can I be encouraging to them?
You may not think you have the right words to say to encourage people, but you’d be surprised. Often times it’s those little things we say and do that make such a huge impact. In a world where people often feel undervalued and unappreciated, any positive encouragement can go a long way. Especially when our words or actions come from a place intent on sharing God’s heart with people, we can give God all the glory.