By Karen O’Connor
My husband Charles nodded and smiled as he held the phone to his ear. Then a frown creased his forehead and he shook his head. What’s going on? I wondered. I was eager to hear what the telephone conversation was about. He hung up. His smile returned, and he shared with me the request he’d received from the minister of our church to head up a men’s ministry.
“Of course I was flattered,” he said, and then paused. “On second thought, maybe he couldn’t find anyone else to do the work.” He laughed.
I knew better. Charles would be an ideal person to lead almost any group that involved prayer and counsel. But it wasn’t for him—especially now that he’s over 80 years of age. “No,” he said, “I’ll leave that workload to the younger guys. I know what God wants of me at this time of life.” The twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. Here was a man with a new mission. “He’s asking me to be an encourager and that’s exactly what I want to be.”
The Brunch Bunch
While I was out of town recently, Charles invited the seven men who make up the minister’s prayer team to brunch at our house. He vacuumed and dusted, prepared the food, set the table as only he can do, and then asked one man to be in charge of prayer and another to lead the group in singing.
“There’s nothing I would change about that day,” he reported with joy in his voice when we talked later that day. “And that’s something, coming from a self-proclaimed perfectionist.”
Our minister’s mother had died just weeks before, so Charles made sure the men gave him plenty of time to share stories and memories of his life with her. “It was a sweet time,” Charles said. “I hope he felt encouraged by all of us.”
“Charles, do you realize what’s happening?” I blurted.
“No, what?” he asked, a bit startled.
“You are ministering to men—just not in a formal way. You’re an encourager and that’s a ministry in itself. And what you pulled off was also an expression of your gift of hospitality.”
“Hey, you’re right. Isn’t that wonderful?”
We both fell silent for a moment. How like God to encourage Charles by asking him to do the same for others in a way that is true to his personality and gifts.
A Model of Encouragement
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
My friend Grace Robley, now deceased, taught me everything I know about encouragement when I went to her for counsel as a young Christian in my 40s. I was filled with sadness over a divorce I never wanted, separation from my children for a time, and a difficult relationship with my father over a painful issue we were unable to resolve until many years later.
Grace kept her eyes on the Lord and redirected my focus to him when I was worried or anxious. “Listen to my teaching,” she often said, “but never put it ahead of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Talk things over with him and he’ll lead you.” I have never forgotten her encouraging words.
Maybe you have a person in your life like my friend Grace or my husband Charles who has stood by you during tough times—a good friend, a family member, a church leader, a neighbor. In turn you can do the same for someone else. There is no magic about it! Here are five (of the many) ways to become an encourager.
Finding Potential in Others
Be devoted to one another in love (Romans 12:10).
My stomach clutched at the sight of a former friend when we bumped into each other at a wedding. Immediately I thought about the words she’d hurled at me years before when we disagreed about something important to each of us. I don’t remember the details but I do recall my feelings. I took a deep breath and went up to her and said hello. She’s a child of God, I reminded myself, just as I am. Look for the good in her and hope she’ll do the same for you.
I was surprised by her warm hug and genuine smile. “It is so good to see you, Karen. I’ve missed you. Can we start over?”
“Of course. I’ve missed you too.”
That said, we updated each other on our lives and committed to meeting for coffee in the near future. Clearly, God had changed her. He had changed me too.
The Value of Honesty
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3:27).
“I was nervous about telling it like it is,” my neighbor Les told my husband and me while reviewing a conversation he’d had with a friend. “The man drinks too much, plain and simple. I don’t know if he’ll take my suggestion to get into Alcoholics Anonymous, but I couldn’t hold back. I want him to get well and to have the good life he could if he stopped abusing alcohol.”
That incident reminded me of a conversation a woman initiated with me when I was feeling sorry for myself over my first husband leaving our family. She looked me in the eye and said, “You can keep complaining or you can take God’s hand and step into the new life he has for you.” Her stern words took the air out of me, but later I thanked her for her honesty. I went into counseling, returned to church, and joined a recovery group. I knew the truth when I heard it—and God gave me the courage to act on it.
Turning Away from Gossip
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies (Psalm 34:13).
It’s easy to hang out in the lunchroom at work, joining the complaints about superiors or fellow employees, or to pass along a story you overheard at the grocery store, a party, or even at church. But consider the good seeds you’d sow in people’s lives if you turned the gossip on its head with something positive on behalf of the people being criticized. You might stop the offenders in their tracks by showing a different point of view.
Responding with Kindness
Love is patient; love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).
Imagine responding to thoughtless words and actions with understanding and respect. Someone treats you rudely in a store, shouts at you in a parking lot, or condemns you for a decision he or she disagrees with and you say simply, “Thanks for sharing your opinion. You could be right. I’ll give that some thought.” People are so accustomed to being demoralized and insulted in our culture they’d do a double take if someone actually answered them with care. And think of how good you’d feel to offer encouragement instead of a counterattack.
The Value of Prayer
He will call on me, and I will answer him (Psalm 91:15).
Prayer is the best form of encouragement, allowing you to intercede in person or when alone. You can be an encourager to people you don’t even know. Consider how vast your reach could be if you chose three or four individuals or groups of people to pray for each day. Start with those closest to you and expand from there.
A small gift, a loving touch, a visit, or a much-needed prayer can bless others with encouragement and hope. And it doesn’t stop there because the Lord promises that as we give, so will he give to our own needy hearts.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer in Watsonville, California.
Send Some Encouragement
One way you can be an encourager is through cards and notes. Don’t you love to open your mailbox and find an envelope personally addressed to you—something that’s not a bill?
Why not consider encouraging others digitally as well? Try sending e-cards (digital versions of cards you send in the mail) to friends.
Here are some companies that offer encouragement e-cards:
Click on “Care & Encouragement” in the menu on the left side of the page.
Click on “Care And Concern” on the “Find it Quick” dropdown menu on the left side of the page.
Click on “Encourage & Support” in the menu on the left side of the page.
Click on “Inspirational” in the menu at the top of the page.