The Awkward Duty of Encouragement

The Awkward Duty of Encouragement

We understand that joy comes to us when others encourage us, but we don’t always think about how we gain joy when we encourage others. It’s easy to tear down, to disparage, to be critical. It’s hard to build up, spur others to godly action, and find the good in others. But to spur men to grow in Christ, they need to be encouraged. One of the gifts that Jesus uses to bring joy even in tribulations is the work of encouragement. Obviously, this best happens in the context of a church.

Remember that old beer commercial? A father and son are fishing on a pier in a stereotypical guy situation. On the verge of tears, the grown son pronounces to the father, “Dad, you’re my dad, and I love you, man.” It’s super awkward, until Dad gives the punchline: “Johnny, you can’t have my beer.” It was humorous, and went viral, because guys know you don’t do that. Why is encouragement so awkward for guys?

I can hazard some guesses. It’s emotional. Guys get uncomfortable when guys get emotional. And when emotion goes over the top, they look silly. Men don’t like silly. Moreover, in today’s gender-confused world, guys wonder how to express themselves to other guys. So we don’t. At other times, it can make the one you’re trying to encourage uncomfortable. I remember trying to complement a young pastor who preached an excellent sermon, and his response was a mild rebuke: “You know, Mack, flattery is a sin.”

Why go out of my way when it’s easier just to stay quiet? Besides, most guys seem to be doing fine anyway, right? Encouragement, however, is not just a good idea, but a biblical command — yes, even for men.

We could come at encouragement from many angles, but I’d like to learn from how God encourages the apostle Paul while he was under arrest, headed for trial in Rome. The risen Christ stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Encouragement here came in three parts: past, present, and future.

Revisit Past Faithfulness

If there’s anything I have learned in my life, it’s how forgetful I am of Christ’s care. I have never risked for God without seeing his faithfulness. From taking that big scary step to lead a dorm Bible study as a new believer to moving to Iraq to pastor a church when I was 60, God was with me in those steps (and thousands of others). Yet with every step, I needed encouragement from friends and family and deep dives into Scripture to remember God’s trustworthiness.

I’m not alone in my forgetfulness. The Bible often encourages us by calling us to remember God’s faithfulness. This shines particularly brightly in the Psalms as the writers encourage God’s people, even amid despair and fear, to remember our Lord’s salvation (see Psalms 42–43).

No wonder our Lord has built remembrances into the believer’s life, from the Passover meal in Exodus to the meal instituted by Jesus. Alongside these, we ought to regularly speak encouragement to one another. Paul, for instance, tells the Thessalonians, “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Over and again, in both the Old Testament and the New, we’re encouraged to remember the great salvation we have in Christ. That’s the key: the gospel. We’re called to encourage one another by remembering the work Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. So, encourage others specifically by reminding them of how God has worked in their past.

Take Heart in the Moment

The Bible also calls us to be encouraged in the moment. The greatest discouragements meet us in current moments: the hard news of a wayward child, the cancer diagnosis, the job loss, that unexplained darkness that descends upon our minds.

In Psalm 27:14, David says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” This is patience in a moment of discouragement. The “take a deep breath; the Lord is with us” moment. When God encouraged Moses, the great promise was “I will go with you” (Exodus 33:14). God promises his presence in our consecutive moments.

One repeated way encouragement happens in the Bible is through fellowship. What a difference it makes to be surrounded by faithful believers during our hardest days.

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