Human beings are social creatures instilled by God with an innate desire to spend time with other people. That is why isolation is such a powerful form of punishing antisocial behavior. Disruptive prisoners are placed in solitary confinement. Disobedient children are sent to their rooms. Although everyone has an occasional need to be alone, prolonged isolation can be psychologically painful or even damaging.
When people come together, they have a lasting influence on those with whom they interact. Whether that influence is helpful or hurtful depends on the development and utilization of encouragement skills. Encouragers are people who are unusually effective in relating to others in a positive way. They are pleasant to be around because of their optimism and enthusiasm about life. They radiate a quiet self-confidence which enables them to focus on others rather than demanding constant attention to fulfill their emotional needs.
Encouragement builds healthy self-esteem. It enables people to live with themselves despite their human frailties and imperfections. At the same time, it provides the power needed to make significant changes in personality and behavior. The goal is not self-satisfaction but self-acceptance during a lifetime of spiritual growth.
Encouragers make excellent friends, endearing family members, and highly productive employees. They also are extremely effective as Christians. Christianity is a relationship religion, and encouragement is the chief element in all good personal relationships.
Godly Encouragers from the Past
Encouragement is more than a trend in popular psychology. It is a biblical ministry. In addition to direct commands to encourage (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13), the Bible provides numerous examples of godly men and women practicing this spiritual art. Moses, for instance, was commanded by God to encourage Joshua who was about to take his place as national leader of Israel. "Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see" (Deut. 3:27-28).
Hezekiah spoke reassuring words to the discouraged people of Jerusalem during the siege of the city by the Assyrian King Sennacharib. "Then he set military captains over the people, gathered them together to him in the open square of the city gate, and gave them encouragement saying, 'Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.' And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah" (2 Chron. 32:6-8).
Paul was one of the greatest encouragers in New Testament times. Even in jail, he continually looked for opportunities to lift people's spirits. Most notable was his letter-writing ministry to churches in Ephesus, Philippi and Colosse. "For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ" (Col. 2:1-2).