Reviving Encouragement

What I learned transitioning from high school into college swimming was how crucial an encouraging team really was.  I favored swimming because it was much easier to identify who was good and who was not.  Team sports (specifically water polo) frustrated me due to the politics.  Yet, at the same time I still enjoyed it in a way I could not swimming and was unable to pin point.  It was because of the power of team, but more specifically a unified team based on an environment of encouragement.  My coaches were great at putting a priority on unity and encouragement, even when challenged at times. When a team is unified it can be the most beautiful and powerful thing.  The collective of all those various strengths accomplishes far above what one can do (for the individual and the whole).    Scripture puts it the best, in Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Alone, it is far easier to fall short.  Motivation when alone is such a fragile thing.  When I would have to do workouts on my own even jumping into the pool was challenging!  I could easily talk myself out of it, especially if I did not think of my responsibility to the team as a whole. But add even one other person and it is potent how that shifts everything. We can encourage, hold each other accountable, and best of all have more fun in the process no matter how challenging or hard the mission faced.

I believe as a culture we have lost the art of encouragement which is the back bone to any unified team. We have become complacent encouragers, in the light of being all about self-promotion. Maybe it’s because we are more critical and judgmental as a whole, maybe it is an increase in the “selfie” fad, or maybe it’s the growing epidemic of entitlement? My guess is it’s a blend of all of the above. I have fallen into all three of those categories at least at some point in my life so I’m not on a soap box here, just highlighting truth.  Now, how we got here matters less than what are we going to do about it now?  I believe genuine encouragement is a crucial component to the solution.  As a culture our encouragement muscles have grown flabby, we need to get their lazy bones off the couch and put to work!

Like any good workout you must first learn the exercise you’re going to do. In this case we must learn what to do and not to do to encourage.

What not to do:

-       superficial flattery

-       Believe it is weak to encourage.

-       Underestimate its power

-       Think it is short lived (encouragement has no expiration)

-       Believe it diminishes the giver

What is encouragement really then?

-       The ACTION of giving someone support, confidence and hope.

-       To “put strength in”.

Be intentional and consistent with encouragement. It gets you out of an inward focus into pouring out into others.  And when you do that here is the amazing thing, the strength you pour into others always ends up spilling over and is poured back into you.  It’s a gift that multiplies over and over. In Romans 1:11-12 Paul describes it as being “Mutually encouraged.”

 “I long to see youso that I may impart to you some spiritual giftto make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” 

What this scripture shows me is that Paul knew the value of building others up as he poured out encouragement on a spiritual level to help others lay hold of their individual gifts.  The result of his investment was not only the return back to him, but to the sphere of influence of the leaders he poured into.

If the benefits are mutually inclusive why do we so easily forget to do this?  When we encounter pain or challenge our default tends to be selfish.  Our vision goes into zoom onto that specific issue and ourselves versus the big picture and the parts that others have in it.

To highlight this let me use being in a workout as an example. Selfishness for me has a tendency to be amplified when physical pain comes in.  During really rough workouts I’d be too consumed with what my own body is doing that my thoughts go inward.  It takes enough energy to simply keep going, much less making the effort to encourage others seems like it’d be just too much. But every time I’d do it anyway that would take my mind off the pain my own body is feeling and onto other things.  Even in the midst of my pain I can encourage and find the strength to keep going myself.  I was made for this after all!  God gave me this talent and this capacity.  The pain is there yes, but it is a reminder that I’m truly alive, healthy and able, and also being strengthened at the same time.  If I stay in my boxed in thinking I only get the company of my own pain.  If I shift focus to see who needs encouragement around me the pain felt diminishes my enjoyment and my endurance increases.  It had to be genuine though, otherwise it was just wasted breath.

So here is my challenge to you and I today.  IN the moments of pain look up and around you to see who else is struggling with something similar or not.  Encourage them in that moment you think of them.  Then notice your own passion boost up.  Keep doing this for a week and see how not only you are lifted to a new level but those you’re encouraging as well.

Let me start it off:

YOU were made for this!  You are here in your city, with your family, and your friends for such a time as this and by design!  Everything, absolutely EVERYTHING, you need to live an extraordinary life God has put in you. Where you lack He is there as your ever present help.  He will be with you in the journey to activate it all and above what you have dreamed of to this point.  Press into the Holy Spirit and see Him use you mightily in this day, and all the days to come. You are more than a conqueror through Christ who loves you!