During the last couple of weeks, the focus of our thoughts has been on the ministry of encouragement. You can tell an encouraging person almost the moment you meet them, can’t you? An encourager is one who understands God’s grace, and God’s love for people. More importantly, the encourager realizes the message that needs to be shared is the victory that God has secured over the turmoil of the world and the treacherous nature of the Devil.

The Bible talks about a man who embodied the spirit of encouragement. In the book of Acts, Luke writes concerning Barnabas, a man who was known for his passion to encourage. Our studies have shown how he was able to be an encouragement to many, but particularly to the Apostle Paul and to the gospel writer Mark.

Strong leaders have the ability to encourage those around them to reach their potential. If you are a leader — and most of us function in that capacity in some aspect of our life — then you have to be an encourager. Tony Dungy, sports analyst and longtime coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, once wrote, “Encouragement is the fuel that powers our efforts to engage, educate and equip” others to be successful.

John Maxwell, best-selling author and leadership expert, said, “My passion in life is growing and equipping others to do remarkable things and lead significant and fulfilled lives.” Maxwell has spoken around the world to Fortune 500 company leaders, university staff and students, and both church and community leaders.

Maxwell identifies three principles that are key to encouraging the potential in the people you care about and want to help grow. The first principle he notices is that we should be quick to listen.

One of the lessons we should have learned this year is that we live in a world that desperately desires to be heard. People have taken to the streets demanding others recognize their message and acknowledge that actions need to be taken to correct perceived wrongs. The process starts when we are willing to listen.

When you go out of your way to listen — whether it be to the person in line at the grocery store, the individual you work with, or your 10-year-old — you are actually speaking to them in volumes. You are communicating that this person speaking to you has value and importance to you. The better your listening skills, the more people will seek your advice.

The second point Maxwell makes is that we need to be quick to laugh. Victor Borge was a Danish-American comedian, conductor and pianist. He achieved popularity in the early days of radio and television in America and Europe. Though a musical prodigy who began piano lessons at the age of 2, Borge was driven by an incredible positive outlook on life. He once said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”

We live in a stressed-out world that is enduring pressure-packed times. Members of the restaurant industry — and everyone who is touched by the industry, from waiters and entertainers to suppliers and delivery people — are worried where their paychecks will come from during the next three weeks. Will particular restaurants and chains even survive another economic crisis?

A husband in a young family wanders home with the message that a co-worker has tested positive for the virus. The husband, and now his wife, will be quarantined for the next two weeks. Their ability to earn a living, and more importantly, their chances to connect and communicate with others significantly changed for the worse.

What would make that person laugh in such a time of crisis? Not needing a comedy routine, the smile would come from someone who reached out with care and assistance. The verses of Scripture that introduced us to Barnabas said “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34a). An encourager has an eye for people in need, and you have to be really good at looking because people don’t like for their needs to be seen.

Filling the gas tank for the restaurant worker who isn’t working will bring a smile to both your faces. Sending a home-cooked meal to the quarantined family will lessen the social distance in a physically-distanced world. Perhaps Borge was on to something.

Maxwell’s final point is that we need to be quick to encourage. When we take the time to look, we see positive things in others that they don’t see in themselves. When someone else notices it — and verbally points it out — it helps the person take steps toward growing in that potential.

We live in a world that tells us we are not enough. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish what we want to accomplish. There aren’t enough moments for me to take the time to spend with you. You didn’t get the raise because you just aren’t quite good enough.

An encourager is good at spotting potential in a person. They are able to see an unused talent or gift. Somehow the encourager can sharpen a little used tool, ignite an ember of passion in an unrecognized interest. The encourager has a way of showcasing for display a previously unpolished fruit.

Barnabas saw an unpolished fruit in the life of Saul. When he was given the task of encouraging new believers outside Jerusalem in a city called Antioch, his first thought was this would be the perfect opportunity for Saul. Barnabas immediately went to Tarsus and looked for Saul, probably had to talk him into joining the effort. But after a whole year, the believers in Antioch were first to be called Christians there. And Saul was now called Paul.

You can make a difference by being an encourager. You can do this by investing time in a person, by praying for guidance and direction, by providing accountability, but most of all by leading the cheers when the person takes the first step.

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.

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