I often find myself in a role of encourager. A friend calls me up with a problem, a family member is distraught or discouraged over something, or even an acquaintance seems down about their day. And before I know it, I’m trying to help them and give them all the answers they need. I think encouraging others is a very good thing to do, but often I don’t feel like I’m truly encouraging. I come to the end of myself and there’s nothing more to give.
In my devotions the other day I stumbled across this verse in 1 Samuel: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) The NASB says encouraged him in God.
This struck me as being a biblical way to help those who need encouragement. Instead of wracking my brain for the right words for a pep talk, I can point my friends to the only One who has enough strength to help them get through their difficulty. My job is not to provide strength to others, but to help them find strength in God.
Think about it – if we think we’re supposed to provide strength for our friends, that actually enables them to continue to be weak. They’ll come to us when they need support, instead of going to God. And while that may seem great to people like myself who love to support and nurture others, it actually hinders both their spiritual walk and ours. It places myself in God’s place for both my life and my friend’s – and that is never a wise thing to do.
So does this mean that we should never encourage another person for fear of taking God’s place? Of course not! God says specifically in His word that people are made for community. Oftentimes He works through those around us to show us His love and care. The key is this: our role is to come alongside others in order to help them find their strength (or joy, contentment, love…) in Christ, not in ourselves.
So, how can we be true encouragers to those around us? Here’s three suggestions:
You can pray with them. Don’t just tell them you’ll pray for them and then begin spouting out your own wisdom – use the time to talk to the One who knows everything about that person and their situation. And when you do this in the presence of your friend, it will bless them more than anything else. It communicates to them that you care enough to take time and pray right then, that you understand enough of their pain to want to cry out to God on their behalf, that God is sovereign over their situation, and that He cares and really is listening to both of you.
You can also bring the conversation around to God and His word. This is something I had to learn when I was a teenager and had a friend who would always call me up and be so distraught over everything. I was a shy person who still was trying to figure out how to talk about God without sounding… well… cheesy. But I realized that if I tried to reason with my friend we would keep going around in circles. But if I asked her Have you prayed about this? or You know, God says this about your problem in His Word, then we would have a much more fruitful conversation. Of course this doesn’t mean that you have to be spouting verses left and right. Simply when you know God has spoken about this issue in His word, direct your friend towards that instead of giving them a general answer like “it will all work out.” Listen to the Holy Spirit, and He will bring the right words and verses to your mind.
And lastly, don’t try to answer all of your friend’s questions. You can’t. Point then to the God who can. Even if their question is about or against Him, He still has the answer for it. Recognize that you are finite and cannot completely fix the “problem” or smooth out all of their doubts.
And you know what? All of this hard work has a reward in it for you too. Your faith will be strengthened as you see your prayers for that person answered, as they begin to stand on their own spiritual feet and go to God first rather than you. And you may even find that the person you thought needed so much help will turn around and encourage you in the same way.