No one can argue against the value and importance of encouragement. The former post on this blog affirms the role that encouraging others ought to have in our lives. Every believer should leave others, especially other believers, better than the way we found them.
But how might we become better encouragers? We live in a cynical, critical and competitive world—encouragement may not be first nature to many. There is a way to develop an encouraging nature, to ready our hearts and minds for every opportunity to edify. In light of the scriptural imperative to encourage, and the powerful impact encouragement can have on others, consider the following as one way to improve:
Intercession (prayer for others) builds an empathetic, eager infrastructure for a lifestyle of encouragement.
First of all, intercession is a great gig all by itself without forcing it to be a means by which another virtue is developed. But in this case, since the shoe fits…let’s see how this works. What we’ll see is that the same basic principles that are at work in intercession equip us to become better encouragers. Here’s how:
Intercession agrees with Heaven about another person
When I intercede for someone else, I begin by considering what heaven says about them. (Not incidentally, intercession helps me regularly and affectionately thinking about others, instead of keeping my radar focused on me.) What do the scriptures affirm as true with regard to how God sees them, what He has done for them, and what is true about them in light of the finished work of Jesus? And further, what does the Holy Spirit say about them? His voice always encourages (consider that 1 Cor. 14 explains that His voice edifies either the speaker or the spoken to – only and always). These things are true about the person not because of their conduct, but because of their identity, calling and inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:17-18). I pray these things, these truths, over the person. I agree with heaven about them. That is intercession. And, coincidentally, that carries right over into encouragement. I can “say” the same truths that I “pray.” I can (should) speak to people about and in the light of who they are because of what God has done for them in Christ, and about the joyful, hopeful, powerful implications thereof. Encouragement is agreeing with heaven about someone to their face.
Intercession Follows Love’s Promptings
Having considered and agreed with heaven, I can intercede further by immersing my heart and mind into the love of God for a person, and then praying according to Love’s inspiration. What does Love prompt me to feel or think toward them in the moment? Pray accordingly. The same is true for encouragement. Trust the leadership of Love. This is fantastic exercise to cultivate divine empathy for others. Again, I can “say” the same truths that I “pray.” Listening and responding to Love’s prompting is a powerful means of encouragement, enabling me to become a conduit of the love of God.
Intercession Gives Thanks
Reading Paul’s prayers of intercession, one cannot miss that Paul expressed gratitude toward God for those he prayed, even as he asked for great things for them. When praying over others, it is powerful and practical to pause and deliberately affirm before God how and why we are grateful for them. This, again, will condition us to readily express our appreciation to others. Gratitude is very encouraging, whether general or specific. Use both. Express gratitude for the “general” things about a person (that will help shape and enforce their sense of identity) and for the specific things they are or do (that will affirm their uniqueness and value).
With intercession, you are not the expert
When I pray for others, I am not primarily expressing my opinion to God. I don’t treat my opinion as the primary objective standard by which God should act. The same is true for encouragement; it is not primarily about my opinion. Encouragement is rarely advice. It should never have as its goal the desire to control or direct someone’s behavior, getting then to say or do or decide what I think is right for them. That is mentoring or managing – and those are based on a set of shared expectations, where a measure of control is granted to another party by permission. Encouragement doesn’t require permission, because it is not an instrument of control. I can pray for you all day (and you may not even know about it), and I can encourage at-will without even asking. I seek only to grace you and not govern you. Encouragement goes in the gas tank; it does not reach for the steering wheel.
Leaving people better than we found them:
Intercession and encouragement go hand-in-glove; they work well together. Both are grace-gifts that help us leave people better than we found them. They are happy habits, practicing one helps us with the other. I’d suggest starting with intercession, but don’t wait to encourage. After all, it is “today.”