First of all, what is encouragement? Encouragement is the process of inspiring others to live with greater hope, confidence, and determination. In other words, to encourage is to inspire courage. Practically speaking, when one has caused other people to feel more positive and confident after interacting with them, he has encouraged them. It is true that there are certain times in our lives where we need a lot of encouragement from others, but we should endeavor everyday to provide encouragement to others. I believe that you are needed as an encourager today!
Can humans really live without encouragement? One might be able to survive without it, but if we truly want to live (i.e., experience a quality existence), we are going to have to get encouragement from someone or something (e.g., the Bible). Infants require a lot of encouragement--touching and love--in order to thrive. Teenagers also require encouragement in order to flourish. Attempted suicide, for instance, is an obvious indication of deep discouragement, and gang involvement is another cry for help. If adolescents do not receive attention and support from parents, they will find it among peers. The desire to belong is so strong that many will put themselves in great personal jeopardy to satisfy it. Numerous types of risky or self-destructive behavior are related to a lack of encouragement. What is true for babies and young people is also true for adults. Although adults will receive lots of discouragement from a variety of sources, we all need strong doses of encouragement to thrive.
Take a moment to consider: Who is the most encouraging person you have ever met? What makes him or her stick out in your mind above the multitude of people that you know? For me, it is a couple--Larry and Essie Mae Fryer. They are, without a doubt, the most encouraging people I know (though they would deny it due to their humble nature). This fine Christian couple worked with the Clinton congregation for five years in the late 1990s. When I first met the Fryers, I was a senior in high school and planning to go to college and pursue a math degree (or perhaps several--mathematics had always been my forte). A year later, the Fryers had successfully encouraged me to become a gospel preacher. Then, for nearly four years, they helped me in my studies and growth as a Christian and preacher of the gospel. Other than my mother and wife, the Fryers have influenced my life for good in a bigger way than anyone else.
What qualities are commonly shared by those we deem to be exceptional encouragers? Generally, those we view as outstanding encouragers (like Barnabas, Acts 4:36) are optimistic and enthusiastic. They have a quiet self-confidence that enables them to focus on others rather than demanding constant attention to fulfill their own emotional needs. They listen in a way that makes people feel understood. They are patient and slow to judge. They make time for others and help them feel special. They rejoice in people's personal victories and are sincerely excited for them (cf. Rom. 12:15). Those who lack these qualities tend to drive others away rather than draw them closer. Those who lack these qualities are likely to discourage others, even if they do not intend to do such.
We will continue on this theme in our next lesson.