Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Did you know the word ‘encourage’ appears in the Bible more than 30 times? Its first appearance is in Deuteronomy, when the Lord is urging Israel to encourage Joshua, because he’ll be the one who leads God’s people to enter the Promised Land. The last time ‘encourage’ appears is very near the end of the Bible, in the book of Hebrews, chapter 6, where the writer is speaking of the hope found in Jesus, and of being encouraged to hold fast to this hope. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are told to encourage each other and those in leadership, so that they can pursue the goals He has mapped out – so that they can plod on and feel spurred on to run the race laid out for them.

If Joshua, who was one of Israel’s great leaders, and the early Christians; many of whom had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection or heard direct testimony from those who had, needed encouragement, then surely we also need it by the bucketful!?

Why then, are we, myself included, slow to encourage? Why do we feel awkward and British about telling someone they did a great job leading the worship today, or that their sermon was excellent? Why do we find it so much easier to point out the one thing that went wrong in a Sunday service, rather than the 99 things that went smoothly? Do our criticisms and nit-picks blind us to the fact that someone’s done a really great job, or inhibit us from telling them that?

I don’t really have definitive answers to the above questions, but I can look inside my own heart and ask why I fail to encourage sometimes. My answer: because I’m sinful, lazy, proud, selfish, indifferent, maybe even jealous at times… Ouch. Maybe that rings true for you too? Or maybe you fail to encourage others because you don’t think it’s important… or you think the person will do just fine without a kind word from you. But what if everyone thought that way? There would be no encouragers in the church, and we’d all feel a bit down in the dumps, uncertain if we were doing OK.

Whilst we don’t rely on the praise of men, sometimes we could all do with an encouraging word. Even those people who seem to have it all together… in fact, they are probably the people who get the least encouragement and therefore need it the most.

There have been seasons in my life when encouragements from fellow Christians have been the primary means God has used to sustain me and enable me to persevere in the midst of difficult circumstances. I’m sure there are countless others who’ve been on the verge of packing it all in, when a word in season has lifted their spirits and brought them back from feelings of desperation and exhaustion.

Our words can be life-giving. We can sustain people. We can minister Christ’s love and grace. We can bless.

So what are we waiting for?