The spiritual gift of encouragement – What is it?
The gift of encouragement is listed in Romans 12:8 as a spiritual gift (some translations use “exhortation”). What is this gift?
The word encouragement used in this verse is from the Greek word parakletos that can mean to exhort, come alongside of, comfort, or encourage. The Holy Spirit is referred to as our Paraclete in John 14:16 as One who comes alongside the believer to comfort and help in times of need.
All Christians are called to encourage others: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Believers can encourage one another through time together, encouraging words, letters, prayers, and other means.
First, let us understand the science of how encouragement and it’s opposite, criticism effects our mind.
Encouragement generally works in an opposite way to criticism. So, while criticism produces fear, anxiety, stress and anger, it can narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration and decrease our cognitive abilities, encouragement can do the opposite. When we’re feeling upbeat and happy, or confident we’re more likely to have an inclusive focus rather than a self-centered outlook. In the face of criticism, our brains struggle to perform at their highest—or even normal—capacity. Criticism causes a shift in our brain activity causing our amygdala to get jacked up with a potential fight or flight response. When we’re stressed or scared, we struggle to think clearly, to coordinate well with others, to take in new information and to come up with new ideas. Even common routines suffer, as our concentration is taken over by our response to criticism. The more intense the pressure, the more our performance and thinking will suffer. The Bible literally has many verses that speak encouragement into our lives through a multitude of challenges that we all may embrace. I am one who needs that encouragement in my life because there is negativity crouching at every corner in the world. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who complains about everything that is going wrong in there life? They seem helpless in the conversation and end up verbally ‘puking’ their problems on to you? My first reaction used to be to small talk my way out of the direction it was going, not offering any encouragement or criticism which is just as unhelpful. Through counseling and studying about the importance of connection in relationships, I have discovered that encouragement is the vehicle that will embolden a person to continue moving towards their goals. We must dispel the lie that tells us that encouragement will cause someone be lazy.
To do this, there are three things that we must practice to become great encouragers:
- Listening and show empathy
Showing empathy to people by listening and allowing yourself to experience and speak to the state of emotion that a person is in that helps us to understand therefore empathizing with others. This will strengthen the connection and prepare one’s heart to receive encouragement. When we learn to cycle back and forth between these with ease (listening and showing empathy), we will become a much more effective communicator and a great encourager.
- A caring ear breaks down walls
When people feel heard and understood it can actually improve their physical health as well as their mental well-being: People who are criticized often will not be open and share about their deeper issues and as a result are physically more unhealthy. By simply listening to them unpack their negative feelings and release tension you create a trustworthy connection which results in vulnerability. When you tap into how someone is feeling, then you open the door for them to receive encouragement.
- Creating a Culture of Encouragement
Making a priority of encouragement can only be successful with a plan. The accumulation and frequency of encouragement versus criticism largely determines the advancement and motivation for people to stay the course and finish the race as Paul said in a letter to Timothy. If we continue to improve our ability to encourage by simply complimenting on work well done, a word of support after a setback, encouragement to preserve in challenging seasons and so on, we can help to reveal the gold that our Father deposited in all of us!
Evangelism Ministry Leader