“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
The New Testament word most often translated “encouragement” is parakaleo. This term comes from two Greek words: para, meaning “alongside of”; and kale, meaning “to call.” When people come alongside us during difficult times to give us renewed courage, a renewed spirit, and renewed hope — that’s encouragement. That is love, pure and refined.
William Barclay tells us that parakaleo is a call to arms, a rallying cry from a sergeant leading us into battle. The encourager sees hesitation and fear and he comes alongside and says, “Follow me.” He exhorts ordinary people to perform noble deeds. Life, Barclay says, “is always calling us into battle.” And for us, it is parakletos, the Holy Spirit, who leads and encourages us to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
The most powerful source of encouragement is the Bible. Paul tells us that those ancient chapters of the Old Testament inspire and encourage us for today’s living. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The New Testament also is jam-packed with inspiration and encouragement for Christians. It contains a number of passages exhorting us to encourage other. For example:
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
“But exhort [encourage] one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We are to soak up God’s Word in order to maintain our own courage and keep in step with the Spirit. And we are to be diligent in passing on that encouragement to others.
In his book, A Simple Blessing, singer Michael W. Smith tells of Justin, a high school freshman who was walking home from school one day when he saw a group of students bullying a smaller boy. They knocked him to the ground, scattering his books, sending his glasses flying. Justin started to walk on, but when he saw the hurt in the boy’s eyes, he stopped, found his glasses, and helped him pick up his books. The boy was so overloaded with books that Justin offered to help him carry them home. On the way, he learned that the boy, Kyle, was a recent transfer to the school, had no friends, and was often harassed by those bullies.
Out of sheer pity, Justin invited Kyle to come over and toss a football with him. The two became fast friends, and at the end of his senior year Kyle emerged as valedictorian of the graduating class. As he began his valedictory speech, Justin was stunned. Kyle told of his early misery. Uprooted, friendless, bullied, and hopeless, he had decided to end his life and was taking his books home so his mother would not have to clean out his locker. But this time when the bullies attacked, Justin came along with kindness and encouragement, which turned Kyle away from despair and gave him a new grip on life and hope.
Encouraging words carry a special power, and it’s a power you can exercise every day. Think of those around you who may have a deep need for one word of positive inspiration that you, in the service of God, could provide. How many of these opportunities do we tragically overlook every day? I am constantly thankful for those who encourage me in my life. I can think of many times when someone sent me a note or called me to offer a word of loving encouragement precisely when my spirit was dragging and I was down and almost out. Their words lifted me from drudgery, fueled me in the Spirit, and spurred me onward. Encouragement puts the wind in our sails.
Wouldn’t you like to be that person for someone? Enlist today. Simply tell God you are ready for service, and I guarantee that He will show you the when and the where. Be a blessing, and He will bless you.