It’s more meaningful than flattery. It reaches further than pleasant words. It plunges deeper than a round of applause. It sees more than the surface. It seeks you, not me. It seeks your good, but comes from mine. It gives to you and builds you. It costs me, but gives back. It can have the face of comfort and consolation in the midst of sorrow or it can provide the energy and confidence to move forward in faith. It is life-giving, power-supplying, and heart-transforming.
What Scripture says on the topic of encouragement is astounding! It strengthens faith. It prevents the hardening of hearts. We are told to encourage others, but are told of others who encouraged themselves. When Jesus left, He sent the Helper, the Comforter, the Encourager. Yes, when we’re told to encourage others, we are essentially instructed to model the same behavior as the Holy Spirit. But how? How do we encourage and not slip into flattery? Well, think about it first from the receiving end. Encouragement makes me want to be a better person. Flattery merely makes me think I am a better person, and not even at the core. Encouragement is based in truth and eternal things. Flattery is based in the flesh or temporal things. Encouragement breeds contentment in who God says we are. Flattery keeps us confused and chasing after more empty compliments.
The Old Testament, maybe more than the New, tells of the ancient practice of pronouncing a blessing over another. I don’t claim to understand the practice, especially in the story of Jacob and Esau. And up until about a week ago, I had never experienced a blessing so powerful. In a room of thousands of people, the worship leader picked one girl in her 20s to represent the whole of us. She was to take communion on our behalf, but before the sacrament, he spoke blessing over her. He didn’t know her from Adam, (or rather, Eve), but the depth of truth, comfort, and encouragement that came from his heart through his mouth to her ears and the ears of us all elicited tears from something just as deep. She represented all of us in the sacrament of communion, and (at least from my perception) she represented all of us in receiving such a blessing. For many of us, those five minutes were more powerful and more memorable than the three hours of music. In that blessing, that encouragement, he breathed life into that arena. Yes, you had to be there, but no, encouragement is not reserved only for moments like that. That is the opportunity and responsibility before us today and everyday—to breathe life into the people in our lives and in the rooms (or arenas) into which we walk.