Each new year brings with it the urge to clear our closets and our lives of the clutter we’ve collected. We want to clean out the old and make way for the new! The new year is also the time for categorizing our habits and deciding which ones to toss out and which ones to carry forward. One I hope we all consider keeping is the habit of encouraging others.
The Greek word for encouragement is “parakaleo,” which means to call a person to your side in order to aid, assist, counsel, console, comfort, exhort and strengthen. It is a word that accurately describes the role of the Holy Spirit and the way the Spirit works through believers to reach others. Webster’s dictionary defines encourage, “to inspire, to renew or give hope.” And while those without a life of faith can be wonderful encouragers, of course, no one can encourage more effectively than the believer filled with the Spirit.
When we make sharing encouraging words a habit, it’s easier to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (I Peter 3:15 NIV). What kinds of words can we use to encourage others? Words that heal, words that help, and words from the heart.
Every time you listen to a friend’s grief over a marriage that is failing, the loss of a spouse, or a child that is sick you have a chance to encourage the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17) with words that heal. Just saying “I’m sorry” can penetrate the despair your friend is feeling. So can the words “I love you,” spoken over and over, and “I’ll always be here for you.” Words that heal.
Speaking words that help may be a habit that you aren’t even aware you have. When you offer to clean house for a sick neighbor, cook a meal, pick up the kids or baby sit, you are offering words that help. Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching we read in Hebrews 10:25. You do that when you offer words that help make life easier for others.
The most encouraging words of all are words spoken from the heart. Those words the Spirit leads you to spontaneously share with people you know, and even with strangers.
Speaker and author Sandra Aldrich tells a wonderful story about some encouraging words she received when she was faced with adapting to single parenthood after her husband’s death. Still grieving for her husband, she decided to take a trip with her two children to give them all a diversion. But it didn’t go well. Her son was always running off, and her daughter shadowed her so closely she almost tripped over her at every turn. Finally getting her son in tow, she was standing in line with both kids at a restaurant wondering how she was ever going to manage as a single mother.
Just then an elderly, Spanish-speaking woman who had been observing Sandra and her children for awhile passed by them. Reaching out, she patted Sandra on the arm and in her halting English said, “You good mamma.” That’s all she said. “You good mamma.” And then she was gone.
Those few words of encouragement, spoken from the heart of one mother to another, sustained Sandra through her years of single parenthood and made such an impression on her that she included the story in a speech many years later.
Words that heal, words that help, and words from the heart. Sharing them with others is a habit worthy of the new year.