A few weeks ago, I met up with a friend to catch up and discuss some things on his heart which he wanted to share with me. After sharing how each of us were coping with the unique challenges of COVID and quarantine, my friend said that he wanted to share some encouragement with me. I was deeply moved by his willingness to do so. In fact, one of the things that I’ve appreciated most about this friend is how concrete and specific he has often been when giving encouragement. He does not give vague “Thank you” or “You did great” handouts. In this instance, he highlighted some specific elements of my ministry he benefited from and told me how much he greatly appreciated them. He took the time to specifically and intentionally strengthen my soul with his words, and for that I was grateful.
However, after his encouragement he transitioned to a new topic with this sentence: “I have some other things I need to share with you, and I suspect you won’t be as pleased hearing what I have to say next.” He proceeded to give some very specific critical feedback of my ministry he believed he had observed as a pattern in me. Now I’ll be honest – it didn’t matter how much he had just encouraged me, of course it still stung to receive this critical feedback! Yet I received it in love, and I felt no urge to defend myself or protest his criticism. Why? Because I knew he loved me, and he had proven it over a two-year relationship that was filled with constant, specific encouragements.
Scripture is packed with exhortations for Christians to be regularly filling one another with encouragement. There are many examples in the book of Acts which should be instructive for us. One such example can be found in Acts 14, where we read that Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. There, they “strengthened the souls of the disciples, and encouraged them to continue in their faith.” I love this language used to describe encouragement: it strengthens the souls of others. What a wonderful image that conveys the importance of encouragement for Christians. Our desire to strengthen the souls of one another ought to be very great!