When I began to realize my tendency toward people-please, coupled with an unhealthy desire for approval and affirmation, I became keenly aware of the power and control that simple words had over me. Here’s how it would play out. I could be having the most terrible, awful, no good, very bad day, but if someone would happen to speak an encouraging word, my noticed that my day would literally do a one eighty. I can’t explain it.
On the other hand, I could be having a amazing day and just one word, one tiny criticism, one slighted or off-putting comment would send my soul spinning into a downward spiral and into oblivion. It was crazy. Words had a grip on me. I was a slave to the responses and opinions of other people.
I knew this wasn’t healthy. I quickly realized that the approval of man was a dangerous idol for me. So I ran from it. I thought that I needed to completely eradicate the problem, by removing the source. Cut off the arm, right? I didn’t understand that the words were not the problem. My heart was the problem.
I began to question how and when to encourage others. Maybe they struggled with the same thing. What if my words of encouragement would puff them up, contribute to their own pride struggle? Even worse, would my words be coming from the right heart? I knew there were times that I flattered more than encouraged. You see, flattery comes from an inner motivation to make another person like you more, not to sincerely serve and bless them.
It’s funny how we often project our own struggles on others.
I was so confused about this whole thing, so I just froze up. I stopped saying anything. I was awkward at receiving kind words and compliments, even from my own husband. I questioned everything . . . my intentions, other people’s intentions and the underlying motives of both. It was all sorts of messed up.
But as I started praying and reading the Word with eyes to see and understand how God thinks about encouragement, my perspective began to shift. Here’s what I learned:
IT IS NEVER RIGHT TO BE CRITICAL
Like ever. There is no place for criticism in a relationship. Criticism can look covert. It can mask as a subtle spirit of superiority . . . “I have it figured out and you haven’t” or “I can’t believe you don’t know______!”. Criticism like to point out faults or how someone is messing up. Criticism comes from a place of pride or possibly a low self-worth.
When we have a critical spirit, we aren’t believing God enough. We aren’t believing that His love is unconditional and we have nothing to prove to earn it. We don’t understand how needy and broken we are and how gracious and long-suffering He has been to us. We don’t trust grace. Or give it to others. We feel the need to tear others down, to lift ourselves up. And this can look so subtle. This is why we’ve got to do a thorough heart-check.
Criticism is a big problem today. It pours out of us far too easily. For some reason, we don’t hesitate with these words. We hardly pause or think about it. But it is venomous to the soul of the one giving and the one receiving it.
Hear me clear on something, I think it is healthy and wise to have a few trustworthy people in your life that will listen carefully and not be quick to judge. They should be friends that commit to spending time in God’s Word and prayer. This is the only way they will be able to give wisdom rather than opinions or just head knowledge. And the purpose of admonishment (not criticism) is always for restoration, to guide each other away from the deceitfulness of sin and back toward the freedom giving, chain-breaking way of Jesus.
This is called Godly admonition, the iron that sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). And sometimes it hurts. But God never intends just to use a machete to hack up one another. We are called to a delicate, calculated surgical process that will lovingly help remove the sin and brokenness that is causing soul disease.
We have to be careful that our words don’t turn into a critical, condescending spirit. We need to have not having a willingness to listen first and to possibly be proved wrong. This takes considerable humility and trust. If admonishment is not accompanied by ample encouragement, it will fail miserably.
ENCOURAGEMENT IS ALWAYS RIGHT
If you have ever questioned whether you should speak a word of encouragement into someones life, let me just tell you loud and clear, the answer is an astounding yes!
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13
And this is not just for those who have the spiritual gift. Yes, those people make it look exceptionally easy and natural. I love those people. They make me feel like I can conquer the world when I’m with them. Take notes from these amazing humans, watch them work. It’s a beautiful thing.
We have got to stop thinking that we are doing someone a disservice when we hold back on encouragement. Listen, if your words result in pride, that heart issue will not go away with an omission of your words. You won’t be fixing them by omitting your encouragement. And you never know how your words my open them up to allow you to speak into their lives in greater ways.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The Greek word for encouragement is paraklesis. This literally means to come alongside someone with the intent of instilling courage, giving them a new heart, building them up, comforting and giving joy. Isn’t that just awesome? We have the capacity and been given the instruction to give others joy! Do you have a joy-giver in your life? Do you have a person that strengthens your heart? Are you that person for someone else?
Also, God intends for us to receive joy through the words of others.
This literally rocked my world! It’s not a bad thing to feel good when when affirmed. God created encouragement as a way to build us, give us strength and even joy. The problem is when those words start controlling me. Peace and contentment in my soul were never meant to be dependent on another imperfect, fallible, sinful human being’s approval or opinion.
Hang with me here, because this is just the coolest thing. The Holy Spirit is known as the comforter and helper. You are so smart, you probably already knew that. But did you know that the Greek word for comforter and helper is paraklete? You guys, it’s the same exact word. And here is what that means . . .
One of the more effective ways that we demonstrate God to others is through encouragement! So, you better believe it’s pretty important. In fact, we are probably acting in disobedience if we don’t intentionally seek out opportunities to encourage and speak life-giving words. And it’s not just about how we respond, it’s an active, purposefully pursuit of encouraging others. I’m guessing many of us aren’t intentionally holding back, we just get to distracted in our own little worlds that we forget to reach out, to speak up and to place ourselves into another person’s world.
So we’ve got to get over and outside of ourselves. We really need to approach our days with the intent to invest. Most of us could use encouragment. There isn’t one person walking this earth that has it all together, I don’t care if they look like Heidi Klum, dance like Justin Timberlake or throw a football like Tom Brady. I don’t care if they are rich, poor, married or single. There is a space, a need, and a void that is meant to be filled with encouragement, with a building up. And the Holy Spirit, our paraklete, may be waiting to use us for this purpose.
When that space is left wide open in a someone’s life, it’s easier for the enemy to fill it with lies. It may cause doubt. It may actually keep someone from taking that next step, finding the courage to press through a difficult situation or the perseverance to stay the course when things get tough or when the enemy causes confusion.
My challenge to you and to myself is this, start out small. Try stepping outside your normal rhythms and routines to speak up. Encourage the person waiting in line with you at the checkout, the barista in the drive thru or better yet, your tired spouse and disheartened child.
When in doubt, do it anyways. It may be awkward, it may feel risky and a tad uncomfortable, but press through it. The more we do it, the more it will take root and become habit. I’m with you, let’s go!