My hair turned gray at an early age, so I'm used to folks thinking that I'm older than I am. But just in case I forget, there always seems to be someone around who is willing to remind me. Such was the case today, when I was waiting for an elevator and a young family came up to wait as well. When the elevator arrived and the doors opened, the mom motioned for me to go first, while instructing her children that, “It’s polite to let elderly people go before you.”
I know that this young mother wasn’t trying to be unkind to me, but I have to admit that her comment left me feeling cranky. And that’s why I wasn’t all that excited to pull in to the church parking lot and see a woman from our congregation waiting for me. I was sure she was there to ask me to do something for her, and I was too busy feeling sorry for myself over the fact that someone had told their kids I was “elderly”. But as I got out of my car, the woman from church said, “Dang pastor, you lookin' notch this mornin'!” From my limited understanding of current slang, I could tell she was complimenting me on how I looked - and with those few, simple words, my attitude changed from cranky to content.
Now, besides showing how easily my feelings can be bruised over comments about my gray hair, these two interactions reminded me of how important it is for us to be intentional about encouraging the folks around us. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 puts it like this, "Encourage each other and build each other up". This is just one of many verses in the Bible that speaks to the challenge we have to be an encouragement to each other. Actually, the Greek word used here for “encourage” is “parakaleo”, and it shows up 109 times in the New Testament alone. In Romans 12:8, Paul lists “encouragement” as one of the gifts of the Spirit. Hebrews 3 tells us that encouragement softens our hearts towards God, and Hebrews 10 tells us it keeps us from sin.
So “encouragement” isn’t just a “feel good” kind of thing, it’s also a powerful tool that God uses to soften our hearts, lift our spirits, and motivate us forward in our Christian life. That’s why, throughout the Bible, the role of the “encourager” is celebrated – and it’s also why we need to get serious about following the command to “encourage one another”. It certainly made the difference in my morning, as it lifted my spirits - while at the same time it reminded me of how my words can impact those around me.
So today, let's take time to be an encouragement to each other. Let's ask God to give us opportunities to speak words of praise and blessing to those around us. And when we feel tempted to be critical or unkind in our words, let's ask God to give us words that lift people up instead. In this way, we can use our words to help build and strengthen the Body of Christ.