Encouragement comes in many forms: a gentle word, a heartfelt talk or gesture, or even tough grace as a friend calls helping us stay accountable. I’ve often taken a blunter approach and don’t always encourage God’s way. Like it or not, I frequently tell people what to do. Sometimes it’s helpful and needed; other times, not so much. But God has used this gift to teach me and others countless lessons.
What seems like a moment and also a lifetime ago, I served on medical mission trip. Coming out of a season of grief, I was leaning deeply into God and sensed Him tell me to go across the world. To my own surprise, soon I was in Cambodia. As our team met to discuss the week I still had no idea why God wanted me there. Then the leader asked who wanted to tell people what to do and where to go at the clinics. My hand quickly went up! Over the course of the week, God taught me as I told others what to do. I call it the revelation of the doors.
As a nurse gatekeeper, I assisted people to the doctors. The first day I functioned with a huge opening for navigating those needing a doctor. The following day at another venue, I worked with a smaller door but with one-way traffic. Next day, it was an even tinier one-way entrance plus helped people to the dental clinic. The fourth and most challenging day included a very narrow door, two-way traffic, and a common walkway to navigate. Probably no one noticed this sequence of doors and even I didn’t notice its significance until later.
The series of doors where I served was so impactful because God knew exactly what I needed. I was completely outside my comfort zone. Yet little by little, He used my comfortable ability to instill confidence and trust in Him so I could do what He planned. At times while escorting over 2,500 people without knowing the language or having an interpreter, I felt very overwhelmed. But with each smaller doorway, I learned to deeply trust God and experience His indescribable peace.
Years later, my tendency to encourage (tell people what to do) isn’t always appreciated. Most people who know me, understand I tell it like it is. But I’m learning to judiciously encourage God’s way. I’m not entirely sure why God led me to Cambodia. Maybe I needed to go so far outside my comfort zone to trust Him deeply, even with my ability to tell people what to do.
Lately, I’ve been using this skill often. As I do, I’m continuing to learn lessons how to encourage God’s way. Here are a few:
- Be Present-Especially now, we can’t always be physically present. But we can be present emotionally and often spiritually with another. ‘Being there’ manifests in many ways and if we want to encourage others, we must be present with them. The trust in God I learned in Cambodia happened in part because I was both physically and spiritually present.
- Listen First-I do things fast, impatiently, and jump in, often interrupting and not listening first. But to help someone, we need to listen. We cannot fully encourage without understanding what they need, and we learn this by listening. It provides space to process and give just the right words, if any. I’m a work in progress on this but am learning the importance of listening first.
- Show Then Tell-No one listens to someone who doesn’t practice what they preach. I’m reminded of this every time I educate clients on memory techniques or my children on life lessons. If we aren’t showing others in our lives what we are encouraging them to do, they will never hear or heed our words. In Cambodia, when I didn’t know the words, I showed people what to do. It’s amazing how much can be communicated non-verbally, including God’s love, to others by our actions. It begins with being present, listening, then showing them how much we care. Only then will our words make any impact.
I often want to leap in and tell others what to do (encourage). But using my words to help others is a gift and is most effective with God’s direction. He taught me this lesson halfway around the world and continues to lead in using the words He gives me.
We can all encourage God’s way. Look around. Who has God put into our paths to encourage today? Telling people what to do may not seem like a very spiritual gift, but when we use our words and actions under His direction, He will always use it for our good and His glory. Let’s be present, listen, show and then tell someone what God wants them to hear today.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11