Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Yet there is one gift that blesses the receiver just as much as it blesses the giver: Encouragement.

Encouragement is like a pebble dropped into the pond that sends its ripples out. It creates a virtuous circle where one simple act of encouragement strengthens our brother or sister who can then go on to encourage someone else and so it goes. In a very real sense, encouragement is a gift that keeps on giving.

Theologian Kevin DeYoung defines Christian Encouragement, as opposed to the worldly feel-good kind, as “highlighting the evidences of God’s grace in a gospel-centered person to the glory of God.”

It’s not flattery or even casual observations to make others feel good about themselves or us. It’s rooted in God’s truth as evidenced in one’s actions or character that shows how His grace is working in them.

We must make it a habit to “encourage one another daily,” as written in Hebrews 3.

Paul, The Encourager

Paul was a master encourager; it was virtually in his job description. As he said in 2 Timothy 3: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Equipping believers for every good work takes encouragement. The New Testament word parakaleó – to exhort or to encourage – comes down to us from the Old French word encoragier, meaning to “make strong, hearten.”

It’s what military leaders do to prepare their troops for battle, and twice Paul uses military imagery to describe how we must embolden ourselves to do the works of God, in 1 Thessalonians 5 and here:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. [Ephesians 6:13-15]

Encouragement is how we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That requires we meet together in order that we may “encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching,” from Hebrews 10:24-25.

We must pray to God to empower and embolden us but likewise, we can empower and embolden our fellow believers through encouragement.

Encouragement Brings Fruit

We all are familiar with the Fruit of the Spirit –  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Our individual spiritual gifts are given so that we can cultivate and ripen those fruits:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. [Romans 12:6-8]

The gift of encouragement is one that I feel blessed with, and like each of God’s gifts, it grows in the giving.

Encourager Becomes The Encouraged

As you know, my husband and I have become friends with David Berkowitz, the notorious Son of Sam killer living his life behind bars as the redeemed Son of Hope.

At the beginning of our friendship, we assumed the role of David’s encourager, recognizing his struggles living a life dedicated to Christ within prison walls was beyond our comprehension. So our letters to him are full of encouragement.

Yet over the years, David has been more of an encourager to us than I ever imagined. A recent note touched me deeply when he explained his daily routine in the cell block. Every day is programmed and controlled by the prison guards and then his fellow prisoners exert additional control.

From the required 6 a.m. wake up when all must present themselves at the front of their cells for the official headcount to the evening count at 10:15 p.m., David is assaulted by a “bombardment of noise,” he wrote. “Prison is a noisy place!”

It seems to be truly a hell on earth, yet in his note, he took his precious quiet time before his structured day began to pray for us, our family and our church fellowship. “I love the mornings because they’re usually peaceful – quietness and stillness. An hour of quiet is a blessing.”

I feel for David because I have an abundance of quiet time to be alone with God and my thoughts. His note encouraged me to use that time more productively in studying scripture and writing more God-glorifying messages to share here.

And it gave me insight into David’s day-to-day life so I know better how to pray for him: that God bless him with quiet so he can have more of God’s grace and strength to minister to his fellow prisoners.

And he ended his note with a comment that in recording his daily activities to us, it gives him a springboard for a journal entry to share with his followers on his Arise and Shine website. His encouragement to other believers goes beyond his cell and into the world. For that, I am even more encouraged.

The encouraged becomes the encourager, so it goes on to the end of time.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you,” wrote Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  

Special thanks to Pastor Joel Hertzog, Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church, for sharing his sermon on encouragement.