Recently one of my dearest friends stopped by the house to visit. We talked for a while, mostly about nothing significant. I was blessed and strengthened by our conversation. It was especially meaningful because of my physical condition. I have a chronic illness and it can be debilitating at times.
The previous weeks had been particularly difficult and laughing together was good for me. Also, hardly a week goes by without a text message or e-mail from this friend telling me that he is praying for me or just inquiring about how I am doing. I thank God for him.
Those that encourage us are special treasures and make us better people. They are difference-makers. “If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires”, wrote Horace Traubel. I want to be that kind of person for my wife, family and friends.
The Bible uses an unusual metaphor to show the value of such a friend – “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9) A friend’s encouragement is like the influence of a sweet-smelling aroma.
In the Scripture above the word “rejoice” means “to cheer up or to brighten”. The word “sweetness” means “that which is pleasant”. “Hearty counsel” is advice that is sincere; it has the idea of heartfelt encouragement. Put it all together and just like a cologne or perfume is pleasant and delightful to our sense of smell so encouragement is a delight to the soul of a person that receives it.
Matthew Henry has some insightful comments about Proverbs 27:9. “There is a great deal of sweetness in conversing and consulting with a cordial friend. It is like ointment and perfume, which are very grateful to the smell, and exhilarate the spirits. It rejoices the heart; the burden of care is made lighter by unbosoming ourselves to our friend…The sweetness of friendship lies not in hearty mirth, and hearty laughter, but in hearty counsel, faithful advice, sincerely given and without flattery by counsel for the soul…counsel which…comes to the heart, counsel about soul concerns”.
I like his phrase, “counsel about soul concerns”. That’s what my best friends and I do – we talk and share about “soul concerns”. At the most fundamental level friendships are built and strengthened by encouraging words. Sports, current events and other things are fun to discuss, but friends deal with the concerns of the soul. And often that means there is a need for encouragement.
Our words have more power than we realize. The Bible says, “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) This time the metaphor shifts from the sense of smell (sweet perfume) to the sense of taste (honey). As honey is sweet to the taste bud so “pleasant words” are “sweet to the soul”. We immediately receive energy and delight in our heart when we hear encouraging words.
The word “pleasant” here means “beautiful, delightful, agreeable”. These are intentional words that are meant to bless, not to discourage. It’s interesting that they also build the physical health of those that receive them; they give “health to the bones”.
Our white blood cells, which fight infection, are developed in our bone marrow. I don’t understand this, but I believe it because God’s Word states it, our words influence positively or negatively the health of those around us.
Perhaps a reason you don’t have uplifting and helpful friendships is because you speak more discouraging than encouraging words. Someone wrote,“The more arguments you win, the fewer friends you will have”. It’s far easier to be negative in our speech and to complain than it is to uplift others with pleasant words.
Your closest friends are those that speak hope into your life. They show their care by pointing out God’s goodness and His blessings. How blessed I am to have many friends like this!
A great example of this is seen in the friendship between David and Jonathan. On an occasion when David was in great trouble, being pursued by Jonathan’s father, King Saul, his friend blessed him. Hiding in a cave while Saul was hunting him to kill him, David was weary and discouraged. Jonathan, his best friend, took it upon himself to find him and encourage him.
“And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood. And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.” (I Samuel 23:15-17)
Jonathan’s words to David were like perfume and honey to his soul. In one of the most discouraging times of his life Jonathan came to his friend and “strengthened his hand in God” (23:16). He spoke to David of God’s sufficiency, providential care, and purpose for his life. He needed to be reminded of these things at this time. In times of duress we lose perspective.
Are you thinking of your Jonathan right now? What a wonderful treasure they are to each of us! Make sure you understand the value of this treasure. Who is your David that is in trouble now, even in despair? As a friend you have a responsibility to encourage him and strengthen his hand. It is what best friends do and deepens the friendship.
Often the Bible refers to times when people encouraged others and how important it was to them at that moment. When Paul was on his way to Rome for a legal hearing he resorted for a time at a place where fellow believers heard of his arrival in their town. The Bible says of these folks – “…whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage”. (Acts 28:13)
Note that Paul “took courage” from them and “thanked God” for them. This implies that he was disheartened and discouraged somewhat. These dear saints made a positive difference in his life at a crucial time. Their names are not even given. Though unknown to us they will receive an eternal reward in Heaven for their ministry of encouragement to this great man. I believe you will, too (Hebrews 6:10) as you minister encouragement to others.
We all have people in our lives that when we see them coming toward us that we anticipate speaking with them because they are encouraging and positive. Likewise, there are times when we receive a call and look at the name on caller ID and our heart sinks. We know at some point the conversation will become negative and burdensome. I want to be the former rather than the latter; when people see me may their heart be gladdened because they expect to be encouraged and receive a verbal blessing. Close friends do this regularly.
I heard about a pastor that was walking to the church auditorium and the service was to start in just a few minutes. One of the men came alongside him, put his arm around him and sincerely said, “Pastor, I just want you to know that I’m for you, no matter what they say”. He smiled, patted his preacher on the back and walked away.
What is both comical and sad is that the man thought he had spoken words of encouragement to his pastor. However, rather than being a blessing he had put negative thoughts in his mind and was disheartened by him.
Philemon had a testimony of encouraging others. It is said of those that knew him, “…we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the (hearts) of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother”. (Philemon 7) This man was so genuine, kind and loving that he brought joy and encouragement to all those that encountered him. They were refreshed in their spirits because of him. What a great friend he must have been. I want to be like him!
When Titus met some of the believers at Corinth “his spirit was refreshed” (II Corinthans 7:13). Someone said, “Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is having a tough time”. All of us need our spirits to be refreshed and we cherish those that do that for us.
Onesiphorus had this reputation, also. Paul wrote that “he oft refreshed me” (II Timothy 1:16). What an incredible man! On many occasions Paul was lifted up in his spirit through their fellowship. He looked forward to seeing Onesiphorus because of the encouragement and blessing he always brought to his soul.
We have a water fountain at our church that gives the best tasting and coolest water I have ever had. It’s hard for me to walk by it without stopping to take a drink. It is refreshing. People that encourage us are like that, too. We enjoy being with them because of the impact they have on our spirit.
Being an encourager is easier than we realize. We all can be like the people mentioned above. All we need to do is to find one that is hurting and broken and speak words of hope into their life. The Bible states that “…a word spoken in due season, how good is it”. (Proverbs 15:23) There are seasons of life when the right words make all the difference in the world.
Our best encouragers ought to be in our family. In fact, it’s easier to do because we spend so much time together. They can read you when you are discouraged and know when a good word is needed. (And you can read their non-verbal and verbal cues when they need a “word spoken in due season”)!
Many years ago before I knew of the disease I had and the nature of it I had been scheduled for surgery to take care of the problem. In actuality the procedure was only treating the symptom and not the cause, but the doctors didn’t realize it at the time. I was excited about finally being rescued from the frequent headaches, debilitating fatigue, and discouragement that accompanied my problem.
The day before the surgery I got a call from the doctor’s office that the operation would be postponed for a while. I was crushed. My hopes had been riding on that procedure; I was as discouraged as I had ever been.
After hearing the news about the postponement I went into our back yard to just walk, pray and complain to God. (I was so tired of being sick). I had a major pity party. A trampoline was there that we had bought for our children and I climbed up on it and lay down on the mat, overwhelmed with discouragement.
I didn’t want my wife or children to see me in this condition and was trying to get it out of my system. My tired body and discouraged heart made the tears easy to flow. I had been there for about an hour and it was dusk, the sun was going down and it was beginning to get dark. (Unless you have been chronically ill it is hard to express the battle you have with discouragement and being hopeless sometimes).
Suddenly, I heard someone approaching from a distance as leaves crunched under their feet. It was my mother. Paula, my wife, had called her and told her the bad news and that I was not doing well with it. Here I am an adult (at the time in my mid-40’s) and my kind mother began to rub on my shoulder and tousle my hair (she was in her mid-60’s).
Mom began to encourage me. She quoted several Scripture verses and assured me that it was going to be alright, that God had His eye on me. I didn’t say much at all, but she spoke hope into my heart. She told me she loved me and then left. It wasn’t long before I climbed down from the trampoline and walked into my house with a stronger faith and peace, in spite that my circumstances hadn’t changed.
My wife and children have done the same for me this past decade as I have struggled with my health. I am so grateful for them. I hope that I have done the same for them during their times of physical and emotional fatigue. That’s what you do for people you love.
Encouragement isn’t always having all the answers, sometimes it means just showing up and letting one know you care. Listening is a form of encouragement. “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer”.
John Maxwell wrote, “Encouragement is oxygen to the soul”. Blessed are those that come alongside of us and breath life into us when we are dispirited. May today you find someone that needs a kind word or a patient ear and offer it to them. It may be the start of a new friendship or the deepening of an existing relationship.