In most houses, Christmas gifts are appearing around the tree. We focus on giving good gifts. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Sometimes we stress out about getting the right gifts. For most people, money is an issue. We are limited in the gifts that we give by how much we can spend. But there is a gift that we can give that doesn’t cost us anything. It is the gift of encouragement.
In Ephesians 4:29 (NOG), Paul writes, "Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” If we want to help someone, we need to encourage them. Do you know someone who needs your care and compassion today? Is there someone who would benefit from your kindness and encouragement?
As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism. I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others. I have been criticized on many occasions and have myself been critical of others. Still, recently, I had experiences that made me stop and think about the impact of criticism, and its opposites, affirmation, approval, and encouragement. While I was at James Super Save Foods, a customer came up to me and told me how happy they were with the windshield repair I had done on their car. I was surprised. That is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Anyone in business is aware that a satisfied customer seldom lets you know that he is satisfied, but a dissatisfied customer will tell you that he is unhappy.
A few days ago, I met someone in Wal-Mart. She said, “I have appreciated the columns you have been writing recently. I like the personal stories.” I think that we are so used to criticism and negativity that when someone gives us some affirmation and encouragement, it takes us by surprise. Most of us aren’t accustomed to hearing encouraging words. We are more used to hearing criticism.
Some Christians that I know seem to think that their God-given job is to criticize other people that they think are living their lives wrong. They feel that somehow if they criticize the person, it will change their behavior. Not only does criticism not work, but it also has the opposite effect. Research has shown that to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism, you must affirm five times. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “even the most well-intentioned criticism can rupture relationships and undermine self-confidence and initiative. It can change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity. Perhaps that’s why we have found with the vast majority of the leaders; positive feedback is what motivates them to continue improving.”
Paul understood this when he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America, stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?
When I was in grade school, I often heard the childhood rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That statement is not true. Words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 (CEV), the Bible tells us, “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.”
I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She wrote, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."
Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher, told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.
Kathy wrote, "this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful, child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine." She concluded by saying, "words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher's kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?"
What about you? Is there someone in your life who needs to know how much you love them? Is there someone who would benefit from your kind words and encouragement? Express your care for them verbally. Sometimes we think, “They know I love and appreciate them. I don’t need to say it out loud.” But we need to tell them what we admire and appreciate about them—they want to hear it.
Gentle Reader, any time of the year, you can give the gift of encouragement. If you do, God will encourage you! When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. Show someone how much you value them for who they are. Encouragement can drastically change a person’s life! Colossians 3:12 (ISV) tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” If we are compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient, we will be able to be an encouragement to others. This year, give the gift of encouragement.