Encouragement, Not Finger-Pointing
I've written explicitly about encouragement on four occasions. I've made various points, all pointing in the same general direction: that encouraging others, especially those who are down and in need of support, is, um, good.
It's been over two years since my last swing at this, and I see by the reports that few saw the last one. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to see it, does it make a noise? My answer has always been 'yes,' but I'm pretty sure that doesn't extend to blog posts.
In reading 1 Corinthians 12 today, Paul writes about spiritual gifts. These are special talents, skills and abilities that the Holy Spirit, working within each believer, gives us to accomplish our mission in the world.
The gifts he mentions, "...wisdom...knowledge...faith...healing...miraculous powers...prophecy...distinguishing between spirits...speaking in different kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. (from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 NIV)
He also says,
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NIV) and,
"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." (1 Corinthians 12:11 NIV)
The second two statements suggest that the list in the first are examples, that the Spirit also gives other gifts, one of which, I have no doubt, is encouragement.
In the world today, there is a premium placed on fault-finding, finger-pointing and the destruction or significant reduction of those seen as good or virtuous. Some call it 'cancel culture,' or just plain old negativity, but the epidemic is not just in mass media coverage of entertainment, sports, politics, and other things. It's rampant in schools, in offices, in government, in churches, and, of course, online.
Many would argue that this sort of criticism is part of being a celebrity or politician or even a prominent pastor. But no one would suggest that this is part and parcel of the life of schoolkids, co-workers, amateur athletes, community theater performers, or book club members.
Those singled out for this type of harassment are usually recognized as 'different.' The look, behave, or related to others 'differently.' They get labeled, sometimes inaccurately but usually with malice. Though it can happen to anyone, these folks are often minorities, including ethnic and racial minorities, LBGTQ+, Muslims, and increasingly, members of various political parties and movements.
This kind of judgement is as old as humanity. Paul was writing to the church in Corinth because some members were denigrating other members because their talents and contributions (including, but not limited to, financial) were different and deemed to be less valuable. His letter, to paraphrase, told them to knock it off.
Instead, he said that everyone brings something to the table. The most effective people are the ones who find a way to use that talent for the greater good, filling a need that might not otherwise be fulfilled. He talks about the body as an example, saying that the eyes don't criticize the feet, or the ears, or the elbows. They're all part of the body, they all have a function, and it is a function that the other parts cannot perform.
Given that the world needs encouragement, and the world includes anyone reading this piece, I would like to ask two things:
ONE: Next time you encounter someone who is different from you, say to them (or say to yourself, if it's awkward), "I like the way you/they...' Finish the sentence with anything positive and appropriate. Train your mind to find the good, not the fault or difference. It's harder than it sounds, but it's necessary. Some good examples of when and how to do that include:
Complimenting someone for a point or suggestion they made in a meeting
Saying something nice about someone's art, home improvement, music, business, or some other project.
Expressing appreciation for someone's unique ability to do something (sing, organize, cook, garden, write, decide, code, analyze, budget, coach, focus, or a million other things).
Encouraging someone to do or try something because they have this or that skill or trait and would enjoy it and/or do a great job. Like auditioning, trying out for a team, applying for a new job, going to school, joining the military, pursuing ministry, or some other thing they seem uniquely inclined to but aren't necessarily considering it.
Empathizing with someone who has undergone a disappointment, loss, or other setback that has really deflated them.
11,544,987 other ways you can find to encourage, build up, reinforce, or embolden another person or group of people.
TWO: Believe the following about yourself:
You have a unique combination of talents, skills, and abilities
You are not fully aware of all of them, and you may not even acknowledge some of them.
What your combination brings to the world is special and vitally important.
Modesty, self-deprecation, and preemptive self-insult are not always virtues, and they are often well-disguised excuses to shy away from what could be your destiny.
Naysayers don't know you as well as they claim to. Some may be trying to help. But others may be undermining you to reinforce their own lack of of confidence. (If that's the case, share this post with them.)
God placed you in this world for a reason. And He never, ever sends his people out unprepared. He gave you a job to do, and he has given you the resources (including talents) to get it done. Trust Him. He is trusting you.
Make sure to avoid talent envy.
I grew up wishing I could shoot the sky hook shot like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was not 7'2", nor did I possess his natural grace, athleticism, or stamina. I dreamed this far beyond the point where it was in any way realistic. Far beyond the point anyone else believed.
But I also found that I had received from the same spiritual gift that my parents possessed, that being the ability to encourage other people. And the further I got away from the basketball court, where I was failing at the talent I so-envied, the more often I found opportunities to use this gift.
It's helped me in a lot of situations, but I would not say that I'm a 'serial encourager.' But I am seeking to change that.
Lastly, I have an example of a friend of mine.
In high school, one of our friends was in a bad car accident and suffered a compound fracture of his femur. When we went to the hospital to visit him, he was in traction, and he had a large stainless steel screw protruding from either side of his leg. It wasn't too attractive, but most of us just ignored it and talked to him.
One friend, though, was unable to ignore it. It freaked him out so much he couldn't stay in the room. We didn't think too much of it. He was planning to go to school for architecture. And he did.
But at some point, he got injured playing softball and needed physical therapy. He was fascinated by the process, by the equipment, and the systematic approach to the rehabilitation of injury. He realized that this was what trainers for sports teams spend a lot of time on, and he loved sports.
Rather than accept that he had already chosen his road and thus, would ignore what was clearly a passion, he made the difficult decision to change direction. This involved changing schools, living away from home, fighting to get some credit at his new school for his previous studies, and essentially starting over again.
Through this process, my friend went from a 17-year-old kid turning green in the hallway of the hospital, to a physical therapist, who, in his 30+ years has helped in the healing of thousands of patients, helped thousands more avoid injury by training intelligently, and has become a pillar of his region in the sports medicine, athletic training, and business community.
In pursuing the use of his healing gifts, he was blessed in innumerable other ways, including:
In college, he met the love of his life, whose love of sports and healing aligned perfectly with his. Partners in life and business!
They've raised four wonderful children, all athletes, but more importantly, all devoted to their family, their schools, and their community, and all committed to a lifetime of healthy living.
They've built a very successful business.
This is an example of what can happen when the Holy Spirit enables someone like my friend to align his unique gifts and efforts with the needs of the world.
This is why you must embrace your talents. Knowing you're good at something doesn't make you arrogant. It makes you obedient to the Spirit working in you. And when you obey, and stop insisting on being what the world thinks you should be, you'll be happier and your impact will be exactly what the Lord envisioned when He created you.
God bless you.
Jim Donaher is a writer, blogger, and author of the soon to be published, "Call Him, He's Home: A Regular Person's Guide to Prayer" Click or tap the title to read an excerpt.
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