Jesus, who is the true source of eternal life provides all that we need to develop the ministry of encouragement. In John Chapter Seventeen, he describes himself as the True Vine, giving life and fruit to the branches which represent our lives. We are connected to him and to each other. In the same Chapter, Jesus also reveals a number of key themes that encouragers must be aware of. A deep personal knowledge and experience of these truths, together with a developed skill in ministering them to others, is a good basis of a ministry of encouragement.
Grace: you are assured of God’s unconditional acceptance
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you
The grace of God is the ground of all true encouragement. Everything that we are called to do for God flows from the fact that we are unconditionally loved, totally forgiven and eternally accepted in Christ. This is the most encouraging truth of all and it is where everything begins.
The Holy Spirit: the life of Christ is in you and in your brothers and sisters
I am the Vine; you are the branches.
Recognising and experiencing the life of Christ in you and in your brothers and sisters is essential to encouragement. There is nothing more affirming, liberating and motivating than knowing Christ’s presence in you. As encouragers speak with others they can assure them that Christ has not abandoned them. Their own attitude of non-rejection and affirmation of Christ in their brothers and sisters is a source of joy and encouragement. This alone, can lift negative emotions and can spur them on towards a more positive course of action.
Fellowship: you are connected to your brothers and sisters
I am the Vine; you are the branches.
Recognising Christ in your brothers and sisters leads to an experience of the deep spiritual connection that exists between fellow believers. When this connection is operating well in the course of meaningful conversations there is a release of encouragement and a flow of power. Jesus in me connects to Jesus in you and we discover we are not alone. As the family of God, we are here to help, lift up and strengthen each other.
Fruitfulness: you have the capacity to be fruitful
If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Reminding people of their resources in Christ helps them rise above their difficulties and problems, knowing that there is a way through and they can be fruitful. Simply by being there, offering acceptance and support can make all the difference when someone else is struggling with some challenge or frustration.
Joy: fullness of joy is available
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Part of our personal resources in Christ is the Spirit-inspired capacity to be joyful in all circumstances. We experience the joy of the Lord by discovering the things he has accomplished for us and by experiencing the present workings of the Spirit in us. Joy is also the satisfaction that floods our hearts whenever we experience him – in silence, in prayer, in worship, in our trials and in our relationships.
We can also help inspire joy in others. Encouragers are joyful people and their joy is infectious. They are familiar with the paths that lead to joy and can easily guide others in the same direction. This is more than natural enthusiasm or mere optimism. Joy comes from having been through difficulties, trials and dark times, and discovering that God is faithful. Encouragers direct people to the same springs of living water from which they have personally drunk and have experienced God’s goodness.
Love: loving obedience is the motivation of your life
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.
Love is laying down our lives for others. In what way do encouragers do this? The answer has to do with motivation. If our motivation is love, we will sincerely desire the benefit of others. We will be other-orientated and not self-orientated. We will want to build others up according to their needs and not be looking to have our needs met. We learn to love others by laying down our own desires and concerns. Love always involves sacrifice.
If people perceive that our real motivation is genuine love, our words will have impact and we will be an encouragement to them. But if we approach people from selfish motives, then we will end up only drawing attention to our own needs. We will no longer be giving but trying to get something. True encouragement is selfless.
Discipline: painful experiences can have a positive purpose
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away [“lifts up”]; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Encouragers know how to comfort others by their presence and by their words. Most people who go through difficult times believe that it is proof that there is something wrong with them. They mistakenly think that they must have done something bad and that God has rejected them.
Even those who are suffering due to their own faults and failings need encouragement and not condemnation, acceptance rather than rejection.
Encouragers lift people up when they are down. They never criticise; they always affirm. This positive support builds; not destroys. It does not moralise, but directs people to Christ and his gracious will. In this way people can discover the tender and skilful hand of our Father, the Vinedresser in the midst of their pain and know he is working to achieve his ultimate goal that will be both satisfying and fruitful.