An Encouraging Word
by David C. Nitz

I

f spiritual gifts were books on a shelf, this one might be leaning in the corner, perhaps dusty and hidden by those that capture much more attention. However, without this gift, many Christians in the early church would not have survived the long, difficult seasons they had to endure.

The same is true today. Everyone needs encouragement from time to time. It is a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Discouragement is an occupational hazard for believers—especially those in ministry. Our adversary looks for ways to deflate us, and he sometimes uses fellow believers. In fact, some people seem to have a gift for discouragement!

Thank God, the Holy Spirit supplies the gift of encouragement to the church. Recognizing this gift and those who operate in it can be like a drink of icy cold water on a hot, dry day.

    A Gift for the Heart

The teacher aims for the head, but the encourager aims for the heart. The King James Version calls this gift “exhortation.” The Greek word is paraklesis, which carries the idea of comfort, inspiration, and consolation. This gift often operates in conjunction with another gift that involves communication—prophecy. First Corinthians 14:3 says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort” (NIV).

Those with the gift of encouragement do not just think good thoughts about others; they give those thoughts away to those who need them.

Encouragers are people-builders. They want others to live up to their potential. They find joy in being used by the Holy Spirit to help others live victoriously. Encouragers are thermostats—a room’s atmosphere and temperature changes because of their presence. Every church needs people with this gift.

In Encountering the Holy Spirit, French Arrington writes, “The gift of exhortation is a special ability given by the Holy Spirit to certain believers, which enables them to minister words of comfort and encouragement to other believers. . . . Those who have this gift are able to speak wisely and provide consolation to the lonely, discouraged, and weak.”

    How It Works

Encouragement is one of the motivational gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8. Encouragers are communicators. They might be preachers and teachers, but not necessarily.

Dan Betzer comes to mind. I have heard Dan speak many times. As pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida, he brilliantly weaves Scripture, stories, and thoughts into an inspiring and encouraging tapestry. No doubt, you know other individuals who do the same. Oh, how we need encouragers!

Perhaps Pastor Betzer’s greatest encouragement to me came during a brief encounter when I was a young pastor. We met when he spoke for our church’s missions conference. Sometime later, I ran into him at another meeting, and during a short conversation, he looked at me and said, “You know, God wants your church to be huge.”

That simple statement was great inspiration to me at the time. While not profound, those few words lifted my spirit and influenced me to press on and work hard. Obviously, I have not forgotten them after all these years.

I am married to an encourager. Amy enjoys making others feel better. She does not like to be down, and she delights in helping others get up, which is a good thing for me. Often I can overhear her talking to someone who is going through difficulty and am amazed at the insight the Holy Spirit gives her.

Even in the face of great criticism during some of her darkest days, I have observed her walk in the grace of God and be an encouragement to those around her, many times influencing them to the cross of Christ. There is a supernatural element to it.

There is another woman in our congregation with this gift. While her demeanor is gentle, she has a contagious smile and always has a kind and encouraging word. She sings in our choir and sometimes is a soloist, but otherwise she quietly goes about her business. However, she is an encourager, making the room brighter by her presence.

Encouragers are faith people. They believe God is able to do all things. These men and women have a simplicity to life. They tend to see trials as opportunities and love to communicate that to others. Words carry tremendous power, but add to them a spiritual gift that lifts and blesses, and words become tremendous tools of healing and help.

Words of hurt and destruction can tear down the stoutest of hearts. The Holy Spirit uses the gift of encouragement to build up, restore faith, and bring about positive change.

Amy and I have another friend who has this gift. Through times of difficulty she has been a constant source of comfort and encouragement. She seems to pull thoughts and words out of thin air. No doubt, the Holy Spirit inspires them. She has her own struggles, but you would never know it in talking with her. She lives in constant physical pain, yet she encourages everyone she meets.

Clearly, encouragement is not just a personality disposition. It is a gift the Holy Spirit uses in all types of people.

    Son of Encouragement

The apostle Paul’s ministry companion, Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36 NIV) lived up to his name by operating in this gift.

After Paul’s miraculous conversion while on his way to Damascus, he temporarily moved in with some of the disciples there. Narrowly escaping a plot to take his life, Paul eventually traveled to Jerusalem. The disciples there wanted nothing to do with him because of the way he had once persecuted the church (9:26). How discouraging these series of events must have been for the newly converted Paul!

However, Barnabas personally intervened on Paul’s behalf. The Message describes it this way: “Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him” (v. 27).

You can almost see and hear Barnabas as he speaks up to defuse the situation. What an encouragement this must have been to Paul! The preceding conversation between Paul and Barnabas behind closed doors is reserved for eternity, but it was enough to encourage Paul and convince Barnabas.

In Acts 11, we find Barnabas again acting as an encourager. When the church in Jerusalem heard how Gentiles in Caesarea and Antioch were accepting Jesus Christ, church leaders sent the influential Barnabas to Antioch to explore what was happening. “When he arrived and saw this proof of God’s favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord” (11:23-24 NLT).

The lives of those young Christians in Antioch and the newly converted Paul might have looked completely different if Barnabas had not stepped up for them. Barnabas was a gifted encourager who blessed and lifted up rather than criticizing and tearing down. Imagine how encouraged Paul must have been when the Holy Spirit called Barnabas to be his missionary partner (13:2)!

    Life-Changing Gift

The gift of encouragement is life-changing. Though only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, it is as important as the other spiritual gifts. We see its power in the last part of Acts 11:24: “Large numbers of people were brought to the Lord” (NLT). Could there have been a better result?

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (NKJV). Words of encouragement are beautiful and powerful. No wonder Paul said, “If your gift is to encourage others, do it!” I say, “Amen!” In a world filled with discouragement, we need encouragers and their gift.