A Word of Encouragement

How well would you do trying to put your foot through a ¾ inch board? Personally, I think I’d end up with a bruised heel rather than a split board! Nevertheless, that was the challenge confronting our almost-six-year-old grandson at his recent Tae Kwon Do belt test as he attempted to earn his Bo Belt—one level below Black. Before the test began, the TKD master asked our daughter if it would be OK for him to try breaking an “adult board,” and she consented. I looked at the block of wood and thought, “No way!”

He went through his forms without a problem, but then came the board. He selected the kick he would use for his attempt—did you know there are several different kinds of kicks in TKD, each with its own name? Me either.  We watched with anticipation as he took aim and then let loose his kick. The board didn’t budge. A second try…third…fourth. Stubborn plank of pine. But the TKD master was very patient and with each failed attempt offered a word of encouragement, which was all the motivation he needed to try again. But, you know, all the encouragement in the world isn’t going to get your foot through a board your little foot can’t break! After several failed attempts, the master simply switched to a different board, but with no hint of disappointment. Instead, the encouragement continued, and finally instead of bouncing off the board, his foot went through it. No bruises, either!

Here’s the thing. The TKD master’s encouragement didn’t add any more strength to our grandson’s leg. But it did help him focus on the task at hand and added fuel to the fire in his heart to do his dead level best. To that end, a word of encouragement can be powerfully helpful.

By way of contrast, I’ll never forget a Sunday morning 35 years ago. I was a 26-year-old pastor in my first church serving in that capacity. My wife and I had moved to the small western Illinois farming community about ten months earlier. Eight weeks prior to this particular Sunday, we had welcomed our daughter into the world. In short, we were young, just starting out in ministry and family life, and certainly had much to learn. If there was one thing we needed, it was encouragement! It was in short supply in that community, and this Sunday morning was especially memorable for all the wrong reasons. I’d studied hard all week and tried to put together a message that would be biblically accurate and helpful to the congregation. Now, we were warned in seminary not to put too much stock in all the praise heaped on the preacher as people leave the church building on Sunday morning. So whether or not someone said a kind word about the sermon, I can’t recall. But I’ll never forget the sour look on a lady’s face as she approached through the line, her refusal to take my hand when I extended it, and her cutting words. “You’re getting worse and worse every week!” she opined and stormed out the door. The only thing motivating me to go back to my study that week was knowing I had to get up in the pulpit next Sunday and have something to say. A few short weeks later, though, we left that church and town wondering if I should sell cars or insurance or something—anything—else!

Fast forward 5 months. Having nowhere to go, we moved in with my parents in Elkhart, Indiana. The pastor of a church of more than 600 members in South Bend heard of my interest in the ministry and called me to interview for an Assistant Pastor position. At one point in the interview, we were sitting in the large auditorium and he asked what I thought of the possibility of joining the staff. Honestly, I replied, “It’s an exciting opportunity, but frankly I don’t think I can handle it.” His response stunned me, but it was just what I needed: “Well, I know you can.” A word of encouragement. He did offer me the position, and we served there for four wonderful years—one of the most helpful experiences in our lives.

What if we put twice as much thought and energy into encouraging others as we put into critiquing? Just this morning I was reading the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and it struck me how often he brought up the idea of encouragement. Several times, he was encouraging his readers to take some vital course of action. He mentioned how they had encouraged him. And a couple of times he encouraged them to encourage each other.

There’s not a realm of life where encouragement is merely superfluous. Are you married? Your spouse needs encouragement. Have children? They need it, too. Would the atmosphere of your workplace be transformed if encouragement came from the top? If co-workers encouraged each other? Teammates on the athletic field, students in the classroom, patients in the hospital, the cashier at Wal-Mart, the harried waitress in the restaurant…everyone, everywhere craves it.

Mark Chanski, a pastor in Holland, Michigan, recently penned an encouraging little book aptly entitled, Encouragement: Adrenaline for the Soul. His stated purpose in the book is for the “rank-and-file reader to put the book down, constrained in soul to be a man or woman on a mission and make this resolution: ‘So help me God, I will from this day forward be an encourager.’” And so may that be the mission of us all. We never know whom we’ll help try one more time to break that board, to keep on going in spite of repeated failures.

Perhaps you’re reading this and saying, “Yeah, I sure wish someone would encourage me!” Clearly, I can’t know what you’re struggling with that makes you feel that way, but one thing might help. Let me encourage you to be an encourager! One of the principles of Scripture and life is that “what a man sows, so will he reap.” Those who delight in encouraging others soon find adrenaline in their own soul and discover true joy in seeing another’s success.

So whether you need it or someone around you does, to whom can you offer a word of encouragement?