". . .if it is encouraging, let him encourage . . ." (Romans 12:8, NIV)
This word "encourage" has an interesting meaning. It comes from the Greek word "parakaleo" which, in simplest terms, means to admonish, to encourage, to beseech. The deeper meaning, however, means "to come alongside." In other words, you, dear Encourager, are not just words -- you are action. Sometimes this gift is referred to as Exhorter. You'll find the word "exhortation" in the RSV Bible. Exhortation and encouragement work together in this gift. Encouragement mainly involves comfort, understanding, help, and strength. Exhortation involves rebuke and admonishment along with words of comfort and strength. Unfortunately, it's a difficult word to translate because we don't have a single word that brings those two ideas together. I'm going to use the word "encourage" instead of "exhort" for the sake of simplicity, but just know when reading this post that I'm referring to all aspects of this gift.
A good picture for what it means to "come alongside" might best be drawn in the relationship between a lawyer and his client. The lawyer stands in the gap and defends his client's case. He strengthens his client's position before a judge. More than that even, one who comes alongside cares enough to confront and correct the wrong. When unbelief rears its ugly head you challenge us to faith. When we are too weak to stand you come along and motivate our hearts back to a place of strength. So much of scripture upholds this type of behavior. Jesus most assuredly comes alongside us and strengthens our case before God. "He's there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through Him, always on the job to speak up for them." (Hebrews 7:25, Msg) He never leaves us to find our own way. He corrects and rebukes and comforts us to the point of change.
If you scored high in the Motivational Gift of Encouraging then here are some things you should know about yourself. You are, for the most part, practical, tolerant of others, a little serious minded, orderly and a good counselor. You express yourself easily in a group setting and others willingly listen when you speak. You might interrupt people when they're speaking in order to convey needed application of the truth but it's only out of enthusiasm to apply the truth of God's word to others. Your greatest desire is to show how God's word is applied to everyday life and conduct. Although you tend to believe that Scripture holds the answer for every problem the application is more important than quoting the actual verse. You are usually a good teacher and this gift often finds itself working with the Motivational Gift of Teaching. Unlike the person with the Motivational Gift of Teaching, however, you are more apt to teach the same material over and over, perfecting it and changing it up so as to make it more and more applicable to the listener each time. You are persuasive and others probably seek you out when confused or hurting. At the core of this gift, however, is your willingness to take risks with people. You are willing to believe in someone when no one else will. This is truly a defining characteristic of the Encourager. Your willingness to see people through to the desired end result: victory over sin and a life that resembles the Savior.
On the downside, if not relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, you will tend to get discouraged yourself. You give out a lot allowing others to take everything you have to give, and, many times there isn't always another encourager around to help build you back up. You also have a tendency to rely on yourself for answers and needed encouragement instead of relying on the Lord. It's only because it comes so naturally to you.
If this is you, you have most likely learned, or are learning, how to truly be an encourager through the fires of experience -- through times of standing in the empty halls of ruthless trust. This gift is being built in you and refined in you by the hard times in life. Ruthless trust has made it's mark on you and is pouring out of you by means of encouraging others. Be encouraged yourself! God knows what He's doing with you and you will literally live out the verse that says "Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV) If you're a little older you can probably look back on your life and see some pretty difficult things that you've survived. What's more, you've not only survived them but they've become solid reminders of times when God lifted you up, comforted you, admonished you, corrected you, and, instead of judging you harshly He held you tight and set you right. These places in your life are the pillars of your faith. It is only having come out the other side that allows you to be this person to others.
I once had a very, very sweet friend (she has recently passed away) who operated heavily in the Motivational Gift of Encourager. Her life exemplified the hard times of which I speak. She epitomized what it meant to come alongside someone. She came alongside me and my husband many times. When we were still very young in our faith she recognized the need we had to understand God's word in a deeper way even before we did. She supplied us with at least two different Bibles (one was a topical Bible for ease of finding things -- makes me smile a little now) along with other study guides and books. She called us up on a regular basis just to ask about our spiritual life. She would pick our brains during those phone calls until she got a clear picture of the current depth of our faith and until she was sure that our understanding of God's love and will for our lives had become clearer to us than the last time. As you can imagine, the phone calls were quite lengthy. It wasn't just us, either. You could ALWAYS find her talking to and sharing with the stranger in the church service or the bedraggled and down-trodden soul at the store. I have this gift operating in me but it's not the one I score the highest in. It always comes up third for me. I'm not so apt to take risks with people, although I have surprised myself lately. (Maybe the gift is growing in me a bit. I hope.) My friend, the Encourager, never, ever considered coming alongside someone to be risky. It was just what she did. I'm not sure I ever made sure that she knew how much she did for us all those years ago. She knows now. Thank you, Ann.
Let's look at an example from scripture: Barnabas, the quintessential encourager. Barnabas' name means Son of Encouragement. (Acts 4:36)) Barnabas took risks with people. Like Saul before he became Paul. "When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:26-27, NIV, parenthesis mine) How much risk do you think it would take to come alongside a known persecutor of Christians, your own brothers and sisters in Christ, and make a statement to these same people that you are going to believe in this person no matter how scary it feels or looks regardless of this person's past. It would look like you were betraying those who have walked beside you. That's what Barnabas was up against coming alongside Saul. Did you notice how Barnabas defended Saul and strengthened his case before the harsh judges? And, what about John Mark? Remember him? When this same Paul rejected John Mark and would no longer stand beside him because he failed to be all that Paul wanted, needed and expected him to be, Barnabas saw more. "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.' Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus." (Acts 15:36-38, NIV) Barnabas took the risk and came alongside John Mark until John Mark became the person that Paul, later on in his ministry, could not live without. "Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11, NIV) Please understand how valuable you are, Encourager! Who knows what might have become of Saul or John Mark had it not been for this gift working through Barnabas. Jesus exemplifies all of the gifts, but of them all, this one screams the life of Christ (at least to me) who comes alongside us when no one else will -- who risked everything on our behalf, no matter how many times we fail. He does whatever is necessary to help us see and understand truth -- His truth!
If you scored high in the Motivational Gift of Encourager here's what you need to do. First, remember your Source! It is not YOU who is doing the encouraging but the Holy Spirit working through you in your gift. Likewise, it is the Holy Spirit who is willing to encourage YOU and fill YOU back up as needed. Second, because of your tendency to look to yourself for answers and solutions you also have a tendency to forget to pray. Make time to pray. Pray while on the treadmill, while walking through the grocery isles, while in your office and anytime you can grab 5 minutes. PRAY! It's important because every 5 minutes you will probably find someone else to come alongside. Third, taking risks with people does not mean that you allow yourself to become a doormat. Needy people have a tendency to take advantage of your time, sucking the life out of you. This may not be intentional on their part, but it happens far too easily. And it does not mean that you put them before your family. This is always my mantra: family comes before others. Your family is your first most important ministry. They need you to be willing to take those risks for them first. They need you to come alongside them first. Fourth, try to take notice of when you are enthusiastically interrupting others in order to bring the necessary application of truth. It's a little thing to be sure; however, refining our gifts and doing the Christian life with a little finesse shows maturity.
NOTE: The description of each gift is based on the highest score possible for an individual. You may find that only certain things are true for you and the rest is only true to a certain measure. We are individuals created by an infinitely creative God. We do not fit any certain mold. These descriptions help you to understand why you see things a certain way, why you act a certain way and why some things are more important to you than other things. Most of us will score fairly high in 2 or 3 gifts and how these gifts rank and what God has you involved in at the time will determine how well these gift descriptions speak to your individual personality.