Last December, I wrote a post called 8 Ways We Can Serve Others; you can think of this post as an extension of that one. They build on each other and what I outline here might enhance the things I mentioned in December.
Christians are to be encouraging people. We are to speak and do kindness to others as a reflection of Christ. It’s not always as easy as it sounds, especially if we’re trying show meaningful kindness. I’ve come up with a few ways we can do this intentionally.
As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
1 // Comment on the person, not their looks.
I always get a little confidence boost when someone tells me they like my outfit or my hair or the way I’ve done my makeup for the day — it’s flattering! But sometimes encouragement is more than flattery, and it needs to have some substance, especially since character is what truly matters. Maybe we can start telling people we appreciate them for their kindness. Or that something they’ve done has been encouraging to us. As good as you’ll make them feel when you comment on their appearace, they’ll be twice as encouraged by the thought you put into a comment on based on who they are. Now, if telling that person they look pretty is something you know will encourage her, then go for it — but try to be specific in your compliment. Anyone can say, “you look nice today.” But what exactly does that mean? Tell her, “That color looks great with your skin,” or “Your hair looks so pretty in a bun!” Compliment personalization can make all the difference.
2 // Give meaningful gifts.
If you have an opportunity to give someone a gift, especially during a hard season in his or her life, it’s always beneficial to personalize that in some way. Even if it’s just the generic coffee mug, find one that speaks to them — one with a Bible verse you know they need or love, a quote, a joke, a pretty picture, or just their favorite color! A couple of years ago, when I had the flu, I had a friend bring me a care package that was full of all the things I liked: the bag was Tinkerbell, a One Direction notebook, colorful packages of tissues, my favorite flavor of cough drop, a plastic Tangled cup, and a bottle of nail polish. I was missing worship services and was just feeling down; this thoughtful goodie bag was all I needed in that moment to encourage me to be positive! So, try to give a gift that you know will lift their spirits. Even if it takes a little more effort, your friends will appreciate it.
3 // Offer to help — and follow through.
So many times people say, “Let me know if I can help!” But they literally wait to see if you let them know (I struggle with this) and end up not helping at all. Some people are shy about asking for help, and they don’t want to impose on your schedule. To show them that you really care, you could text or call them the day before they need help and offer one more time, letting them know that you would love to help if you can. Another option: if you know what time they’ll be getting started on whatever task they’re tackling and know they could use the help (packing, mowing, building something, homework, cleaning, etc.), just show up! As long as you know they wouldn’t be offended by your random appearance at their house, then you can show up and dive into the project with them. This isn’t in my personality to do, but for some people it’s a viable option. All of this lets your friends know that they’re not alone in what they’re doing, and that you’re sincere in wanting to help, in turn encouraging them.
4 // Sympathize.
Because not every discouraging situation calls for a gift or a meal or handiwork, sympathy –or even empathy — might be the only thing that will do the trick. Sometimes when we’re down, all we really need is someone to sit down with us, tell us they understand and that it’s going to be OK. Sympathy can go a long way. If your friend is going through something you couldn’t possibly understand, just listen to her, hug her, tell her you’re sorry and tell her you’re praying for her. (By the way, telling people you’re praying for them is encouragement all on its own.) If there’s a problem that needs to be resolved, listen to her first, sympathize second, and offer input third (this process is true especially for most girls).
5 // Always stay positive.
I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is a new day, and I believe in miracles.
Positivity is encouraging to most people even if you’re not speaking directly to someone about their struggles. A cheerful smile, brushing it off even if you’ve just had the worst day of your life, and having genuine joy are some of the most encouraging traits I’ve ever seen in people. People who are resilient and strong and genuinely happy are a joy to be around! If you just radiate positivity and joy in Christ, that can be enough to push someone in the right direction, and it reflects Christ’s character the way that Christians are supposed to.
I believe that in doing each of these things, we can encourage people through our character and lead them closer to Christ. Even material gifts can help someone who’s having a hard time because those gifts are a symbol of friendship, love, and togetherness.
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.