The following is an excerpt from a recent message.  Listen to the full audio version here.

Because we all get the spiritual wind knocked out of our sails from time to time, God commands us to encourage one another.  But what does Biblical encouragement look like?  It’s not just saying “you can do it!”  Biblical encouragement isn’t a pep-talk.  It’s a pit-crew.  It’s not someone standing on the sidelines saying “go get ’em!” but someone waiting on deck to change your tires, fuel you up and get you back out on the track. 

Let me offer three characteristics of Biblical encouragement:

 1.   Biblical encouragement is steeped in God’s Word

 Biblical encouragement is steeped in God’s Word.   See, encouragement begins with the end in mind.  It seeks to give someone what they need to move from where they are to where they need to be.  But if we’re trying to move them to where we want them to be, then our “encouragement” is really nothing more than selfishness.  When a husband “encourages” his wife to go out and have some girl-time with her friends so that he can watch the game without being interrupted, that’s not biblical encouragement. Biblical encouragement seeks to move someone from where they are to where God says they need to be, and to do that we need to understand from His word where they need to be.

 Biblical encouragement has to be steeped in God’s Word because biblical encouragement depends on truth, not platitudes.  Biblical encouragement doesn’t sing “the sun will come out, tomorrow!” No, it says, “God has not given up on you.  God will never give up on you and He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”

 2.  Biblical encouragement is discerning. 

 Biblical encouragement is discerning.  It recognizes that different people are encouraged by different things and that different circumstances call for different kinds of encouragement.  By the way, I think there are basically four kinds of encouragement:  affirmation, consolation, exhortation and edification.

 a.  Affirmation – helps people see their value and potential, especially when they’ve lost sight of it.  Affirmation can take the form of words or of actions.  You know that game “strength bombardment”?  It’s where someone sits in the center of a circle and everyone else talks about their good qualities.  Some people are really encouraged by that kind of affirmation.  Personally, I hate that game.  I’d rather pull out my own fingernails than sit through that.  But trust me with a significant task because you believe I can do it well, and I’m affirmed. 

 b.  Consolation – recognizes the pain that people feel and acknowledges the legitimacy of their wounds while at the same time helping them see past the horizon of their suffering.

 c.  Exhortation – calls people to live in light of what they know rather than what they may feel at a given moment.  This can be a tricky line to walk.  On the one hand, if we tell someone to get it together and move on without allowing them time to heal from genuine wounds, we may just be creating an army of walking wounded.  On the other hand, sometimes sorrow and self-pity can cloud people’s vision and sap their strength, creating a well of despair that it can be very hard to climb up out of.  Illustration:  Crying Children.

 d.  Edification – gives people practical steps to enable them to move from where they are to where they need to be.  Sometimes this means helping them see something about themselves or their situation that they haven’t understood.  In that sense, this kind of encouragement could be called education, but remember that biblical encouragement is about pouring strength into someone so that they can live out God’s will for their lives.  Sometimes we can show people what they need to know, but sometimes it means coming alongside them, putting their arm over your shoulder and loaning them your strength as you take the next few steps together.

Biblical encouragement is discerning in that it offers the kind of encouragement that is most fitting for the situation or for the person who needs to be encouraged.

 3.  Biblical encouragement is personal.

 The only way to know how a person will be most encouraged or what kind of encouragement is required in a particular situation is to know the person you’re trying to encourage.  That’s why the greatest encouragement almost always comes from those who know us best.  Now, this means two things.  First, if you want to be an encouragement to someone, you need to take the time to get to know them, or at the very least, to know the situation they’re facing. This usually means learning how to listen.  Second, if you want someone to encourage you, then you have to be willing to let yourself be known.