By Aaron Armstrong
Back in the far-off days of December 2020, there was a greater sense of anticipation about the coming year than I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s no surprise why: For many of us, 2020 was a gigantic dumpster fire. The pandemic and its fall out disrupted our regular patterns of life at every level. Concerns over the possibility of a loss of employment or becoming sick abound. We may not know from week-to-week if our churches will meet in person, in doors or outside, online or not at all. We keep expecting a return to normal, or at least some sense of a new normal. But neither has emerged yet. (Maybe next week?)
We are tired. Frustrated. And, frankly, more than a little discouraged.
And by “we,” I most definitely include me.
Numbing Our Discouragement
It’s really tempting to look for something to escape into when discouragement and frustration set in; something to bring some kind of relief, or to help temporarily forget everything going on in the world. Whether it’s a TV show to binge, a new hobby, or even spending more time going down different rabbit trails on social media, we all do it. (No judgment—I do it too.) I’m definitely not anti-entertainment. I often read crime novels and comic books to unwind. I listen to podcasts that make me laugh. And I even have a couple of games on my phone. Entertainment is good and fine, so don’t read what I’m not writing here.
Entertainment is good and fine. But we need something greater when dealing with ongoing frustration, anxiety, disappointment, or discouragement, like so many of us are facing right now. Something stronger. We need to be encouraged in and through the gospel.
What it Means to Encourage in the Gospel
That might sound like a strange bit of “Christianese,” the internal language that so many Christians use when talking about matters of faith, but it is anything but. It’s meant to ground our efforts to encourage one another, to provide encouragement a stronger foundation than general kindness. To offer true hope, rather than wishful thinking or simple platitudes.
And what is that hope? Ultimately, that hope is the gospel itself. The fact that Jesus lived, died, and lives again, that because Jesus is alive and the king of the universe, we have the best reason to maintain hope than anyone. And as we face discouragement in any area of life, but especially in ministry, it’s essential that we bring one another back to the gospel, taking what we are facing and experiencing, and look at it through its lens.
How Not to Encourage One Another
Okay, so what does that look like? Well, maybe it’s better to start with what it doesn’t look like. Encouraging one another in the gospel doesn’t look like:
- Offering platitudes, however well meaning. While it is good to know that “God’s got this,” it can come across as dismissive. (Ditto, “thoughts and prayers.”)
- Unintentional Bible-shaming. Reminding one another that our momentary sufferings are incomparable to the riches of Christ. While true (I mean, it is in the Bible for a reason), there is a time when even the most profound truth can be profoundly unhelpful.
- Undesired problem solving. This is especially complicated: a desire to help and offer advice is a good thing. But sometimes our desire to help isn’t what’s needed in the moment.
That’s the negative side, but to be clear, none of it is malicious. It’s hard to imagine anyone offering a “God’s got this” or a Bible verse with the intent of causing further harm. It’s all based in a good desire, just poor execution.
How to Encourage One Another
Now, what about the positive? A couple of important caveats: First, nothing you’re going to see on this list is going to be earth shattering. There’s a reason for that: this kind of encouragement is often much simpler to do than we might think. Our bigger issue is that we overthink how to encourage one another! Second, you might even find some of the advice here to be contradictory, but there’s a reason for that too—just context and circumstances determine if we are to answer or not answer foolish talk and thinking (Prov. 26:4–5), context and circumstances determine our approach to encouraging one another. With caveats in place, here are five ways we can encourage one another:
- Check in. You might be surprised at how much just receiving a text or even an email goes to a discouraged person (even if they don’t realize it).
- Weeping with those who weep. Sometimes that can be enough. Whether via phone call, a zoom meeting, or in-person, when another believer is struggling with discouragement, something the best thing we can do is listen. Don’t try to fix a problem, just be present, as one who weeps with those who weep (Rom. 12:15), as one being willing to bear the burdens of another (Gal. 6:2).
- Pray for the discouraged (and tell them how). As much as possible, the best thing you can do is to be specific in sharing how you’re praying. If it is someone you know well, you likely know what they may be dealing with. But even if you don’t know specifically what someone needs, you can bet the Holy Spirit will—and often He leads us to share the very thing that the discouraged needs to hear.
- Challenge false thinking. Sometimes we are discouraged because we’re not thinking correctly. As we seek to listen carefully and sensitively, we want to look for ways to lovingly challenge wrong thinking. Sometimes this means saying something that a discouraged friend, coworker, fellow church member, or a pastor may not want to hear, but we do so because “the wounds of a friend are trustworthy” (Prov. 27:6).
A Personal Experience of Encouragement
A few weeks ago, I received a message from a coworker in another area of our organization, letting me know they were praying for me in my work with The Gospel Project, and that God would help me to persevere as we seek to come alongside churches here at Lifeway. I’ve been generally feeling pretty okay over the last few months, but I’ll tell you, I had no idea how much I needed to read that until I did. It was life-giving for me.
Think about it: who in your life needs encouragement right now? Maybe it’s your pastor. It could be your spouse, child, or another family member. Maybe it’s a coworker. Whomever comes to mind, take a moment and reach out. Be present and available, encouraging them in the gospel as you come alongside to help carry their burden.
Aaron Armstrong is the Brand Manager of The Gospel Project, and the author of several books including Epic: The Story that Changed the World, Awaiting a Savior, and the screenwriter of the documentary Luther: the Life and Legacy of the German Reformer. Follow him on Twitter.