When is the last time you really built someone up with your words? When is the last time you told someone how much you appreciated them? One of the most powerful things that you can ever do on the face of this earth is encourage someone else. There is great power in the word encourage. There is a little known story in the Old Testament that gives us a glimpse of the power of encouragement. It is found in 2 Chronicles 32.
I’d like you to meet King Sennacherib of Assyria. He was an evil man. Part of his military strategy was to demolish people’s bodies so that those who saw the brutality would be demoralized. He is responsible for cutting off people’s noses, ears, arms, and would even impale people just to show off his power. He was famous for leading people away by a ring in their tongue.
I’d like you to also meet King Hezekiah. He was the king of Israel at the time. He was faced with a desperate situation. A siege was coming to his city. Sieges can lead to great, horrible circumstances. The Bible explains just how bad it can get during a siege. The situation was so severe in one case that even forbidden food was selling for unbelievable prices: “A donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver” (2 Kings 6:25).
How much would eighty shekels be? It is hard to place an exact number on the measure of a shekel back then, but most commentaries speculate that this would be the equivalent of asking five hundred dollars today. The extreme conditions even brought on cannibalism: This woman said to me, “Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.” So we cooked my son and ate him (2 Kings 6:28).
But Hezekiah had a plan. He blocked off the water supply just outside the city so that the soldiers who would be surrounding the city would have nothing to drink. He worked hard at repairing all the broken sections of the wall. He built towers on the wall and built another wall outside the original walls. He even produced many weapons and shields and appointed military officers over the people. But he also encouraged the people.
Most good leaders are strategic planners. They know how to “draw up a plan” and make it work. But great leaders realize the importance of encouraging their people during the process. They know that without encouragement, the people might not have the actual courage to do what needs to be done.
Hezekiah gave an encouraging speech to his people who were facing imminent danger. They needed a plan to follow, but more than that, they needed to know that there was hope. They needed to know that God would take care of them. Hezekiah placed courage in his people’s minds. An encouraging person places COURAGE in people’s minds. This is exactly what this word means in this context here. “En” means “in” and when you place it with “courage” you have someone placing courage in another person. That is what it means to encourage someone. You give them the courage to do something that they were not sure if they were able to do it. You build a confidence in them to do the right thing.
Encouraging words…build confidence. I have never felt “courage” being poured into me more than at any other time than when I was running a cross country race as a Senior in high school. I still remember some of the races like it was just yesterday. I was trailing a guy from the other team the entire race. I seemed to be just content letting him set the pace about fifty feet in front of me. That is, until one of the teachers at my high school who was known for making courageous speeches saw me and decided to start yelling at me to catch the guy in front of me. He started yelling my name saying, “Jeremy, look at that guy in front of you, you can beat him, you can run faster than him, you will pass him.” At first I didn’t think it was possible. He was just too far in front of me for me to catch him. But this teacher wouldn’t let me off the hook. He yelled, “Jeremy, look at him! Focus on him! You are gaining on him! You’ve got him! You’re going to do it! Keep it up! This interchange lasted only a few seconds, but it gave me a surge that I didn’t know that I had inside myself. I ended up running past the other runner and even a few other runners and ended up finishing second overall that race. If the race would have been a little longer, I might have even won it. What amazed me is that I didn’t just barely beat this other runner, but by the time the race finished, I had gained a lead of at least fifty feet in front of him. This teacher built confidence in me that I didn’t know that I had. The greatest thing I took from that one season of running cross country was that moment when I was given the courage by someone who believed in me.
One of the best things that we can do for our children is to encourage them. For every critical comment we receive, it takes nine affirming comments to even out the negative effect in your life. So make sure you are unloading lots of positive re-enforcement to your child. This is something that I do with my daughters on a daily basis. I take my daughters to school three to four mornings a week. It is about a five minute drive to the school. During that time, I am trying to think of at least one to two positive things about both of them that I can praise them about. I want each of them starting off their day with confidence. Confidence to do the right thing in every situation.
On the other hand, what happens when you show a lack of confidence in your children and don’t encourage them? A while back, I watched a television program about how parents can have a tremendous impact on their children for either good or bad. In this special, one thousand prisoners were interviewed. They were all asked one simple question: “How many of you had parents who told you that you would end up in prison one day?” Almost every one of the inmates stated that this was repeated to them as a child more than once. Encouraging words do matter.
After Hezekiah’s speech, the Israelites had to make a choice. Were they going to believe the encouraging words of their king, Hezekiah, or were they going to listen to the discouraging words of the king of Assyria?
Encouraging words…are worthless unless they’re absorbed. Are you the kind of person that no matter what anybody says to you that is encouraging, you turn it into something negative? You are un-encourageable. This is a disease that plagues many people today. It is the inability to just take a compliment. To be told that you are doing something good and to just leave it at that and say, “Thank you.”
King Sennacherib tried to discourage the people of Israel. He wanted them to give up. There was no doubt in Sennacherib’s mind that they would be conquering them and he wanted the people to know that. But he didn’t want much of a fight. He wanted them to lay down and give up without a battle. So he tried to scare them into thinking it wouldn’t be worth it to try and hold out on a siege. He got out his list of other conquered nations and said, “Look at these nations, their god didn’t save them and your god won’t save you.” A discouraging person places past failures in people’s minds. This is the opposite of placing courage in someone. You are actually trying to take courage out of them when you bring up their past failures.
Discouraging words do two main things:
Discouraging words…create doubt. Here in the story, the Assyrian king tried to create doubt in the people’s minds to the fact that God is real and that God is good to them. He tried to make them doubt the fact that their God can take care of them.
A common denominator in all successful people is that they are not conquered by their own doubt. Other people might doubt them, but they believed in the encouraging words of their parents and grandparents and other people around them that believed in them. Now, I am not telling you to lie to your children about what they can be in life, but I am asking you to instill within them courage to try new things. Too many people are around discouragers, and discouragers love to instill doubt into a person’s mind. Many women doubt that they have anything good to give to society because of years of listening to a husband discourage them with words. Many men doubt that they could ever be a godly leader in their home because their wife discourages them with words. Others have contemplated suicide because they doubt that their existence matters.
Discouraging words don’t just create doubt, but discouraging words…create fear. Researchers conducted a study where they asked a group of seventy year olds if they had any regrets in their life. The number one answer was that they wish that they would have tried more things in their life, but didn’t because they feared that they would fail. When the interviewer asked them further why they felt a fear and then didn’t go for something, almost all the respondents talked about how they remember someone saying something to them early in their life and they could never forget it. The interviewer gave a couple examples.
The seventy year olds stated that they had many aspirations in their late teens and early twenties, but almost all of the dreams faded by the time they were in their thirties because they feared taking risks. They got a job that paid okay, so they stuck with it instead of pursuing something that might have been more fulfilling. Also, when asked if they were influenced by anything anyone said, they said that when they shared their dreams with different people, most, if not all of them would discourage them from taking some of those risks. So they didn’t, and they regret not trying to find out if their dreams could have come true in certain areas of their life.
Many of those same seventy year olds also stated that they regretted not taking more vacations because of a fear of other people’s comments, either their boss or other co-workers, or other people giving them a hard time for it. If they could do it all over again, they would have taken more time off to just be with their family. They would have traveled places they wanted to see. Many of them never used up all their vacation time because they feared what others would say about them.
There is a close connection between living in fear and listening and believing in discouraging words. That is why there is power in discouraging words.
If we look at how the story ends in 2 Chronicles, we read that King Hezekiah cried out to God in a prayer. This is where his courage came from. He knew that if they were going to be protected from the evil Assyrians, then God needed to be on their side. And God was. God sent an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
God is the power source for our courage. You can’t just turn on a switch one day and expect to be a great encourager of people. It just doesn’t happen like that. You have to understand where the power source is. And the power is released when you spend time asking God to fill you with courage. There is a supernatural power that we have at our disposal from God. This is why Hezekiah could tell his people to be strong and courageous. He knew that God was his source of power. That is why you can tell other people to be strong and courageous. You know that God is your power source.
We all need to be encouraged. None of us can go very long without encouragement. Some of us need encouraging words every single day while some of us might go several days and not need any, but we all need to be encouraged at some level.
Encouragement is much like a gas tank. For years, I had always prided myself in the fact that I have never run out of gas. But that ended one day a while back. I was driving along on a highway and heard the little bell go off that reminded me that I needed to get gas soon. Then the little light turned on as a further reminder. My car was shouting to me that I needed some gas. I registered this in my mind that I would turn off within the next ten or so miles and fill up on some gas. But somehow, I completely forgot that I was low on gas, that is, until about forty miles down the road my car turned off. At first, I thought something was wrong with the engine. But then it dawned on me: “Jeremy, you forgot to get gas! How could you forget?” I looked north, south, east, and west, and could see no sign of any kind of gas station. So I got out and started walking in the direction I thought a station might be located. I felt like asking my car for a do over. I wanted it to forgive me for this mess up and if it would just go to the gas station, then I would fill it up with really nice gas, maybe even put in some 93 octane. But as you know, a car doesn’t act like that. There is nothing negotiable about a car and gas. If it has some, it runs. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And I knew where I needed to get the gas: at the gas station. That is the source of gas. A kind man stopped and took me to the nearest gas station about five miles away and then brought me back to fill up my tank.
People are the same when it comes to encouragement. We all need it. We cannot run without it. And that is why if you feel low in your tank, you need to surround yourself with other people who will encourage you and lift you up. Also, you must commit yourself to filling up other people’s tanks with encouragement. But remember the source: God! Without being connected to Him, you soon run out of courage yourself, and without courage, you cannot pass it on.