'Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing' (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Are we continually building people up and encouraging them? I like to think I am but the truth is that while I often have kind and appreciative thoughts about the people around me, I don't always share them. What about you?
I went to the funeral of a great friend's mother the other day – a wonderful lady who I had got to know over many weekends spent at her home. After the service there were hundreds of us discussing her many great qualities and sharing with each other the positive impact she had on us. I wonder how many of us told her those same things when she was alive?
We don't have to wait until someone has died to share our appreciation of them. They might need to hear our encouraging words today! Encouraging words can bring life, courage, hope and truth to the recipient. Even better – encouraging words inspired through the Holy Spirit can help people catch a glimpse of how God sees them and that can be amazingly powerful and life transforming.
Relationship researcher Dr John Gottman suggests that in healthy relationships there will be at least five positive interactions for every one negative one. That means if we ever criticise people or give negative feedback, we need to be at least five times as good at encouraging and speaking positively.
Giving encouragement doesn't have to be difficult, time consuming or intense. The best encouragement is heart-felt, sincere and specific. It doesn't have to be long-winded or complicated – sometimes a simple word given at just the right time is all that is needed.
So, whom could you encourage today? Here are seven suggestions of ways you could get started. There are plenty of other ways to encourage but these are all things I'm trying to put into practice this week.
1. Use birthdays to encourage people. Last week was my birthday. I had breakfast with nine women from church and towards the end one of my friends suggested that each person took turns encouraging me. I had no idea that she was going to do that and to start with I was rather embarrassed. But one by one they went round and spoke positively about what they saw in me. I was really touched by their kind comments and it made a huge difference to my week.
Birthdays are a great moment to stop and show our appreciation to people. We can let them know why they are special to us and describe all that we love about them. We can explain the impact they have on us and list their positive characteristics. We can thank them for who they are and all that they do.
2. Write a handwritten card to close friends or family. Sometimes it is the people closest to us that we find hardest to encourage. Perhaps we believe that they know how we feel but it is always good to stop and remind them.
Handwritten letters or cards are a great way to let people know how we feel. They are a visual reminder that can be re-read when the person needs building up. Once a week why not think of one person that means a lot to you? Then buy them or make them a card that reminds you of them and write some encouraging words inside.
3. Notice strangers. Does the check-out girl, the school receptionist or your car mechanic need a word of encouragement today? If someone gives you a great smile, treats someone kindly, demonstrates great service or does something positive – however small - let them know. It might just make their day.
4. Celebrate people at work. Whatever your position at work, take time to encourage others. Work places aren't always the most encouraging places but you can make a real difference with your positive words. Let your colleagues know what you appreciate about them and praise them when they do a good job. Even better, encourage them or build them up in front of others.
5. Choose someone at church to bless. Sunday services can be difficult times for many people. Look around and see if there is one person who could benefit from an encouraging word. Thank them for who they are and what they do. By noticing someone and expressing what we appreciate about them we are letting them know that they matter.
6. Use social media to build people up. It might not be the most obvious place for encouragement but it can be a great place to give positive feedback. Whether people seem to be celebrating or struggling in a post, take time to encourage them.
This week, spurred on by the encouraging words spoken to me, I asked if any of my Facebook friends needed a word of encouragement. For anyone who said 'Yes' I left a reply letting them know what I appreciated about them.
7. Ask God to use you to encourage someone each day. The greatest words of encouragement are the ones inspired by the Holy Spirit. Why not ask God to give you words, encouragements, verses, pictures, or impressions to share with people?
I recently attended a morning conference. The speaker runs a major Christian organisation and he was speaking to us on Kingdom living and encouraging us in the prophetic. He told us that as he was driving to the conference he had asked God if there was anyone he needed to share with that day. God promptly showed him a picture of a woman's face that he was to speak to. Imagine my surprise when he told everyone there that the woman was me!
He spoke the words that he felt God had given him and I felt both touched and inspired. They were words I really needed to hear and were like water to a thirsty traveller in the desert.
After a week of being amazingly encouraged, I'm now more determined than ever to encourage others. Will you join me?
Sarah Abell is the founder of nakedhedehogs.com and is passionate about helping people to live, love and lead authentically. If you want to find out how authentic your relationships are – you can take a free test on her website. Follow her on Twitter @nakedhedgehogs