Over 20 years of ministry, I’ve observed a few trends in people. One of the most glaring ones is this…
Rarely do people feel over-encouraged.
Think about yourself. How often would you say to yourself, “I just don’t think I could take any more encouragement. I’ve just had too much!”
Why do you, and so many others, walk around under-encouraged?
I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering pessimist. Fifteen years ago, I was a glass-half-empty person. I’d call myself a realist, or a pragmatic person, a justice-oriented person, but I eventually saw a pattern I couldn’t ignore.
- I prided myself on pointing out how things may not work.
- Pointing out how other people were wrong made me feel a false, prideful righteousness.
- I thought my ability to point out mistakes or errors was wisdom or honesty.
- I often lowered expectations because I was afraid of the negative emotion of failure.
That’s just the beginning of the list. I was a good leader, and people respected me, but I spent my life carrying an invisible umbrella everywhere I went. I always saw the clouds in the distance.
As I lived my life this way, I made two observations about myself:
- I relied on others to encourage me. I struggled to encourage myself. Honestly, I almost lost the ability to self-encourage.
- The legacy I was creating was one I didn’t want. My legacy wasn’t about building but tearing things down – even if it was nicely. I looked ahead and saw a 70-year-old man who grew critical, negative, or even anxious—someone who spent their life as an armchair critic, not in the game.
So, here’s what I did. I decided to do everything I could to become a more positive person. To try to be a more encouraging person. I’m still learning, but here’s what I learned.
The key to being an encouraging person is to learn how to encourage yourself.
There is a real depth to this when you dig down into it. This is bigger than self-care platitudes.
If you read the apostle Paul’s prison letters, they are full of self-encouragement. Paul doesn’t look to others to encourage him as he sits in prison or faces the death penalty. He shares exactly how he encourages himself, how he stays positive, how he stays strong.
You have a responsibility to keep yourself encouraged. And it’s a muscle you can develop.
So how do you develop the muscle of self-encouragement? That’s what I want to share with you.
1. Change the questions you ask.
This was a big one for me, and it was for Paul. A new question can create a fresh perspective. Let me give you few examples of how this changed things for me.
Instead of asking what the pitfalls were with an idea, I worked to see the potential. Rather than of focusing on phrases like “yes but,” I try to focus more on “yes and.”
I stopped criticizing things I couldn’t change and I began to look for how I could make a difference. I moved from “looking at how bad this is” or worse, “look how stupid they are” to “where and how can I make a positive difference?”
When faced with a challenging circumstance, instead of asking, “what does this stop me from doing?” I began to ask, “what does this make possible?”
Questions like this don’t change reality, but they change how you tackle it. They change how you respond to a situation. They change how you see a circumstance.
Paul faced this same thing. In Philippians, people point out to imprisoned Paul that some preachers out there are preaching against him. Paul’s perspective was, well, they may be slandering my name, but here’s the good news, they are talking about Jesus and the gospel. In his mind, it was making something possible that wasn’t before.
Asking forward-thinking questions creates a forward-thinking mindset.
2. Learn to celebrate more and deflate less.
This may seem simple, but it’s very powerful. Making a conscious decision to deflate less and celebrate more does take discipline, but you can change your mindset by doing this. It’s interesting how encouraging other people can help keep you encouraged.
I’m very practical about this. I try to text people every day to encourage them, to thank people as often as I can. I would say I still have growth potential in this area, and I could prioritize it more. However, I can’t deny that the more I encourage people, the more I’m encouraged. Everyone needs encouragement, and the beauty is it encourages the encourager as well.
The more I celebrate the small things in other people’s lives and my own, the better I feel about my faith, life, and circumstances.
3. Leverage the resilience superpower.
In Philippians, Paul also shares the secret to his resilience. What is it?
But here’s the million-dollar question, how do you get more joy?
In the face of adversity and discouragement, how do you find joy? Joy is different than happiness. It is something more profound than happiness. Joy carries you through the most challenging circumstances. You feel it deep inside. It doesn’t wain like happiness. So what’s the secret?
Gratitude = Joy = Resilience.
See what Paul writes in Philippians 4:4-8 NLT.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Philippians 4:4-8 NLT
What is the key to peace in this passage? Tell God what you need, and then be grateful. Be grateful that Christ is returning, thankful for all He’s done, and keep your mindset focussed on the good things he is doing around you.
When you do this, this is what you will see.
The God who has been faithful, and is being faithful, will continue to be faithful.
So what about you? How much time do you spend listing the things you have to be grateful for in your life? What are you thankful for at this moment? Have you ever sat down to write out a gratitude list? I promise you; it will change your day.
Do you have needs? Of course. Paul brings his needs to God. Then he focusses on thankfulness—gratitude for God’s faithfulness.
Gratitude brings joy, and joy brings the peace you need in your circumstance. This is the birth of resilience in your life.
4. Focus on the most important thing.
The other thing you see Paul focus on above all things is The Gospel. The good news of Jesus. Paul’s passion is that more people would know Jesus. I would go as far as to say that is Paul’s north star. It’s the one thing he focuses on. He calls us to focus on the same thing.
For Paul, a job loss, a diagnosis, a prison sentence were just circumstances. His circumstances on this earth were temporary, and only one thing was eternal, Jesus.
That’s the power of the Christian faith. Its never-changing focus is the good news of Jesus. The world is temporary, but a relationship with God is eternal.
While our culture points to possessions, family, or career as most important, all of those things will disappear one day. It’s an understatement to say that they will pale in comparison to an eternity with Jesus. Our pain is temporary, and so is our window to share the good news of Jesus.
5. Change your circle.
Everyone spends time with a circle of friends. I didn’t change my circle, but I added some people to it. Positive people who solved problems, who dreamed of possibility, and looked to what was possible.
“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a term often used to describe a part of Canadian culture. We like to chop down the highest flower. We talk about how things won’t work and keep the person who is ahead from getting too far ahead.
You may have negative people in your life who pull you down that you need to move out of your life. What’s probably more helpful is to find people who encourage themselves, who focus on gratitude and the future. That will rub off.
The key to being an encouraging person is to try to find ways to encourage yourself.
One last thought.
You can build a life on being against people or for people. People rarely fall in the middle. Being in the corner of people, encouraging others, seeing what’s possible, this is a story worth writing and one you will look back on with satisfaction.
Where do you start?
Start by learning how to encourage yourself.