The Necessity of Encouragement

“….encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

We are very aware of the importance of encouraging our children. Culturally speaking, I think it’s easy to get the idea that “encouragement” is synonymous with “praise” or for the purposes of “building self-esteem.” However, the Greek word translated as “encourage” in Hebrews 3:13 (above) is found in the KJV as “exhort,” which is further defined in the Vine’s Expository dictionary as (and this is not a direct quote, but my paraphrase) calling to a person to urge them to pursue a particular course of conduct. It is not comfort given as the result of a trial, but is prospective and looks to the future.

So encouraging our children isn’t about making them “feel good.” It isn’t even necessarily about giving them a “rah-rah” speech about coming out on the backside of a difficult circumstance. It’s about what we do and say in the “midst” of a trial to help our children to pursue a particular course–in our case, God’s desire for their heart and behavior.

I was reminded of this distinction today. It was a day full of encouragement! Not because things were looking up and there was lots to praise the children for; no, in fact, just the opposite. We’re coming off of a week of vacation (which is never easy, mind you), AND we were jumping right in to an early morning doctor’s appointment and several stops for grocery shopping while were were out. These days are also never the most anticipated.

We left the house on track for being about 5 minutes late, and it was raining. We were eating bread and drinking apple juice in the van on the way there, having not much else for breakfast and no time to sit down. (At least it was whole wheat bread, though). The boys had a few pages from their math workbooks, but weren’t really interested in working on them as we traveled. (“Can I do these later, Mom?”) Of course we were at the doctor’s office for just over an hour for a simple “weight check,” with all six of the children in tow. And we hadn’t even gone shopping yet! When we did make our stop at Sam’s Club, we did our shopping (being thankful for “Click-n-Pull” and most everything ready when we arrived!), but then we left a small box of things in the bottom of the carriage. I realized it just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, but by the time we got back around to where we had left the cart, someone had returned our things to the service desk. Well, praise God that they had been safely returned. BUT I still had to lug all of the kids out of the van AGAIN, and it was nearing lunch time, with still another stop to make.

Long story short…I was praying myself through the day and trying to keep up with that attitude of praise. The attitudes of the some of children, on the other hand, were wanting…exacerbated as the day wore on by the extended time of the errand-running and their tiredness, then hunger…occasional difficulties with self-control…there were LOTS of opportunities for encouragement! I did get to praise them for certain behaviors, but more than that I was mindful to exhort them as needed. To gently, lovingly, and PERSISTENTLY remind them of the benefits and blessings of surrendering to God’s will for their day and of seeking to “make every effort” to do the things that show that we are His servants.

And no, it wasn’t a perfect day. But it was very good. Why? Mostly because at a couple of different points when I was sure that a child was going to give up “trying” to do it God’s way, they would come back and say, “I’m sorry, Mom. I know I need to do better.” Or, they would begin encouraging each other, which was a real blessing to me. For all of us–my children included–it’s about direction, not perfection…and I definitely saw some progress today.

I have to be honest, I have a hard time dealing with bad attitudes on the part of my children. It’s probably one of the areas where I’m most likely to fall short in my response. I think it’s because it’s not just a behavior that you can discipline and be done with. It has to do with the mind, will, and emotions–it’s about the heart, and spankings don’t touch that. Spankings are easy to administer for different kinds of behaviors, but when a child needs to have his heart ministered to, it takes a tender touch, a kind voice, and persistent encouragement. Not just a “way to go” pep talk, but something that reminds them what it’s really all about. I have seen that my children can really develop that “hard heart” that gives in to sin (which is what I think of when I read Hebrews 3:13, cited above) if I am not proactive in encouraging them in a godly direction when I see those heart troubles beginning to surface.

It’s worth every effort we make as parents to get to the hearts of our kids. So I would just encourage you to keep on encouraging your children today. Use every tool in your tool box. Talk to your kids. Let them know you care. Live an authentic Christian life, and be willing to be honest about your own shortcomings. Pray together. Do life together. Then when you’re exhorting them to “pursue a particular course of conduct,” you’ll have the credibility to speak that influence into their lives. Most of all, pray that God would do what you can’t. He will. He is faithful. When we do our part, He does His, and it’s awesome.