I confess. I am writing this article for selfish reasons. You see, anyone who is in the public spotlight to a fair degree will be subject to two things: bouquets and brickbats. Praise and criticism. Compliments and complaints. Blessings and cursings.
The problem is, often the former are few and far between, especially when compared to the latter. Often for every word of support or praise one receives, there are many words of criticism and complaint. And these can take their toll. And since we are all human, the accumulation of carping and criticism can bring discouragement and despair.
And those who tend to be at the forefront of the culture wars, and who are most engaged in taking on the various anti-faith and anti-family forces can tend to have a prophetic disposition. That is, like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, they may have a melancholic personality to begin with, and live a fairly lonely life, so all the negativity and opposition can simply make things even worse.
But if the calling is there to take on these battles, then the grace is also provided. But still, those in leadership and the public arena know all too well that a continual dose of criticism, without an offsetting bout of praise, can tire out the best of us.
Thus this short homily on the importance of giving out encouragement and praise. I am not suggesting that there is no place for constructive criticism. It is vitally needed. We all have blind spots, and we all need the perspective and insight of others to keep us on the straight and narrow. But with the critiques we also need some support, some uplifting words, some encouragement along the way.
It goes without saying that Scripture is full of exhortations to praise one another, to encourage, to build up, to edify. Plenty of passages come to mind. For example, Yahweh told Moses to provide support for Joshua as he took Israel into Canaan: “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see” (Deut. 3:28). He certainly needed the encouragement.
And there are lots of examples of encouragement as well. After Israel had just experienced a crushing military defeat, it says “the men of Israel encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day” (Judges 20:21).
Of course we take ultimate comfort and encouragement directly from our Lord. When the people were greatly distressed and even wanted to stone David, it says that he “encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6).
But God works through his people, and we are commanded to uplift one another. As Paul said, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thes. 5:11). And this is to be a regular event, not a once off: “But encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13).
Such words of encouragement are certainly needed, because Scripture also records many cases of discouragement and weariness. Plenty of examples are found of murmuring and complaining and tearing down, instead of building up. Exodus 16:2 is a classic passage in this regard: “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness”. Hey, it’s not easy being a leader!
Jesus faced the same thing. Consider the story of ten men with leprosy who were healed, and only one returned to praise God (Luke 17:11-19). We can often work our tails off for the kingdom and God’s people, but very few people actually offer thanks, or even seem to notice our efforts.
What we need are more people like Barnabas, whom Luke tells us means “son of encouragement”. While the etymology is problematic, the description is fitting. For example, we read in Acts 11:22-23 of Barnabas being sent to Antioch: “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”.
We all need such encouragement. Sure, we need censure and constructive criticism as well, but this must always be delivered in a spirit of humility, and clothed in prayer. And when given, it should be bracketed with praise.
In closing, let me give what I think is a wonderful yet hilarious example of God going out of his way to encourage his servants, by means of lavish praise. In Judges 6:11-12 we learn that Gideon was basically hiding from the Midianites. Yet an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “The LORD is with you, mighty man of valour”.
I think that is great. This timid leader is called a mighty warrior, and encouraged with the promise of the Lord’s presence. Not a bad habit for us to get into. Let us encourage each other, reminding one another that God is with us, and because of that fact, we can all be mighty men and women of God, doing great exploits in his name.