We each know pretty easily who the encouragers are in our life, and we can recall with ease the people who pat us on the back and say “well done” as well as the people who cheer us forward to bigger and greater things. We can recall them easily because we are drawn to them. All of us are, because we are wired that way. And if it so happens that there is nobody in our life who does this for us, we are equally (and painfully) aware of this, for the same reasons. We are drawn to encouragement both emotionally and spiritually in the same way our physical bodies are drawn to water when we are thirsty. Our relational health requires encouragement like our physical health requires water. So, when we talk about the kinds of conversations that help to drive relationships deeper and make them healthier, conversations around encouragement are at the top of the list. They are the first and easiest of our Five Conversations for Healthy Relationships.
What is more, conversations around encouragement are TWO of the five conversations, because there are actually two sides of encouragement. There is a side that looks back at what has already happened and says, “well done…this was good”–we call it affirmation. And then there is a side that looks to the future and cheers us toward exciting possibilities–we call that exhortation. Both are encouragement. And both are necessary conversations in order to drive important relationships deeper. We need cheerleaders in our lives both to help us see what is already good and to help us see what is possible. That is true on the surface, and it is true spiritually as well. Jesus was a master at both.
There is a wonderful story in the Bible about when Jesus first met a professional fisherman named Peter. He (Peter) and his partners had been out fishing all night and had caught nothing. It was just one of those bad outings. No fruit to show for their labors. Not a big deal. Clearly, the fish just weren’t biting that day. We all have days or nights like that at work. They were busy cleaning their nets when Jesus approached them and asked if he could borrow a boat. It would allow him to be heard more easily by the crowd who was following him and waiting for him to teach. Peter relented. And I believe Peter likely heard the teaching and was amazed by it. This man, Jesus, was uncommonly wise and was clearly worth hearing. After he taught, Jesus told Peter he should go back out and try fishing again. Peter recalled for Jesus the bad night they had just completed, but then Peter did something uncommon himself. He relented AGAIN. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
I would like to think I would have said the same thing. But, honestly, I don’t know. Jesus was clearly a wise teacher, but what did he know about fishing? What could he teach a professional fisherman about his trade? What rabbi would even dare to be so presumptuous? It worked out well for Peter. The catch was miraculous. It was too big for his boat! It was amazing, and it was a little scary. Peter expressed as much. It was encouraging, to be sure. It said to Peter, “Look what you accomplished with me.” It illustrated to Peter that, with Jesus, he could do amazing things. I promise you, Peter was glad he took Jesus’ fishing advice. Encouraging? Yes. Beyond belief.
But then came the second level of encouragement. Jesus then helped Peter begin to see what COULD be. He began to cast a vision of Peter’s future. Here’s how scripture describes the conversation:
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
There is encouragement that helps you feel good about what has already happened, and then there is encouragement that changes your life forever. Do you want to drive the important relationships in your life deeper and make them more meaningful and more nurturing both to you and to them? Learn this kind of encouragement. Get good at being that to others in your life, and forge friendships with those who can be that for you as well. You will never regret it.