Webster’s dictionary says to encourage is “to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope; to spur on; to give help or patronage to”- in other words to empower or embolden someone to do that which is set before them.
To inspire with courage, spirit or hope. I love that. To fill with real courage not false bravado. To inspire the spirit not to just leave them with a positive mental image. To foster hope even in the midst of despairing circumstances. That is encouragement. In order to really inspire courage you have to be willing to walk with someone for awhile. We can’t think the Waterboy was all that encouraged by the guy in the stands yelling “You can doooo it” and neither should we expect our friends who are facing tough circumstances will be spurred on that much by a passing Facebook post. It is not that those things aren’t good it is just that they fall short of what a friend really needs.
During the third episode of Full Metal Jousting, Joe drew a tough opponent in Josh Avery and coming into the practice before his joust he had done okay, but was still a little bit unsure if he would be able to hit hard enough to be successful. Now as the black team we could have used all of the encouraging words we knew and it might have helped a bit, but what Joe really needed was for his teammates to enter the list* with him and give him our best while we received his best. You see true encouragement is best given shoulder to shoulder, not face to face. It is easier to believe a friend next to you in the huddle than it is to believe your coach on the sidelines, unless the coach has been right there with you sweating through two-a-days.
And that is one of the best things about Jesus - He was in the boat with them when they were freaking out, saying “fear not”. He didn’t give them that bit of advice from the shoreline. If we want to be encouraging to someone, and if we follow the Father’s example as we should, we are going to need to enter the list to really be able to inspire courage, spirit and hope.