Sometimes when we try to encourage someone the encouragement we are trying to provide has the opposite effect. I can think of three reasons why this may be the case.
- We may not adequately convey the message of encouragement due to poor communication
- We may misunderstand our friend’s situation and offer a response that does not fit the need
- Sometimes, in our pride, we give the encouragement in such a way as to make ourselves look better than we really are
When I am discouraged, I want to interact with someone who understands the struggle, not someone who tells me I have no reason to be discouraged. I really don’t need to hear that my struggle can be traced to some particular sin (because sometimes stuff happens through no fault of my own). In short, I don’t need Job’s friends.
Jesus tells us that the world will bring us tribulation (John 16:33); why then do we act surprised when someone in the church experiences it? Why do we spend so much effort in maintaining the illusion that we are unaffected by trials? Why do we look down on those who are open about their struggles?
When I am discouraged, I need to know two things. I need to know that my friend will not abandon me in the struggle and I need to be reminded that Jesus will see me through (Matt. 28:20).
When encouragement is needed, if your response to a friend begins with the words, “if you had only . . .” do everyone a favor and remain quiet. It will not help and only serves to add condemnation on top of the pain.
The point of this ramble is that in a fallen world we will experience disappointment and pain. The response of fellow believers can be used by God to reduce the pain (or at least make it bearable). Or, the response can increase the pain by laying condemnation on top of it.
We should always keep the words of Paul in mind when he wrote:
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, ESV)
The command to be patient with them all resonates with me. Patience is a gift that we should willingly give to those who are discouraged.