The EKG of Encouragement

courtesy of @istockphotopagadesign

This past summer I spoke at a conference in Dallas on the topic of encouragement. It probably was a bit too topical in spots, but I did draw from the life of the Levite, Joseph,  in scripture, a man who was such a blessing to others that the church nicknamed him “Barnabas” (or “son of encouragement”).  My point was that one of a Christian’s fundamental tasks is to nurture or exhort others toward Christlikeness (see Paul do so with Timothy in II Timothy 2:15-21).

However, churches are anything but places of encouragement at times.  Doesn’t that seem counterproductive?  Contrary to the gospel message that Christ forgives, redeems, justifies, and that the Holy Spirit renews?  Why is there often mistrust today in Christian circles when we should focus on how to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24)?

Encouragement is more than “Hey, you’re having a good hair day!” but rather developing the ability to be warm and empathetic with others and be grace-full (and, yes, even graceful) with others as well.

But, perhaps there’s even more that encouragement does in our lives. Maybe there’s a physical benefit as well.

A friend of mine recently told me of his recovery from a heart attack and that the nursing staff had him hooked up to a monitor and told him to think of affirming/encouraging words from his past.  He closed his eyes and thought of a peaceful scene – fly-fishing on a summer day in northern Canada.  The nurse interrupted, “No no!  You are NOT thinking of encouraging words. Look!” And she had him look at the monitor, the indicators on the screen in disarray, bouncing wildly. “Now,” she continued, “I want you to think of encouraging words. I don’t care if it’s something from childhood where your mom complimented you for cleaning your room or going potty.  The key is encouragement.”

So, my friend did so and after a while the nurse had him look up again to the monitor and the harmonious rhythm of the indicators all in sync was a stark contrast to what it previously showed with his peaceful thoughts of fly-fishing.

Now, I don’t know what happened there and I checked with our phenomenal nursing faculty at Bethel College about this theory.  They immediately pointed me to a series of research (on encouragement, family presence/touch/comfort)  that supported the work the nurses were doing with my friend.

There does indeed seem to be an EKG effect to encouragement in our lives.Perhaps the Apostle Paul was on to something more than we think when he wrote, “that their hearts may be encouraged”     (Colossians 2:2).

Be an encouragement to others today. Spur them on to greater Christlikeness in word and action.  Give grace to those who struggle and allow God to lead you toward those around you who need more than a “Hey!” or “How you doin’?”