Have you ever heard of the book, “The 5 Love Languages?” Written by Gary Chapman, the book outlines 5 ways that a person can express and experience love. These ‘love languages’ include: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. This isn’t just a book for premarital counseling or newlyweds since one can show love with parents, children, friends, and even strangers.
To gauge what your preferred method of experiencing love is, you can take a short quiz (yes, you can do this without reading the book and you can find it online for free). When I took the quiz, I had a strong suspicion at what my number one quality of love was, but I was particularly struck at how high it was compared to the other four love languages. Now, if you know me to the slightest degree, you can probably guess right now which love language it is that I scored so high on. If not, then perhaps the title of this blog gives a hint to what it might be. That is words of affirmation. In my opinion… the absolute best!
I don’t know what it is about words of affirmation, but meaningful words fill me up. It might sound strange to say (especially for those who score low on words of affirmation) but I would rather receive a specific, heartfelt message for my birthday than anything else. While I appreciate gifts (so don’t return them just yet) and cash helps pay the bills, I tend to remember the words that were spoken or written – even years later – that make me feel loved and appreciated.
Words of affirmation is not solely a language to be spoken in love but is considered a gift of the Spirit in Scriptures. Otherwise known as ‘the gift of encouragement’, it is mentioned alongside a few other gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:6-8:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
The Greek word for ‘encouragement’ is parakleo. Does that word sound remotely familiar to you? Perhaps you are reminded of John 14:26:
“But the Helper (Paraklētos), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Did you catch that? Encouragement is not simply a gift of the Spirit, but is built into the character of the Holy Spirit! In other words, encouragement is part of the Holy Spirit’s DNA. As a Christ follower, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you to encourage you in the faith and to come alongside others in their faith journey to encourage them.
The truth is, we all need encouragement – desperately so! Whether you turn on the news or scroll through social media, there is so much negativity out there. Someone accusing someone else. Slander. Backbiting. Fake news. Not only do you not know what to believe, but you began feeling drained and depressed because of it.
To top it off, we’ve all experience personal battles of hurtful words that have marked us and unfortunately, have scarred us. Whoever invented the phrase ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is dead wrong. Words – especially the ones we don’t want to hear – stick like glue. Therefore, if words are filled with hate, negativity, bitterness, and disappointment, it can be so difficult to shake them off. That is why it is more important to remember these words instead:
“You are a new creation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
“There is no condemnation in Christ.” – Romans 8:1
“You are not a mistake.” – Psalm 139
“You are worthy of love.” – Romans 5:8
That is why it is imperative to spend time with the Holy Spirit so He can encourage you when you need it! The enemy is a liar and he will try to dissuade you and distract you from your daily devotion to God by suggesting those hurtful words to you. Don’t believe them – not even if it is a ‘half-truth’! In those moments instead, ask the Holy Spirit, “How do you see me?” “What encouraging words do you want me to live by today?” He knows you and wants to fill you up so you can continue to be transformed into the glorious image of Christ more and more (2 Corinthians 3:18).
One of my favorite times in youth ministry was when we had ‘encouragement nights.’ I’m not sure how it started, but it consisted of a microphone and the opportunity for the students to share a positive message with one another. Little did I realize the empowerment that was released when their own peers spoke life to one another from a Godly perspective. Hearts began pouring out, students became closer, and deep wounds were starting to become healed to undo some of the hurtful words others had spoken to them in the past. It was supposed to be a one time youth night, but we had to push it to 2 more nights because of the impact!
I reflect on times like these and pose the question: Do we have to wait for an organized group setting to encourage one another? Is that the only time it seems ‘appropriate’ to do so? The answer: no way!
I love how Paul commends the church in Thessalonica by saying, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). They were not simply asked to encourage one another, but were known as a people who encourage others on a continual basis! Can we become an encouraging body as well? Will you step out a say to others a word that perhaps they need to hear? Let me encourage you… “you have been given not a spirit of timidity (or fear) but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). God is with you (Isaiah 41:10), God is within you (Luke 17:21), and God is for you (Romans 8:31)… YOU CAN DO IT!
Therefore, look for opportunities to encourage those around you throughout your day. Don’t just think it… tell the person! Otherwise, how will they know? What if that was the exact word or words they needed to hear? And if not, it’s always a blessing to hear encouragement regardless. I’d love to hear back your responses by encouraging others around you this week, so feel free to post your experience here. May the Lord give you the encouraging words you need – not only to overcome the hurt you’ve experienced – but to speak life to others to give them the strength, hope, and love that they need as well.