by Tina Olesen
To follow up on my last post, what’s the alternative to building children’s self-esteem? Won’t they get discouraged if we never praise them or pat them on the back? The danger of flattery leading to pride means we want to avoid all insincere, over-the-top compliments and applause. However, avoiding any kind of honest encouragement would not be right. So, what’s the right kind of encouragement for children?
When I think of encouragement, I often think of the scene from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where the Interpreter shows Christian a vision of a fire burning against a wall. Someone was always throwing water on it to quench it, but the fire burned higher and hotter anyway. When Christian asks what it means, the Interpreter tells him that the fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart, and it is the devil trying to extinguish it. The reason the fire burns hotter and higher is that on the other side of the wall, there is Christ with a vessel of the oil of grace in His hand, secretly casting it continually into the fire. Is it not encouraging to think that Jesus fuels the flames in the heart?
The scripture reference Bunyan gives for this passage is this: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” (2 Cor. 12:9). We want to encourage children in the all-sufficiency of Christ and His strength, not in their own natural abilities. To be of use to the Lord, the natural must be submitted to the spiritual. Under the control of Christ, any talents He has given us can be laid at His feet and used for His glory, and not our own.
Encouragement can be helpful if a child is succumbing to fear in the face of a new challenge or when something seems too difficult or overwhelming. They may need to be gently admonished to make an attempt, to persevere, or even to ask for help. Expressing your pleasure when they finally grasp something is fine, as long as it isn’t excessive or phony. Children should be encouraged to give thanks to God for accomplishments and victories, and not to credit themselves.
We would not want to encourage each other in an evil manner. Encouraging children toward self-reliance, rather than toward reliance on God, would qualify as evil encouragement. Think of the dismal picture of the tower of Babel. “You can do anything you put your mind to!” Our courage is rightly placed in Christ, and not in our own abilities.
To encourage someone literally means to build up their courage in the Lord. Encouragement can help them to face challenges, trials, and obstacles. It may mean the difference between a child succumbing to fear or overcoming by faith. We are exhorted in scripture to encourage one another or “stir up” one another to faith, love and good works. This is encouragement to trust in and obey the Lord, not to put their faith in themselves.
A wonderful example of encouraging one another is the story of Mary and Elisabeth’s meeting in Luke 1. Can you imagine what a blessed encouragement to faith in God that meeting was for both women? Each woman was challenged to remain true to God while many around them would disbelieve or even scoff at what God was doing in and through their lives. Yet they believed, and knew the truth, and boldly proclaimed it to one another. That is also what we are to do for each other.
Encouragement includes admonishment. It can mean entreating or urging someone to trust and obey God when they are facing temptation. Spurring one another on can feel like a sharp spur in the side sometimes. It may even hurt, although you know you really needed that kick in the pants from a friend who loves you. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Jesus’ words of encouragement to His church abound throughout the New Testament, and are too numerous to repeat here, but these are among the encouraging things He has said:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
“Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Let’s encourage our young soldiers for Christ to be ready to be faithful unto death by teaching them to love and esteem Jesus above themselves. The real way to encourage this is by living out our own relationship of trusting, loving, and obeying Christ, before their watching eyes.
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