An old acquaintance used to say, with a bit of a sanctimonious grin, “God has given me the spiritual gift of discouragement.” And while discouragement was certainly no divine gift, it was most certainly a well-established pattern. He seemed to take delight in finding ways to rain on every parade, to temper every joy, to twist the knife in every wound. And for some reason he took pride in this as if it was a skill to practice, a virtue to pursue, a gift to embrace.
The fact is, though, we have no need of any spiritual gift of discouragement for life is already plenty discouraging enough. There is no need for a humidifier in the heat of a Toronto summer when the air is already saturated with moisture. And in much the same way, there is no need for a ministry of discouragement in this world of woe, for it is already nearly fully-saturated with grief, shame, sorrow, and temptation. Discouragement is as natural to this broken world as are rising floods and spreading flames.
The sanctified instinct of the Christian heart should not be to discourage but to encourage, not to further demoralize other people but to give them strength, to give them heart, to give them courage. It is no virtue to add to the weight other people bear, but to come alongside them to share the heavy burdens they are already carrying. God has not called us to weaken their knees but to strengthen them, not to lower their hands but to help raise them, not to give them reason to mourn but to dry their already-crying eyes.
So friend, who gave you the right to discourage that brother or sister? Who gave you the right to involve them in some debate that does not concern them or some dispute that does not involve them? Who gave you the right to share gossip that will brew in their minds and trouble their hearts? Who gave you the right to sap the little strength they had gained, to pick at the wound that had only just begun to heal, to drain the precious reserves of their waning energy? Who gave you the right to take the wind out of their sails, the peace out of their minds, the joy out of their hearts?
Each of us has every right to make other people’s steps lighter, to add cheer to their hearts, to add rest to their souls. But none of us has any right to unnecessarily discourage them, to burden them, to add to their sorrow. Rather, each of us should join ourselves to the sacred ministry of encouragement through which we help them to rejoice in all that is true and honorable and just, help them to celebrate all that is pure and lovely and commendable, help them to give thanks for all that is excellent, and help them to identify any and everything that is worthy of praise. This is the ministry that will heal the bruised reed rather than break it, that will stoke the smoldering wick rather than quench it. This is the ministry that will do such good to others and bring such glory to God.