A Pat on the Back


Ridiculous sayings abound in the English vernacular, but one that has to be near the top is this one: “Give yourself a pat on the back.”

Oh, it sounds great. Someone is telling you that you did a good job. It starts off promising. Then you realize what they’re really saying: “You pat yourself on the back because I’m not going to.” That’s where it all falls apart.

Have you ever tried patting yourself on the back? It’s an exercise in futility. First of all, it’s awkward – unless you’re freakishly double-jointed. Then, if you do manage to make contact, it’s less than satisfying. It’s more like a tap on the shoulder blade. You stop and ask yourself, “Why am I patting myself on the back when you’re the one thinking I did a good job?”

True encouragement is heartfelt; it’s not a glib comment thrown out as a bone to someone who we’ve decided to marginally recognize. Encouragement takes work on our part as we must step outside of our self-absorbed tendencies to notice what others are doing – and impart courage to them to continue doing it.

The writer of Hebrews, presumably the Apostle Paul, said this:

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. – Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

This wasn’t an occasional event in his life: Paul said to do this daily.

I will admit that this isn’t always easy for me. It’s not natural for me to put on my “what are other people doing that I want to goad them to keep doing it” hat. There are those people who exude encouragement like it’s part of their CO2 exhalation. But for most people, it’s just not natural.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a friend of mine who I felt the need to encourage. He was going through a tough situation professionally and I wanted him to know that despite the criticism he was receiving, I believed in him. So, I sat down and hand-wrote a letter to him and mailed it.

Yesterday, he sent me a message saying that he had just had the worst day at work and when he got home my letter of encouragement was there for him at the right time.

There are few things more satisfying in my journey with Christ than when I respond to His leading and later look back to realize that my obedience was really about God’s love for someone else. I love that! You never know how you might be touching someone’s life when you least expect it.

Today, take the Paul’s challenge to heart: encourage someone you know. And don’t tell them to pat themselves on the back—you do it for them.

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