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encouragement that sticks

Over the last few years I increasingly appreciate “old person phrases.” Okay, I’m in my sixth decade, so maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Here’s an applied use of one of those phrases that I appreciate: “I like a good bowl of oatmeal. It really sticks to my ribs.” (Wow. That example does show that I am getting pretty old.) You get the image, though.

“Sticks to my ribs” communicates staying power. Something that lasts. Something that sustains.

For those of us that invest in young adults, encouragement is an incredibly vital tool to have in your tool belt. Are you an encourager? Do you want to be more of an encourager? If the answer is “yes” to either of those, my guess is that you would prefer for your encouragement to have a long shelf life. You likely want your words to “stick to the ribs” of the hearer and fill their encouragement tank for more than the few seconds after you speak them. What does encouragement with staying power look like?

Encouragement that “sticks to the ribs” of the hearer is specific. Craig is a friend I got to know in my seminary days. One day when he was asking questions about my background and my story he commented, “You’re a miracle.” That alone is a very kind and encouraging comment, but he continued to talk more specifically about my perseverance through my childhood and ways he saw me stretching my faith and using my gifts at that time. When I think of encouragement that has “stuck” in my life, I am drawn to conversations with Craig where he leaned in with inquisitive and listening care while he also showed that he was observant about what God was doing in and through me.

Encouragement that “sticks to the ribs” of the hearer is preemptive. Unless we cultivate the habit of encouragement, we can find ourselves using it only when someone is deflated. That certainly can be an extremely powerful time to encourage, but we don’t always get “notifications” when someone is discouraged. Speaking authentic kind truth into the lives of young adults can be a “time-release capsule” that comes back to them when they are in need of a courage infusion.

Encouragement that “sticks to the ribs” of the hearer is prophetic. Does this mean that in your encouragement you need to predict the future? Well, sort of. I’ve worked with a lot of freshmen. Some freshmen can make a lot of messes. I can focus solely on the messes, or I can see gifting in them (though perhaps clumsily applied) that is growing and needs to be expressed. I am thankful for the patient mentors in my life who didn’t immediately point to my mess (I knew I had made it anyway) and prophetically helped me with the encouragement to see a future in which maturity would allow a more complete and fruitful application of those gifts.

Speaking encouragement that is specific, preemptive, and prophetic can be just what the hearer needs for today.

Perhaps even better, it can be just what they need tomorrow.


Darrell Cook

Campus Director at BCM of Virginia Tech


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