However, I think that it is this very fear that keeps many from giving praise or encouragement to others. Allow me to elaborate, the fear I speak of is the fear of speaking into someone's life about their skill or talent only to see that person blow your encouragement way out of proportion. This seems to be a huge obstacle in the giving of praise that I have observed lately. However, let us examine what Scripture says about encouraging others.
Of all the verses that could have come to my mind and spirit about encouragement, Proverbs 3:28-29 was dropped in by the Holy Spirit first.
"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, 'Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow'-- when you now have it with you." (Proverbs 3:28-29)
"Good" in this verse can come in many forms - actions, words, gestures of kindness, a smile, a thumbs up sign, and so on. The point is Not to "withhold" it "from those who deserve it", especially "when it is in your power to act". Nothing to complicated about this idea. If you have the means to appreciate somebody - do it! It would help if it came from a heart that desired to encouraged in the first place, that wanted to build up and not tear down. But, if you need help jump starting this area of your life there is always the Law of Sowing and Reaping to guide you.
The next verse that was trying to come to my mind was one that describes the ministry of my wife, especially at home. I had to do a search and finally found it in Romans 12:6-8. It speaks to all the "different gifts" believers in Christ have and can operate in by the power of the Holy Spirit. Obviously one of these "gifts" of operation being encouragement of others.
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:6-8)
There is great material on this subject found throughout the New Testament. It is pretty clear after reading the letters from Paul to all the churches and some individuals that encouragement was needed badly in the first century church. However, I wondered what the Bible had to say about this topic in the Old Testament, so I researched it and here are my finds (not exhaustive by any means).
Deuteronomy 1:38 and 3:28 both talk about supporting your spiritual leaders (Joshua in these cases).
"But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it.""But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see."
Joab needed encouragement from David to attack a city providing us an example of leaders encouraging their subordinates.
"David told the messenger, Say this to Joab: 'Don't let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.' Say this to encourage Joab." (2 Samuel 11:25)
Just as the men and women in the military of the United States of America need encouragement from the Commander in Chief and from it's citizens - the army of Israel needed encouragement (and still does and needs our prayers too).
"Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now." (2 Samuel 19:7)
What is so amazing about this next example is the circumstance. Even though Job's "friends" were dismantling him, he sought to encourage them.
In Psalm 10:17 we see the LORD as an encourager of the "afflicted" who cry out to Him.
In the next Old Testament installment of encouragement I found the idea as part of Isaiah's Creed. In this list of principles Isaiah says for us to "encourage the oppressed".
"Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:16-17)
I am sure there are probably more, but for now I will end the Old Testament study and contribution of encouragement with what it has to say about "words", especially in the book of Proverbs.
"The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction." (Proverbs 16:21)
Words, choose them wisely before they exit your mouth. I, along with many others, need to stop-think-and then speak and for some people sometimes that is not enough but it is a start.
Now, on to the New Testament and the furtherance of the study of encouragement. The second, overall, main Scripture that jumped out of the Bible and arrested my mind and spirit on this topic was from the New Testament. The verse itself challenges us to take heart at all the words previously spoken/written. The verse that was brought to remembrance was - "Therefore encourage each other with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
This verse is the last of it's section and the chapter, so as stated before, the implication is to speak the words that come before this encouragement and speak them often. So, without further ado here is what comes before verse 18.
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (verses 14-17)
Acts 15:32 says, "Judas and Silas...said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers."
Tychicus was sent by Paul to the church in Ephesus to be an encouragement (Ephesians 6:21-22).
"Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you."
He was sent again to the church in Colosse (Colossians 4:7-8). Then in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, Timothy is sent to the church in Thessalonica. Instruments of encouragement to the body of Christ. Timothy would later become the pastor of the largest church of the churches - the church in Ephesus. But I find it heart-warming he was an encourager first.
Ah yes, Paul. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 continues with him saying, "encourage one another and build each other up...". Then a few verses later he admonishes us "encourage the timid" (verse 14). Paul's second letter to that church included a prayer of encouragement.
"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
One of the things believers in Christ are to do while we are here awaiting Jesus' "appearing and the kingdom" is to encourage. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, administers that challenge.
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
Then, when Paul wrote to Titus he instructed him on Eldership by saying, "hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, SO THAT he [an elder] can encourage others by sound doctrine..." (Titus 1:9). Another point of encouragement to Titus is mentioned by Paul in Titus 2:6. Here we get a glimpse of the kind of trouble that was occurring - "encourage the young men to be self-controlled."
How often should we encourage and what are the benefits? Well, I am glad I asked that for you to know the answer. ;) The address for the answer to the first question is Hebrews 3:13 - "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Daily. The answer to the second question is loaded in Hebrews 10:25. This verse says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." It is true, there is strength in numbers. One is the loneliest number. A support group can be found in numbers or meeting together regularly. Learning at an increased rate is accomplished in numbers. Within some groups even protection can be found. These things and more should be blessings found within the Body of Christ. This is why the author of Hebrews challenges us to not falter, but continue meeting and be there for each other and for those who do not know Jesus as their Savior - Yet (especially as the return of Jesus approaches quickly with passing of each day).
"Giving credit where credit is due" is a practice that I believe needs to increase, but needs to be tempered with maturity. Both the giver and receiver of encouragement, thanks, or praise should guard against the abundance that can flow here. If you are encouraging someone I think it is fine to really let them know it, either privately or publicly, with an appropriate amount of words. To wax-on and on and on about somebody or something has the potential to start down a road none want to travel - prideful.
Being proud is spoken of in many parts of the Scripture, but the ones that I wish to magnify are Psalm 101:5, Proverbs 16:5, Proverbs 18:12, Romans 12:16, James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5.
"Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure." (Psalms 101:5)
"The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished." (Proverbs 16:5)
"Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor." (Proverbs 18:12)
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." (Romans 12:16)
"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (James 4:6)
"Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (1 Peter 5:5)
So, as you can see, there calls for a level of maturity on the givers side of the equation to not go overboard with the encouragement, thanks, and praise. In addition, the receiver needs to balance what is being told him/her with a healthy dose of humility. But, encouragement is needed and on a daily basis, so choose your people and words wisely and let's lift each other up, let's build each other up, let's encourage each other - more!