hat makes people crave a fruit like durian? Why do they light up when they see clumps of those prickly, greenish-brown husks hanging liberally from vendor stalls? How do they get past the pungent, even revolting, odor? What makes them fight their way through the thick, prickly outer husk in order to reach the inside?
The reason is that they’ve fallen in love with what’s inside. They know that inside the prickly outer shell, past the foul smell, there is an exquisite center.
Loving people and seeing the good and possibilities in others can sometimes be similar to getting to the heart of a durian. People can be prickly. They can have thick, crusty outer shells. Their presence can repel rather than attract. People can be stinky—when they do and say stinky things, or when they sin, as everyone does at times. But those barriers merely add to the challenge of reaching that sweet center of the inner person.
Durian is the king of fruits to some. Likewise, human beings are God’s crowning creations on earth—each one possessing a heart and soul that is more valuable and precious than all this world has to offer. Anyone who has truly looked inside another’s heart has seen great potential. Therein lies good. Therein lies possibility that just needs to be believed in and highlighted.
Everyone needs friends and family who love them, who know that there is good and possibility deep inside of them, and who are willing to work at it to reach that beautiful center.
Charles Schwab, the successful businessman, said, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
Everyone wants and needs to be affirmed for his accomplishments. A little boy playing darts with his father said, “Let’s play darts. I’ll throw and you say ‘Wonderful!’” That’s what the [encouraging] person does for others.
We tend to become what the most important person in our life thinks we will become. Think the best, believe the best, and express the best in others. Your affirmation will not only make you more attractive to them, but you will help play an important part in their personal development.
“I had seen that man before and now he was sitting in the snow outside the stadium [in Madrid]. I asked him what he was doing there. He said he’d been there for five hours, hoping for a chance to see the game, but his money had run out. That’s when I knew I had to help.” This is how José Mourinho, then coach for Real Madrid football (soccer) team, described his meeting with Abel Rodríguez, a Mexican-American who waxes floors in Los Angeles.
Rodríguez had first met Mourinho in the U.S. several years earlier when Real was on a training campaign and needed a volunteer to carry water for the players. It wasn’t a paid task, but Rodríguez was happy to help, and that’s when he decided he had to see a real game. He saved money for the plane fare, flew out, and hoped for the best.—And it was “hope,” because he neither had a ticket for the match nor anywhere to stay.
It paid off. After their encounter, Mourinho put up Rodríguez in the same hotel as the players, all expenses paid. He proceeded to give him a paid job as kit man for an upcoming Champions League match against Manchester United, which meant Rodríguez flew with the team to England as a staff member.
“We must help each other to live our dreams,” said Mourinho. When I first heard about this incident, I was impressed. Mourinho has a reputation as a tough character. He never seems to miss an opportunity to ridicule his opponents, and he comes across as proud and harsh. Yet, when faced with this man’s dreams, his heart was touched. It shows that deep down we may be quite different from the image we project.
Then there is the faith of the cleaner. How could he have flown across the world with hardly any money, expecting to manage to see a game in one of the world’s biggest soccer stadiums? That seems rather ridiculous.
Irresponsible, actually. Dreamers do crazy things that average people might never attempt. But in following his dream, Rodríguez ended up with a unique and inspiring story to tell.
If people can dream big dreams for things in this life that have little eternal value, how much more should we, as God’s children, dream big and do as much good as we can in a world that is desperate for love and recognition.
I believe that God wants to encourage people, but often He needs us to do it. And, believe it or not, we do have what others need. We have God’s Holy Spirit and His words of love! Our life can be influential because of the power of our words. Our words don’t need to be profound or eloquent—just simple words that meet a person’s need for love, hope, significance, or comfort.
If you feel like you have no time, no energy, no expertise, or little to give, don’t worry; that’s common to many of us. But we can all give through our words of encouragement, through which our lives can have influence, and we can spread God’s love wherever we go. In just five minutes or less, we can make a difference at a bus stop, on the metro, at the shop, at work, at school, online, going for a walk, and the list goes on.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves: What can I say to this person that will help them in some way, lift their spirits, brighten their day, make them feel appreciated, valued, and worthwhile? How can I leave this person feeling good about themselves, that what they’re doing counts? Then let’s ask God to give us the faith to say whatever He lays on our hearts.
The prisoner dictated a letter to some of his dearest friends hundreds of miles away in another country. He told them that he was in chains—most likely chained to his jailer, as that was the custom of the time. Ironically, he had previously also been jailed in the city in which his friends lived. On that occasion he had been beaten and imprisoned—illegally, it turned out—in the city’s most secure cell. He was considered an atheist and a rabble-rouser, and was well known to authorities throughout the empire, who were glad to get him off the streets whenever they could.
It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when he was dedicated to enforcing the law. He had even been an officially sanctioned vigilante who went about brutally clearing his area of miscreants—men, women, and children alike. That had been a task he relished. But that had been long ago. Now he was on the other side of the fence, and his former colleagues were complicit in his censure and imprisonment.
The apostle Paul knew his life was in the balance. It was either death or freedom for him—it seemed no other options were even being considered. He had been held under a sort of house arrest for a while, but no longer; and his new jailers, drawn from the ranks of the Praetorian Guard, were particularly tough. In any case, the wheels of Roman justice were turning exceedingly slowly. His dear friends in Philippi were worried about him and had sent money toward his upkeep. Some were old legionaries who knew how the Roman system worked, how tough and often unfair it was. So Paul was writing to reassure them that God had everything under control.
The Philippians were some of his favorite people, it seems. He wrote tenderly to them, encouragingly, telling them to look on the bright side. If this was his time to die, he would go to be with the Lord; and if he was freed, that was good too, because then he could come and see them again. He said he couldn’t make up his mind which was better. He had committed all into God’s hands and had received peace in return. His words are immortal and they resonate with all believers:
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. …
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Be a people-builder by supporting others. These tips can help.
1. Build up excellence: Think of at least one thing that you find outstanding in someone, and then let them know how excellent they are in that specific way.
2. Give responsibility: Try to help others feel trusted, needed, and appreciated for their obvious strengths. If you’re in a position of authority, you can try to give others responsibility. If you’re leading a team or managing a project, you can encourage the quieter members by asking their opinions. Share decision-making authority as much as possible.
3. Appreciate people for who they are: Being appreciated for what we do is important, but being appreciated for who we are is even more vital.
4. Slow down: It takes time to see people in a true light. It takes slowing down hasty, superficial assumptions. Go slower in your interactions with people and allow God to show you how He sees them.
5. Pause to consider :Think of the positive ways someone has helped you. Think about the good a person has done. Appreciate them.
6. Let go of the past: Be willing to see who the person is today, or the potential of what they can be tomorrow, and don’t let your positive expectations of them today be marred by your past experiences.
7. Extend mercy: Everyone makes mistakes, forgets things, messes up sometimes. How do you want to be treated when you fail? That’s how you should treat others.
8. Drop the labels: Think of how you dislike being labeled. Labels and classifications put people in boxes that can limit their progress. Try to support and encourage others to go further than they’ve gone before.
9. Be there: Sometimes all that someone needs is a listening ear. Whether a coworker or colleague, friend, or family member, be ready to hear them out.
10. Support them in prayer: A little effort behind the scenes can have a great impact; we can help others through our prayers.
Cultivate the qualities you desire in a friend, because someone is looking for you as their friend.—Unknown
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.—Og Mandino (1923–1996)
For some time, we’ve been putting on benefit shows in our beautiful city of Granada, Spain. On a particular occasion, we performed at a residence for senior citizens. After the usual dances, songs, and puppet show, I decided to end with an illustration about value. This is how it went:
“Supposing that I offered to give this away,” I asked the audience, showing them a €20 banknote, “who would want it?”
Everyone raised their hand.
“And if I did this?” I crumpled the bill and repeated the question. Everyone’s hands stayed up.
Then I threw the bill on the ground and stepped on it. I picked it up and asked, “And now?”
A few fussy souls abstained, but the majority continued to raise their hands.
“Let’s remember that we are like this bill. Sometimes life will rough us up and get us dirty, but in God’s eyes, we never lose our value as individuals.” I was moved by the applause, but the best was yet to come.
At the end of the show, as we were packing up the equipment, a woman approached me and asked if we could talk in private. We moved to an adjoining room and with tears in her eyes she tightly squeezed my hands, thanking me over and over, and saying, “My children brought me here and forgot about me. Now they never visit. But today you came and reminded me of something very important—I am this euro bill.”
This reminded me of a Bible passage: “Even if my sons and daughters abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”
If in the course of life, we stumble and fall, or things work out in a way that we end up feeling like that battered €20 banknote, let’s not forget the moral of the story: No matter how crumpled or dirty we are, in God’s eyes we still hold inestimable value.
Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference.—Barbara De Angelis (b. 1951)
Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.—Mark Twain (1835–1910)
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.—Aesop (c. 620–564 BC)
It was 1996, and our family had just moved from the safety of Italy to a somewhat still troubled and unstable post-war Croatia, settling in a large apartment on the outskirts of Rijeka.
Our neighbors—a mix of refugees, widows, and elderly relatives caring for children whose parents had died or left to find work—had all gone through traumatic experiences as a result of the tragic conflicts that had only recently ended.
Ivan lived on the floor below ours. He wore a patch over one eye, he couldn’t hear well, and he also suffered from extremely strong headaches due to a piece of shrapnel in his brain that the doctors couldn’t operate on.
Ivan had a wife and two daughters, but it was easy to see that he was finding it challenging to adjust to family life. He was no longer the strong man beaming in the photos in his living room, but a broken soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who spent most of his time caring for his kids or looking pensively at the horizon.
My youngest son, Jeff, who was five at the time, was a bit scared of our neighbor—and I wasn’t sure what to think myself. I realized that I never really spoke to Ivan, due to my limited knowledge of Croatian at the time, but also because I didn’t know how to face such obvious suffering.
One day, I explained to Jeff about what our poor neighbor was going through and the reason he wore a patch. I taught him to say, “Molim za vas,” “I’m praying for you” in Croatian, and suggested that he say that to Ivan that next time we saw him.
I won’t forget that moment the next time we met Ivan, when this fierce-looking man bent down to hear what a small five-year-old whispered in his ear. Then he straightened, and I could see tears trickling down his face as he whispered “Thank you.”
From that moment on, Ivan and Jeff became good friends, and we often visited to sing songs, read God’s Word, and simply keep him company.
Ivan passed away not long after. He had been struggling with a lot of physical illnesses and discouragement, but in his final years he found solace and comfort in Jesus. Jeff is now a grown man and a father himself, but I still fondly remember that day my little boy made the choice to replace fear with love.
More people fail for lack of encouragement than for any other reason. —Author unknown
The finest gift you can give anyone is encouragement. Yet, almost no one gets the encouragement they need to grow to their full potential. If everyone received the encouragement they need to grow, the genius in most everyone would blossom and the world would produce abundance beyond our wildest dreams. —Sidney Madwed (b. 1948)
We should readily and liberally give the gift of showing faith in others. As many of us can testify from personal experience, it’s been God’s and others’ faith in us, and their seeing the good in us, that has helped us to reach success after moments of despair and times when we’ve questioned our self-worth.
A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities. —William Ward (1921–1994)
Trustworthy friends are a strong shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure. Trustworthy friends have no price, and no one can estimate their worth. Trustworthy friends are life’s medicine, and those who fear the Lord will find them. —Sirach 6:14–16 CEB
A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably. —William Penn (1644–1718)