Ravi Gandhi, the CFO of United Auto Credit Corporation, carries on an interesting routine every morning. When he gets to his desk at work, he puts three pennies on the left side of his computer. They are reminders for him to look for people to encourage, thank, and recognize. If he gets up from his desk, he puts the pennies in his left pocket. Each time he succeeds in blessing someone in these ways, he moves the penny from the left to the right side. Keeping up with the “three penny practice” reminds him that we live in a world filled with people deprived of encouragement, and it reminds him of what he can do to practically make a difference (Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 253-254).
Encouragement is an intentional rather than an accidental exercise. In other words, we have got to be looking for ways to do it. I am not sure that it comes naturally to everyone. I believe some have the gift of exhortation and encouragement (Rom. 12:8), but how many cannot be sure for lack of trying? It requires a certain amount of discipline and selflessness to look for people, often outside the spotlight, who are wearily struggling along life’s road.
The word translated “encourage” in the New Testament is, to me, one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. It literally carries the idea of coming alongside someone and putting your arm around them, “to ask to come and be present where the speaker is, call to one’s side” (BDAG, 764). Louw-Nida defines it as causing “someone to be encouraged or consoled, either by verbal or non-verbal means” (305).
Back to Mr. Gandhi’s mission, there are always people to encourage, thank, and recognize. What about the custodian, the office administrator, the intern, or the new hire? What about the person who delivers food? What about the introverted, hard worker who’s always prompt and dependable but apt to be “invisible”? There’s the lunchroom employees, the teacher’s aids, the bus drivers, teachers, administrators, and the security personnel at school.
This is a fantastic practice in our church life, too. Look for the new Christians, new members, those who are alone, the elderly, little kids, the socially awkward, the singles, the widows, and, of course, the visitors. Find a tangible way to express gratitude and recognition. Perhaps something like placing three pennies in your pocket or three rubber bands on the fingers of your left hand will keep this necessary work at the forefront of your mind.
Yes, the Scriptures command it: “Encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Th. 5:11), “encourage the fainthearted” (1 Th. 5:14), “encourage one another day after day” (Heb. 3:13), and “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25). But, it may surprise us how rewarding and satisfying it is to bless people with some simple, sincere encouragement.
Do you have three pennies? Why not pocket them, then pursue people you can lift with a simple word of joyful cheer? Three such acts a day amounts to over a thousand acts of kindness a year. If we all did that, it would revolutionize our world! Three pennies might not buy much in the world, but they might change a life!