Encouragement, which can be broadly defined as looking for how the Holy Spirit is working in and through someone, is a rare spiritual gift these days. It's also helpful to conceive of encouragement both as an art and a discipline.
Not to beat up on pastors - after all, I am headed towards re-entering pastoral ministry one day after a decade-long hiatus - but most pastors seem to fall off the horse on one side: either they dole out encouragement so liberally and vaguely that it loses virtually all meaning, or they are too sparse in their praise. And when the latter do encourage, it sometimes comes out back-handedly: "I see you're only eating two brownies tonight instead of three. Well done for mortifying your gluttony!"
For six weeks now I have been going for spiritual direction (cue gasp) and have enjoyed it very much (cue double gasp). I know that's barely kosher for a Reformed type to say, but my spiritual director is both a Protestant and an Evangelical - two main reasons why I selected her in the first place. She holds an M.Div. from a solid Evangelical post-secondary institution and bookends each session with carefully selected scriptures.
I mention this (the spiritual direction) and her (the spiritual director) because one of the main reasons a spiritual director listens is to recognize where the Holy Spirit is working in the life of the other. This work may take the form of conviction or of encouragement. Even when the conversation takes a turn towards conviction, encouragement is always on its heels. This reminds me of some sage parenting advice we received years ago: catch your children doing good and commend them for it. Seeing and hearing where the Holy Spirit is at work in your children is a way to provide spiritual direction in the home, and improves the tone and mood of the household immensely to boot.
All of the above is prologue for two links to articles which discuss the importance of watching out for evidences of grace and gospel transformation. Brian Croft recounts his experience of seeing the grace of the gospel in a car break-in, and Mark Lauterbach asks pastors whether they are actively and functionally trusting that God is working in the lives of those under their care, or whether their pastoral work and attitudes are characterized by suspicion.
And let us all ask ourselves whether we are looking at others through the gospel lens. Are we sin sniffing or Holy Spirit hunting?