We talked about Encourage this last week as a faith action in loving others. Each of the other actions we have exercised up to this point — Respect, Share, and Give — all have power to Encourage.
Call it deductive reasoning, but the way I see it my words have creative power. Let me explain.
God created the entire world with words
+ I am created in His image
My words have creative power too.
Not the kind of power that brings nothing into something… or maybe… just maybe they do.
You see God gave us the gift of words and what we do with them has the power to bring life and/or death. Whoever said, “Words can never hurt you…” down right lied.
When all of this reasoning came together for me, I realized I truly want my words to be life giving. It doesn’t mean I live life looking through rose colored glasses. I’m aware life may take twists and turns I wasn’t expecting or never imagined. There are days I hear the news and wonder, What in the world is this place coming to?
The answer to that question, and so many others, can point us toward God or not. It is easy to get drawn into discouragement especially when our words become fuel for the fire. Encouragement always points others to God. It has one purpose… speaking life into this world.
What’s the answer to my question: What in the world is this place coming to? Sister, let me encourage you today, The whole wide world is coming to Jesus. Those of us willing to encourage might just be the signs pointing the way.
Re-read the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote from Life Together:
The basis upon which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help. … We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity. … Or do we really think there is a single person in this world who does not need either encouragement or admonition? Why, then, has God bestowed Christian brotherhood upon us?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer touched on every aspect of encouragement and the universal need for encouragement in our lives. Bonhoeffer said it’s the reason God gave us Christian fellowship.
His Word calls us to encourage one another daily as long as it is called Today. The purpose being to keep us on the right track.
As Long as it is Called Today:
We are called to encourage one another every day.
So who are we to encourage, today? Everyone!
Strangers. Those we meet along the way. These are people we may meet while we’re out of town or in places we don’t usually go. Or maybe they are passing through.
Have you ever thought about encouraging a stranger?
Is it difficult or easy for you to step out and encourage someone you don’t know or may never see again?
Our community. The city where we live and the neighborhood within that city. The office where we work. The social club or church we are members of. These are the communities of people we interact with on a regular basis.
These are large groups. We aren’t necessarily familiar with everyone who is a part. There are people whose names we don’t know, but we see them on a regular basis.
What are the challenges faced in encouraging an entire community?
What are the temptations when it comes to dealing with communities?
Do you find it easier to complain about your community instead of encouraging it? Why?
Sometimes, because of the lack of intimacy, and seeing the group as a whole rather than being made up of individuals, we may find it easier to complain than encourage.
Friends. What about your friends? These are people we have some level of relationship with who also need encouragement.
Do you find it easy to encourage your friends? Why or why not?
We are not only called to comfort our friends and cheer them on in the things they do, but sometimes we need to call them out on where things are going wrong. These are people we are accountable for, to a degree. Relationship comes with responsibility. God has placed you in their lives for a reason.
Sometimes we procrastinate and avoid the hard conversations with friends. Yet it is something we are called to do. Today.
Family. We get to pick our friends, but God picks our family. These are the people most likely to have the greatest impact on your life, both good and bad. We can walk away from friends. But it’s more complicated to walk away from family.
What are the challenges faced when encouraging family members?
This is a realm where encouragement should be welcomed as well as needed. But we all know, the closer we get to someone, the more intertwined our lives, the harder it is to offer the kind of encouragement which challenges or admonishes.
Opportunities for real encouragement can turn into twisted relationships of enablement, as you watch them continue down a path of self-destruction. Family relationships can be complicated.
From the stranger on the street to your immediate family, we all need encouragement to pursue the path of life. Believer and unbeliever alike. But there is one more person we need to remember to encourage: our self.
Have you ever thought about the need to encourage yourself?
Too many times we let the enemy discourage us with lies when, as Believers, we have the capacity to not listen and change our minds. By the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit living within us, we can distinguish the lies from the truth. Sometimes, we just need to preach to our self.
Read Romans 7:21-8:1
What is Paul struggling with? Why is he discouraged?
How does he encourage himself?
Paul is struggling with his desire to follow God’s law, but his failure in the flesh to be faithful. He feels at war within himself, unable to do good. To encourage himself, he reminds himself who he is in Christ.
He thanks God for Jesus, who is the answer to his struggle. He does not let his tendency toward sin continue to discourage him to the point of paralysis. Instead, Paul chooses to rest in the truth of Christ’s forgiveness and grace. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
If we are not encouraged, we are in no shape to encourage others.
Consider your self-talk this past week. Did you find it encouraging or discouraging?
One of the biggest battles we face when it comes to encouragement is ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to this particular issue.
What promises of God are helpful when you find yourself in the midst of discouragement? How do you preach to yourself?
When I’m struggling with discouragement and find myself battling my own stinkin’ thinkin’, I often run to music. Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My mom taught me songs like Zaccheus and I’m In the Lord’s Army. Through those songs she planted God’s Word deep in my heart.
Music has a way of turning my thoughts to the promises God. Song lyrics written by others based on God’s Word provide the avenue I sometimes need to redirect my thoughts.
But you are holy, you who inhabit the praises of Israel.
Psalm 22:3 WEB
God inhabits the praises of His children. I believe it, because when I praise God through song I am encouraged by His Spirit. I am lifted from my pit of discouragement and set on the firm foundation of who I am in Christ.
We’ve talked about how often to encourage others: daily. And who to encourage: everyone. Now let’s look at the different ways we talked about encouraging others.
We talked about casting a vision this day. Inspiring others to see something new or a reminder to keep them going.
Did you create a vision to encourage their faith in the face of discouragement? What was it?
Read Proverbs 29:18
What is significant about taking hold of a vision?
The King James Version reads: Where there is no vision, the people perish…
Without a clear vision, there is no direction or focus, things go to ruin. The ESV reads: cast off restraint… Everyone does what they think best, and things get chaotic.
A clear vision for an individual or a community helps to focus and direct lives for Him.
We’ve identified the people groups we are called to encourage, today.
Now consider how we can inspire each one of these groups:
A stranger who crosses our path.
One of the sisters in study today told us how she will compliment a stranger on her appearance. This may cast a vision for the individual to see themselves in a new light.
Being a light in your community, can help others to see possibilities they might not otherwise imagined.
I’m currently reading a book called The Turquoise Table. It is by a woman who longed for a closer sense of community in her neighborhood.
Her desire came from memories of her time in France as a teenager when she was an exchange student. The family she stayed with gathered at their table regularly for long leisurely meals, connecting through stories, food, and fun.
Years later, as a wife and mom living in a suburban neighborhood, she asked God to show her how to build this type of table community. Shortly after she heard the story an elderly woman who ministered to the neighbors in her apartment building with cookies and a welcoming table.
She caught the vision of doing something similar. She painted a picnic table turquoise, and instead of putting it in the backyard, she moved it to the front yard. There she had a view of those who walked in her neighborhood. She could talk to them as they went by. This eventually led to her making snacks and water bottles available. People began to stop and chat. Community was built and inspired to begin having regular times in front yards with food, conversation, and fun.
One woman doing something a little different, inspired a whole community to come out front and meet one another.
Friends & Family.
One of the best ways to inspire friends and family to consider the vision God is working into their lives, is by asking the right questions. Listen first and then ask questions which inspire them to keep thinking about what is stirring in their heart. These type of interactions often lead to a light-bulb moment.
When someone we are encouraging comes to a place where they can voice the vision forming in their lives, it has great impact. They begin to see the next steps.
Vision is important because it narrows our focus and keeps us moving forward. Without it we run around like headless chickens.
Sometimes it is hard to put the vision we have into words, but when we do, clarity happens. One way we can encourage ourselves to give voice to the vision God is forming in us is to consider and even write down the answers to the following three questions:
- What am I most passionate about?
- What are the gifts God has given me?
- What are the skills I can use to build His Kingdom?
Casting a vision and inspiring others to see, really see, requires us to lean heavily on His Spirit. Only God can show us truth about another.
How did looking to inspire another this week cause you to see something differently?
After encouraging through inspiration, we talked about encouraging others by giving them support.
Coming alongside someone to encourage and support can be a small as a hug and the offer of a tissue for tears shed, or becoming a supportive part of someone’s life, giving time and energy to encourage a gift or talent we see in them.
We talked about inviting someone into what we are doing, using our influence to increase someone else’s, or supporting someone in their efforts with our resources.
Read Philippians 2:1-4
What are we to do, in response to the encouragement we find in Christ?
We are to do nothing out of selfishness or conceit. In humility, we are called to count others more significant than ourselves.
To come alongside someone else to encourage them in what you are doing, takes humility. It takes time and effort to mentor and teach someone. We must also be willing to allow their potential to surpass our own ability or expertise.
This summer was a struggle in our ministry. I shared an inspiration for Summer Soak, my sister did not want to move forward. In the midst of taking the next step to meet and teach this summer, I learned a valuable lesson.
You see, I knew she felt pressed, overwhelmed, in need of rest. And since it was my idea, I felt a bit responsible for the whole added stress. So in my effort to love, I would take up the writing part. I would mull and wrestle and finally get words on paper. She would send them back gracefully letting me know this was not the direction we were to go. I was left to question my role in the Sister Talk: Faith process. Was I called to write, to teach? And if so how in the world was this going to work?
Now you must remember our relationship began as a coming alongside. I walked beside my sister as she grew in her knowledge and wisdom. I watched as she struggled with seeing in herself what I saw. And for much of the time I was the leader. It’s not that way anymore, and as she comes into her own gift of crafting words, there are times I feel, well, useless.
We have both grown so much through this friendship. What was once a coming alongside is now a side by side. And when it comes to writing. She’s got the gift. No really, if you read my rough drafts you would understand. It took much work for me to say, I am not the writer.
It took a battle with my flesh, a stomping down of my ever-rising pride. God used the growth in my sister to confirm what I’ve known for some time now. You see I’d almost forgotten. I am an encourager. That’s the gift Jesus has worked in me. And in this moment the sister’s words you read here are the fruit of encouragement.
It is a self-less thing to come alongside someone to encourage. It can also be risky. We talked about Barnabas vouching for Paul among the leaders of the church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28). What if Barnabas had been wrong? What if things had gone badly?
It is risky to get personally involved to encourage someone by coming alongside them. Is it something you would be willing to do? Have you? What happened?
Let’s consider our people groups again.
What are ways we can come alongside and support?
The stranger who crosses our path.
One thing we can do is acknowledge someone we pass. Smile. Greet. Ask how they are doing.
Another is to recognize where they are emotionally. This is where it gets uncomfortable. Especially when you come across someone clearly in distress. Crying. Angry.
Do we ignore them because we don’t want to embarrass them? Or because we feel inadequate to do anything for them?
Have you crossed paths with a stranger in despair? Did you offer them encouragement?
It can be an encouragement to acknowledge them. To be seen by someone else when you feel all alone can be encouraging.
One way to begin the process of encouraging a whole community, is to begin seeing the individuals which make up the community. They aren’t just Wal-Mart, they are people who have lives and are working to make ends meet. The city isn’t just the government, they are individuals who also struggle with life issues.
Bringing the big down to its basic parts, can help us to see ways we can encourage a greater community.
There have been many times when I’ve been interacting with someone who is a part of the community I live — checkers at Wal-Mart, people coming to the church for help, other church members — and God has pressed me to offer to pray for them.
In the midst of the conversation, they may have shared something significant in their lives, a need, an upcoming surgery, a difficult relationship, and I feel the pressing. Offer to pray and move on.
After the encouragement of support, we talked about encouraging others in ways to stimulate a change in attitude or action.
Spurring on is stirring up those who are stuck or just flat out going in the wrong direction to “Wake up!” It’s speaking the truth in love.
A hug. A sympathetic ear. This kind of encouragement can be easy to give. But what about when a little truth is needed? Do you shy away from confronting a friend you see making poor choices? Or a member of your church who you’ve seen entrapped in sin?
We considered Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Jesus’s sharp words to the Pharisees and scribes delivered as a list of woes.
Read Revelation 3:1-6
This is one of the letters Jesus gave to John in a revelation while he was in a prison work camp for preaching the gospel. It is to the church in Sardis.
What message is at the heart of the letter?
What warnings did it contain? What encouragement?
Jesus revealed their hypocrisy. They had a reputation for being alive through all their “ministry activity” but in reality they were spiritually dead. It was time to “Wake up!”
They were called to strengthen what remained or like a thief in the night Jesus would come against them. The warnings were meant to stir them to action.
He did encourage them by telling there were some in their midst who were living worthy lives. They needed to figure out who they were and begin following their example. To be those who persevere and are spiritually alive is life.
Consider ways you can spur on or stir up the people groups we have considered.
Over the years, Carol and I have been called to do some strange things in our community. We’ve gathered grocery carts from parking lots and returned them to their rightful place. We’ve picked up trash along the streets of our neighborhood.
The little things Holy Spirit has led us to do seem weird at times. After walking in obedience in these things we’ve both noticed it has the potential to spur others on. When we are willing to stoop low, do the grunge work, others are encouraged by our actions and do the same. There are times encouragement needs no words.
God Our Encourager
Read the Reflection Scripture out loud:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:5-6 ESV
Ultimately God is the One behind all encouragement. He is the God of endurance and encouragement.
We talked about three means He uses to bring us the various types of encouragement: His Word, His Spirit, and His people.
What has been your experience with receiving His encouragement through His Word? His Spirit? His people?
We talked this week about the three major types of encouragement: inspiration, support, and spurring on.
Which type are you most ready to hear and receive?
When I first read the question, I circled support on my study sheet, but really that’s not true.
You can ask the sister. When she tries to give me encouraging words in what I’ve written or done, I always question. Because of heart wounds yet to be healed, I have a hard time believing what people say to me. Even when inspired by the Spirit.
But His Word. There is a place I find all three types of encouragement and when highlighted by the Holy Spirit it cuts straight to my heart.
He is our Encourager. And as His disciples we are to encourage others too.
By His grace He has given us eternal comfort and good hope.
Which leads us into our final week of study: Hope.