Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving and Receiving Encouragement

Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees; but now it comes upon you, and you are weary; it touches you, and you are troubled. Is not your reverence your confidence? And the integrity of your ways your hope?”Job 4:3-6

As I was reading through Job this morning, the above verses pulled at my heart. Here was a man in anguish, who had lost almost all he had owned and all he held dear on this earth and was now covered in sores and living in deep anguish and pain with no hope of a better tomorrow. A man who in the past had been a solid pillar of encouragement to the people in is community who themselves had been through troubled times - people he had been willing to instruct and strengthen by sharing with them God's promises of hope and healing. And yet, when this man of faith was himself hurting and in need of encouragement, the first friend of his to speak up only condemned him for not being strong enough to hold himself up with the faith he had professed in the past to others.

I don't know about you, but I have had the experience of being on both sides of the encouragement scale just like Job. I love to encourage others and to remind them of the promises that I know God has for those who call on Him and follow Him with all their hearts. On the other hand, I love to receive encouragement from others when my heart has sank so low that I have a hard time even remembering those promises of God and when all I can see is a future that seems so unlike where God has ever allowed me to go before. Does that mean though that I have more faith on one side of encouragement scale than the other? Does that mean the people who come to me for encouragement have less faith than I have who I am in the role as the encourager? The answer to both of course is, “No”.

Faith needs encouragement just like plants need sunlight. When we offer encouragement to others we shine the light of God's word and truth into their lives and allow them to continue growing when the light they usually receive from above has somehow been clouded over. And when we receive encouragement from others, we get the light we need.  Light that in that particular moment in our life is unreachable because of the circumstances surrounding us and holding us down from getting into the nourishing rays of light we so desperately need to keep growing.

The problem with encouragement is that some people, like Job's friend Eliphaz who is quoted above, think that those who are strong in offering encouragement should also be strong enough to offer themselves all the encouragement they would need for themselves too. That is a pretty easy mistake to make as we all would think that of the great men and women of faith we so admire would never need anyone to help them stand up when times get tough. But, before you start down that path of thinking, read these words penned by Paul who so greatly encouraged so many:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Romans 1:11-12

Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments...Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick. Do your utmost to come before winter. 2 Timothy 4:9-13,19-21

Even Paul had need of encouragement and he was humble enough to ask for it from those close to him so that the encouragement given him would carry him through the difficult places the Lord had put him. As you think about this lesson I hope it becomes all the more clear to you that there is no one who has faith beyond the need of encouragement. If there is an elder in your church, a beloved ministry leader, your pastor, or a mentor who you know is facing a difficult time or who seems to not have the same spiritual enthusiasm as he/she normally has, then make it a point to do something to encourage that person instead of using your time wondering why his/her faith seems to be wavering.

Just as I was finishing this post I received an email that a friend's husband who is facing cancer needs all the more help as the battle is getting more difficult and the prospects for the future are looking all the less hopeful.  Another opportunity to give encouragement to a friend in need of the hope of the Lord for her family and where God has them.

We all have the calling to encourage one another – to some it is a gift, but that does not let you off the hook if the Lord impresses upon you to encourage someone and you do not feel gifted. Like Paul said, we need to be “encouraged together...by the mutual faith” because that is the way God desires for us to function in humility and love towards one another.  Today chose to give encouragement or chose to ask for it if you are in need, either way you will be blessed in the encouragement of mutual faith.

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