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Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

 

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

The Believer’s certainty

As we stated last week, certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true.  It is the state of being reliably true.  As believers our certainty is connected to God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on His truth.

We recognize the uncertainties of living in a fallen world.  To live in a fallen world means we struggle with sin daily. We experience heartache and pain. We witness natural disasters and staggering loss. Injustice, inhumanity, and falsehood seem to dominate.  Discord and trouble are commonplace. None of this was God’s original plan for humanity.

It is important, however, that as believers we focus on the certainties of our faith—divine certainties—that enable us to navigate successfully in these difficult times.  What are these divine certainties?  How do they help us in times of uncertainty?

Divine Certainty-God’s Nature

The certainty of our faith begins with our understanding the nature of God.  While there are many attributes of God’s nature, I will focus on two (2):  God’s immutability (He does not change) and God’s veracity (He is truthful).

This is especially important as we discuss the matter of certainty.  This means that whatever God states, in His Word and through His Holy Spirt, can be accepted with certainty—as reliably true.  What God has stated in the historical past is still true in our contemporary present.

The immutability of God expresses the fact that God does not change.  What we are dealing with here is the dependability of God.  He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.  He will act as He has promised.  The believer can rely on Him (Lam. 3:22-23; 1 John 1:9).  God’s immutability is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  (Hebrews 6:18-19)

God’s veracity speaks to God’s truthfulness.   God represents things as they really are.  God never lies (Titus 1:2).  It is contrary to His nature.  God is “trustworthy”.  Such truth can either be assuring or fearful, depending on your relationship with the Lord (Numbers 23:19).

Divine Certainty-Our Identity in Christ

Our identity in Christ is another major reason for certainty and assurance of our faith in God.  We have peace during uncertain times because of our relationship with Jesus.

For me, Ephesians 1:3-17, does an extraordinary job outlining the many spiritual blessings and promises found in our New Covenant relationship with Father God.  It details the completed work of Christ as only can be designed by God before the foundation of the earth.

In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position, and power.  Believers are now able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will. This includes our spiritual security as we move from “death to eternal life” (John 5:24).

Divine Certainty-Our Anchor

Our certainty is also connected to our memory.  Let us not forget the faithfulness God has shown us in the past.  The church mothers would often assure us in times of distress: “The Lord didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”  King David shares their belief as he reminds us in Psalm 103:2 to “forget not all God’s benefits.

Our personal history to God’s faithfulness is a testimony of our certainty in God.  We are witnesses to God’s presence, His protection, and His provision.  During times of uncertainty, we can walk confidently in the divine certainty based on our connection with God.

My intent in this writing is to remind believers that during these times of uncertainty and disruption, we have an anchor in the Lord.  Our confidence is based on Him alone.  Our Lord is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1 What is certainty?

Certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true or an event that is definitely going to take place.  It is the quality of being reliably true.

The Bible concordance describes certainty as “absolute truths”.  I find this description ironic as we strive to live in this post-modern society where, supposedly, there are “no absolutes” and even “fewer truths.”

However, as Christians, we do believe in absolute truths that we confidently depend on.  This is the benefit of our faith in Christ.  This gives us “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

The Certainties of life

The events of 2020 have shifted systems and institutions that once were thought to be secure and indestructible.  As we stand in the shadow of COVID 19 with its many “aftershocks”, we realize our naϊveté.  We now long for the stability and certainty once found in the past.

As youth, we experienced the certainty of family.  Family provided the initial shaping of our values and belief systems.  Family cared for our basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, and love.  Our family validated who we were and provided the foundation we needed for success.  That was the certainty we needed in the beginning.

The assurance found within our familial systems were later extended to our communities.  It included our schools and our churches.  We became the product of our “unique village” with many people teaching us life lessons.  Within the borders of community, we learned self-esteem, confidence, respect, and achievement.  Here we prepared for the rest of our life.

A Hunger for Certainty

We often joke that the certainties of life are death and taxes.  After 2020, we can now add uncertainty to that list.  Uncertainty has always been with us but now it has become more “life affecting.”

Uncertainty has a physiological effect on our lives.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is, however, something that we must address.

A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic (brain) system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.[1]

Shifts in Certainty

As a nation and as individuals, we were certain that our institutions and systems would always be available to care for us.  We trusted others to protect our best interest and to operate at the highest level of integrity.  But unfortunately, that has not always been the case.

After a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence – the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability – the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

Reports such as these highlight our need for a dependable source to address the uncertainties of 21st century living.  We need a “sure thing”.  That sure thing is Jesus Christ.  Our faith in Christ is not a weakness nor is it a last resort.  To the contrary, Jesus is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Our Certainty Connection

As believers our certainty is connected to The Ultimate Source.  We trust in God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on the veracity of God—His truth and His truthfulness.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17; Rev. 4:11).  He alone can “make good” on all His promises.  God is all powerful, everywhere present and all knowing.

Next week we will continue to discuss certainty in an uncertain world.  We will focus on the certainties of our faith which enable us to live victoriously in these tumultuous times.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/200910/hunger-certainty

God is still speaking

 God is still speaking

E.F. Hutton was one of the most respected financial firms in the United States during the latter part of the 20th century.  It was known for being cutting edge and innovative including it’s iconic marketing campaigns. The slogan “when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen,” became a cultural touchstone.  It is even more important for believers that when God speaks, we listen!

The writer of Hebrews opens their letter with the clear declaration that although God spoke to man in the past through His prophets, He was changing His method of communications.  God was doing a new thing.  God would now speak through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This new way was the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus offered a more excellent, effectual, and eternal way of providing salvation to mankind.  In the progression of Hebrews, the writer proves that Jesus is superior to angels, a High Priest superior to Melchizedek, and the Mediator of a superior covenant (The New Covenant).

Warnings along the way

The warnings through Hebrews 10 attempted to address the spiritual erosion of the believers in receipt of this letter.  Their behaviors constituted real dangers that could seriously damage their ability to serve and remain faithful to Christianity.  They included negligence, unbelief, spiritual immaturity, and drawing back.

Their actions, once viewed as exemplary, were now approaching indifference.  This resulted in several reminders to the readers concerning their ministry responsibilities in outreach (Heb. 13:1-2, 16), teaching (Heb. 5:11-13), and worship (Heb. 10:25).

Are we experiencing warnings along our Christian walk?  Have we become lax in our commitment to our spiritual giftedness?  Are we sloppy in our worship and praise?  Are we negligent in our service to the Lord, regardless of how small or large it might be?  Has our witness become “silent” for fear of rejection or reprisals?  Are we indifferent to the needs of our community and fellow man?

A Call to Faithfulness and Endurance

In Hebrews 11 the writer exhorts their readers to faithfulness and endurance.  They connect with their audience by sharing the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history.

The writer first spends time sharing the importance of faith.  Its value and worth can be summarized in that faith is:(1) based on confident convictions, (2) certainty about unseen hopes and realities, and (3) is honorable, in that the saints were commended for it.  (Heb. 11:1-2)

Since the readers are presented with “so great a cloud of witnesses” who demonstrated faith and endurance, they can also be expected to do the same (Heb. 12:1).

The final warning

The author concludes the basic argument of this epistle (the excellency of Jesus Christ) with a final admonition and warning (Heb. 12:25-29).  The warning points to the danger of refusing God.

This final warning cautions against apostasy or behaviors which may lead in that direction. This was discussed in earlier warnings to the readers who were in danger of “falling away” (Heb. 6:4-8) and “drawing back” (Heb. 26-39).  Although they had initially accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were still in danger of “turning away” (apostrepha) from or rejecting God’s new way of relating to His people.

We are receiving a kingdom

The author, knowing the tendency of their readers to spiritual weakness, uses Old Testament examples and contrasts to warn their readers to “see to it that they do not refuse Him who speaks” (v. 25). The warning is this.  If the Israelites did not escape God’s wrath as He spoke on earth, how much worse the punishment would be as God speaks from heaven?  (Heb. 12:25)

God sent His Son Jesus to speak for Him (Heb. 1:2).  More importantly, Jesus would provide a “more excellent way” to God through His substitutional death and sacrifice.  The power of sin would finally be broken. Jewish sacrifices and offerings were temporary.  They could never offer the promises and privileges of the Gospel. Jesus offered the power of heaven and the permanence of eternity in Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:26-27).

The writer closes this warning with a message of hope.  The message is this–believers were “receiving a kingdom which could not be shaken” (Heb. 12:28).  The verb receiving is in present tense meaning the action is a “fact of reality occurring in actual time”, historically and remaining even into the present.  This meant believers were part of God’s kingdom that would never change and were partakers of His generous grace (Heb. 3:14).

Within this new community “believers are to serve God with reverence and godly fear” (CSB, awe).  A believer who departs from God’s magnificent privileges invites God’s retribution (Heb. 12:29; Heb. 10:29).

The Message of Hebrew for the 21st Century 

The warnings contained in Hebrews are also appropriate for believers today.  Especially if we desire to remain faithful to the gospel and hope to persevere during this period of history when our faith is constantly under fire.

There are many factors which threaten our ability to “hold fast” our profession of faith (Heb. 10:23). Many are “heart-issues”.

    • The hardened heart. Our refusal to accept the teaching and guidance of God’s Word.  “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Heb. 3:15)
    • The darkened heart. Our continuance in sinful behavior although delivered by Jesus Christ.  “If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin.”  (Heb. 10:26)
    • The misguided heart.  Our lack of wisdom and truth needed to discern right from wrong.  “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
    • The divided heart.  Our lack of faithfulness resulting in the choice of the world over God.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents.” (Heb. 13:9)

Be not discouraged by the admonitions of Hebrews.  Its writer has also included many promises for believers that desire Christ and choose to serve in the kingdom of God.  These promises are built on the excellency of Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).   They are the “more excellent way” (Heb. 5:9; 6:19; 7:19; 7:22; 8:1-2,10).  God is still speaking.  Are we listening?

The Danger of Neglect

 

When we began this series, we expressed the “need to heed” warnings in our lives.  This is especially true of spiritual warnings.  In the book of Hebrews, the author shares with a group of believers five (5) spiritual warnings he saw emerging within their community.  These warnings represented dangers that would ultimately end their faith walk, their witness, and their work.

These five spiritual warnings are still relevant in the 21st century.  Because of its relevance, we share the first of these warnings–the danger of neglect.

What is this thing called neglect?

Neglect is described as the state or fact of being uncared for.  Its origin is from two Latin verbs meaning ‘not’ + ‘choose’.  The Jewish Christians were considering to “not choose” Jesus.  They were at risk of “drifting away” (Heb. 2:1).

In the opening verses of chapter 2, the writer shares with the audience several points to consider before returning to Judaism.  Rejecting the gospel would have definite spiritual consequences.

Pay Attention!

The readers were urged “to heed” to what they have heard.  In the past God communicated through the angels.  God’s Son Jesus is now elevated far above the angels to reveal His message of truth and redemption.  If the Jewish Christians respected the angels before, they should be even more attentive to Jesus (Heb. 2:2).  The Message conveys this thought: “If the old message delivered by the angels was valid and nobody got away with anything, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation?”

Since Jesus Christ is much better than the angels and has received by inheritance a more excellent Name than they (the angels)–since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claim on our attention, belief, and obedience.[1]

The writer of Hebrews wanted his reader to fully understand the consequence of their behavior.  By rejecting the gospel, they would be “storing up” for themselves the wrath of God: “How shall they escape?”  (Heb. 2:3)

Neglect in the 21st century

Today as I look around at our current world, I wonder if we too are at risk of drifting way.  During the current health pandemic and social upheaval, conversations about “our belief and obedience to Jesus” are, unfortunately, becoming rare.  This is especially true among the generations that will follow the Millennials.

It appears that we, as a nation specifically, are “not choosing” Jesus Christ.  And while the Jewish Christians were in danger of returning to Judaism, what options are people, including Christians, choosing?

What does neglect look like in the 21st century?  A well-known Bible scholar and author, highly regarded within both Christian and Jewish academia, gave the following predictions as to how the world would look if Christianity “drifted away.” We warn you the words shared are very graphic and disturbing.

Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth…these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. [2]

Better Choice

We can learn from the warnings in Hebrews and find new ground on which to stand fast in our faith. (Rom. 15:4) We can avoid the danger of neglect by being intentional in our thinking and our actions.

First and foremost, it is important that we value the gift that we have received as a result of God’s grace (Eph. 1:3-14).  We deserved to die for our sins which separated us from our Creator.  Jesus reconciled us back to God (2 Cor. 5:19).  Having tasted the goodness, the greatness, and the generosity of God through Jesus Christ, how could we ever want to return to our old way of living? (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

Secondarily, we must repent and return to Christ.  Especially if we have begun “to drift” to other options the world would offer.  The Apostle Paul shared with the church at Colosse a similar message concerning the sufficiency of Christ over other things this world may offer (Col. 2:6-10).  In Christ we have everything we need.

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 

Lastly, we must listen as God speaks to us through His Son and in His Word.  Be protective of your time and intimacy with Jesus.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern those things that compete for your attention and your time (Matt. 6:33).  Through the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and journaling, we can better recognize Jesus’ voice over the noise of the world (John 10:27).

Pay close attention lest you too drift away.  Beware the danger of neglect.  Next week, we will focus on the second warning in Hebrews, the danger of unbelief.

[1]  Dr. Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews

[2]  2 Timothy 3:1-9

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Rest.  Who needs rest?  We all do!  Health professionals agree that the need for rest is critical.  It is essential for our overall well-being.  This includes our emotional health and cognitive performance.

But how can we rest?  21st century living has introduced a unique set of challenges that radically impair our ability to rest.  Our current life experiences have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

Similarly, rest for believers has always been (and will continue to be) challenging.  This is because we live in a fallen world.  However, the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:9-11) offers a “viable solution”.   He invites believers to enter God’s rest—wilderness rest.

Defining rest

Webster defines rest as not only sleep but also as freedom from worry or trouble.   Rest in the Bible is used most frequently in non-theological terms.

However, it takes on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people.  Most specifically, when used in reference to the Old and New Covenant.

God addresses wilderness rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest is first introduced in Genesis as God ceases from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  God later commanded Sabbath rest as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15).  He knew that all living creatures needed physical renewal.

Canaan rest began with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt.  Rest was defined as deliverance from slavery.  Canaan rest established protection from and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  By following God’s commandments, Israel would no longer be threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).  Peace in the land would be their rest.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement introduced us to God’s eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26).  Believer’s eternal rest will culminate with Jesus Christ in eternity.

Accessing God’s rest

Accessing God’s rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His will (John 10:27).  For example, believers should let God’s Word and Spirit guide us.  God has already provided solutions for our problems therefore releasing us from unnecessary anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:  “The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”  That is, believers need to be more responsive to the Lord.

Responding to wilderness rest

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  We trust the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, and protect.  He gives use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  God knows the end from the beginning and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near.

Wilderness Living

wilderness experience

Are you experiencing wilderness living?   I’m not talking about a survival challenge where one willingly goes into the wilderness to test their mental and physical endurance.  This wilderness experience is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. We are unable to enjoy the pleasant things of life.

Similarly, this new decade (2020) is testing both our mental and physical endurance.  The stress and strain on our emotional health is unbelievable.  The combined effect of the health pandemic, racial strife and financial strain is unrelenting.  As a result, we have seen our lives played out like a bad dream repeated on a continuous loop.

I was encouraged when Michelle Obama shared her personal struggle with mild depression.  Her transparency and vulnerability are character strengths we can model during these difficult times.  In the same vein Israel  needed support to help them successfully navigate wilderness living.

God revealed during wilderness living

Captivity was Israel’s “wilderness experience.”  The nation was away from their land, their temple, and most importantly, their God.  Therefore, God, through His prophet Isaiah, sent words of consolation to Israel during their wilderness experience.  He promised to do a new thing (Is. 43:16-19).

New in Hebrew means to renew, rebuild, or repair.  Most certainly,  people today  need these three actions during times of uncertainty and chaos.   Our minds need to be renewed from the the insanity of the world (Rom. 12:1-2).  Our relationships need to be rebuilt and repaired  (Rom. 12:17-18).  We are divided on so many things.  Therefore, Satan uses these differences to further polarize us and  negate Jesus’ mandate to love one another (Matt. 5:43-44).

Because of His love for Israel, God promised He would not only renew, rebuild, and repair what was loss during the exile, but also   do the impossible.  “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).  In other words,  God would revive Israel physically and spiritually.

Facing wilderness living

Wilderness living is different for everyone. For example, for some people wilderness living may be relational—failed, estranged, or disappointing relationships.  For others the experience may be professional—finding the right vocation or personal significance.  But for some, wilderness living may be experiential—moments of personal loss, loneliness, or misfortune.  No two wildernesses are the same.

Likewise our spirit man may also feel strained.  What is God doing in the world and in our lives?  We may feel alone and isolated.  We may even think God has left us and no longer hears our prayers.  Is God with us in our wilderness?  He answers, “Yes!”  It’s in His Word (Ps. 91:15; Isa.43:2; Isa. 49:15).

Living in the wilderness

Above all, regardless of the type of wilderness experience, we can trust God.  We can relinquish control to God’s sovereign will and His steadfast love.   God is for us and He cares about everything that keeps us awake at night—our family, our provision, and our future.  God will sustain us In short, while we have no forecast as to when and if our world will ever be the same again, we have the blessed assurance that God is with us.  (Ps. 119:116)

After our wilderness experience

Through our wilderness experience God can renew, rebuild, and repair our lives (Ps. 130:5).  As we strengthen our intimacy with Him, we will find true happiness, contentment, and peace (Rev. 21:7).   God can do that for us individually.  Likewise, He can also do that for our nation.

God can do the impossible and bring us back to a healthy, vigorous and flourishing condition (Isa. 40:31).   We may not look the same but because of God, we will be better because of our experience in the wilderness (Job 23:10).

Tools for Encouragement

Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.  Romans 15:2 (KJV)

As In The Word Ministries moves into its second decade of service, we will be launching a new program entitled Contending for Children (CFC).   While we declare that “children are our future”, unfortunately there are still gaps in services leaving our children victims of violence, neglect, and abuse.   It is our opinion that in order to live victoriously as individuals, both women and their children need to be included in our ministry efforts.

That being the case, my radar is continually in search of trends and new thinking concerning children.

In researching the topic of encouragement, I was introduced to an article by Dr. Timothy Evans entitled, “The Tools of Encouragement”.  While its focus is children, I found “spiritual fodder” for our series on encouragement for 21st century living.

Encouragement versus Discouragement

In his article, Dr. Evans cites attitudes and behaviors that compare encouragement to discouragement.  For space sake, I have listed below at few which, I feel, may fit with our discussion of encouragement.  I challenge you to review the total list  as an “informal assessment” of your personal “encouragement style” with others God has placed in your life.   

ENCOURAGEMENT DISCOURAGEMENT
Hopeful view of people’s nature Hopeless view of people’s nature
Individual’s behavior is purposeful Individual’s behavior is caused by outside forces and victimization in the past
Influence without strings Control, force, and fear
Equality as human beings Superiority-sitting in judgment
Chatting-talking with Advising-telling to
Being ourselves, fine as we are Pleasing and proving
Recognizes effort and improvement Recognizes only tasks well done
Courage to be imperfect Fear of mistakes

 After a review of the behaviors, I found that many of the actions I had believed to be “helpful” could have instead been discouraging to those whom I had hoped to assist.

I now better understand that encouragement needs to flow from a heart that “stands with” the person in need of support.  Its end result should reflect renewed hope and confidence.   Jesus understood this dynamic and demonstrates for us the best model for encouragement.         

The Master Encourager:  Inspiration to hope and service

By His very nature, Jesus was the greatest of all encouragers.   Whether with His disciples or with the crowds, Jesus’ words spoke life and possibilities to those in need of support and confidence.

Jesus encouraged others to an expectant hope.  Jesus comforted His disciples with living hope—hope found in the promise of His resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3).  Jesus told them not to have their hearts troubled because “if they believed and trusted in the true and living God, they could also believe and trust in Him” (John 14:1).  Hope was fostered by the fact that God had a purposeful future planned for them including a place in heaven.

Jesus encouraged others in preparation for service.  Jesus spent His closing days with His disciples ensuring them that He would not leave them as orphans but instead promised the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, would come alongside them to help fulfill their purpose and their service to mankind (John 14:16-18).  The Holy Spirit now indwells each of us in the 21st century to do the very same thing.

Encouragement—RECAST  

Although we as Christians may not experience overt persecution or hatred, we do feel the pressures and disappointment that comes from living in this fallen world.  Discouragement is not an uncommon human experience.  Therefore encouragement is needed.  

For the recipient, encouragement helps individuals manage through times of trials and spiritual discipline.  It undergirds them when they may feel like giving up (Heb. 12:5). Encouragement gives hope and helps believers to continue their walk of faith (Rom. 15:4).

For the donor, encouragement nurtures patience and kindness (1 Cor. 13:4-7). It takes attention away from self and refocuses on the needs of others (1 Thess. 5:11).  Encouragement of believers ultimately supports the Great Commission—the advancement of God’s kingdom.

I’d like to close this series with as acrostic that will help to remind us of the importance and purpose of encourage.  The word is HOPE:  Helping Others’ Purpose Evolve.   As believers we are to follow the example of Christ in encouraging other to pursue their purpose outlined before the foundations of the world (Eph. 2:10); to accomplish the days fashioned for them before they existed (Ps. 139:16).

The Encouragement Challenge

 

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,

just as you are doing.  1 Thess.  5:11 (NRS)

Are you an encourager?  Do your words and actions move others  toward their God-given purpose?  Or do they cause others to “wilt in the sun”?

Relational tension, strife, dysfunction

Loneliness, disconnectedness

Depression, hopelessness, suicide

These conditions of mankind call for more than a “pat on the back”.  They require an intentional plan to come along side individuals God places in our lives.  Believers in Christ are being called to step-up to the encouragement challenge.   

The Spiritual Gift of Encouragement

The spiritual gift of encouragement is listed in Romans 12:8.  While specific spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Rom. 12:6-8) are given  by the Holy Spirit “to prepare God’s people for works of service”, all Christians are called to encourage others (1 Thess. 5:11).

In the Old Testament, Moses was commanded to encourage Joshua who would be the leader to take the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deut. 1:38). King Josiah helped return his people to the Lord through his encouragement to the priests (2 Chron. 35:2).

In the New Testament, Paul sought to encourage believers through his visits, his many letters, and his prayers (Acts 20:2). Other encouragers included Silas (Acts 15:32), Tychicus (Col. 4:8) and Timothy (1 Thess. 3:2).

Some believers are “especially gifted” to be encouragers.  One of the strongest examples found in the New Testament is Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37). He would become known as a son of encouragement and later help bring Paul into the church as a leader.

Encouragement and Sanctification

Encouragement is positive feedback that focuses primarily on effort or improvement rather than outcomes.[1]

This is important for “mature” Christians to know as they work with new Christians who need more encouragement and less “correction” to help them grow in their faith.

In addition, sanctification (being conformed to the image of Christ) is accelerated through use of encouragement.   Encouragement helps believers strive for “improvement” each day being fully aware  that we will never reach perfection until heaven.

Also Read, “Help the Stragglers”

Why is Encouragement important?

Encouragement is the vehicle God uses to help believers live out  their purpose and true identity in Christ.  In addition, encouragement helps believers to:

    • Navigate in the 21st century.  The belief that we areOne nation under God” is  no longer true as key institutions are dismantled (church and family) and Christian beliefs are diminished (respect for others and the value of life).  Individuals feel devalued, hopeless, and powerless.   Encouragement builds inner resiliency and hope (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
    • Equip the saints. The Bible instructs believers to “examine themselves” (2 Cor. 13:5) and “grow in faith” (Eph. 4:15).  Encouragers are needed to help other believers become spiritually mature and ready for service.  This does not give us authority to meddle in  others’ lives.  It should, however, cause us to “be on the watch” for God’s divine opportunities to provide encouragement.  Encouragement provides needed support for spiritual growth and maturity (Rom. 15:1).
    • Build the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God came with the arrival of Jesus Christ.  He has charged every believer to expand His kingdom by sharing the Gospel (Matt. 28:19-20).  Our lives and service to mankind are to be “living testimonies” to  God’s goodness and His greatness.  Encouragement draws nonbelievers to God and citizenship in His kingdom (Eph. 2:19).

Are You Up for the Encouragement Challenge?

Encouragement is not only the action of giving someone support or confidence but it is also about giving inspiration for hope and service.

Encouragement is a social imperative that can radically reverse the pattern of  despair we face in our communities, in this country and the world.

Encouragement is a principle from God that originates from His love and grace (Is. 41:10).  It is how the Kingdom of God increases and how its citizens are to operate in this fallen world.   Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)

[1]   The Tools of Encouragement,  Dr. Timothy D. Evans

Encourage Yourself

Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.   Joshua 1:6 (NKJ)

Donald Lawrence, gospel music songwriter and producer recorded a song that should resonate with believers living in the 21st century.  It is entitled “Encourage Yourself”.  Each verse and chorus repeats the need to continue moving forward when everything (and everyone) is pushing you back or holding you down.   

Sometimes you have to encourage yourself

Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test

And no matter how you feel

Speak the word and you will be healed

Speak over yourself, encourage yourself in the Lord.

I know we typically think of encouragement as coming from outside ourselves, but it’s important to remember that we, as believers have a personal responsibility to “speak over and encourage ourselves in the Lord.”  How do we do that?  By speaking the truth—that which we “know” by faith.   In our text, Joshua had reason to lose courage.  Moses was dead and he now must lead over 2.5 million Israelites into the Promised Land.  And who would be there to encourage him?  The Lord and Joshua himself (Josh. 1:5).

Satan—our model for discouragement

 During times of weakness, Satan will use his favorite “tools” to wreck our confidence.  He will use discouragement, deception, and disappointment to thwart our efforts to move toward God and His purpose for our life (Jer. 29:11).  Discouragement is by far his favorite.  The base word for discourage means to deprive of or cause to lose courage (des- “away” (see dis-) + coragier, from corage “spirit”).  It is Satan’s plan to lead us away from a “spirit of courage”.

 It’s what “we know” that makes the difference

So what do we need to know that will help us encourage ourselves?  I will define each point with selected scripture you can memorize to combat Satan’s attacks.

We need to know Who God is.

  • You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
  • The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
  • Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

We need to know who we are—our identity in Christ.

  • The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)
  • Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
  • But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9) 

We need to know our citizenship.

  • For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
  • For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
  • “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)

Encouragement for believers is more than a pat on the back or a hearty “at-a-boy”.  Encouragement is the discipline of building endurance and resolve for the journey God has set before us.   Although encouragement often comes from our families and our “tribes” (communities), it is in those quiet moments of doubt or desperation, we need to “speak words” (God’s Word) that “heal” and can cause “giants to fall”.

A Call to Encouragement

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  Hebrew 3:13 (NIV)

When I think of encouragement, George Nance comes to mind.  George “adopted me” as a new manager with Southwestern Bell (SWB).  George “came along side me” and coached me on how to navigate this new and foreign job of managing one of SWB’s million dollar account.  It was hard and I often thought of returning to teaching but I held on because George was there to encourage me.

Throughout my life, there has always been someone who stood with me to encourage me to be all that I could be.  Little did I know then that it was God at work (through my friends and family) keeping me moving forward to the purpose He had established for my life (Ep. 2:10).

Such is the role of one called to the side of one in order to teach, comfort, strengthen or “push them” to act in a certain way (as George did for me).  There are other words in the Bible that have similar meaning such as exhort, warn, and admonish.  The context of the Scripture will dictate what best describes the meaning for that situation.

Encouragement is defined as the action of giving someone support or confidence.  I would like to expand that definition by saying that encouragement is also “inspiration to hope and service.”

Encouragement Basics

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words translate encourage to mean “strengthen” (Deut. 31:6; Joshua 1:7, 9).  The basic New Testament word for encourage is paraklesis which interpreted means a calling to one’s aid.  In John 14:16, Jesus promised to send the Disciples another just like Himself (The Holy Spirit) who would walk with them; in this case “comfort” is the intended meaning of encourage.  “Exhort” is also used to mean encourage.  Its purpose is to build endurance and “spiritual doggedness” during times of trial and testing.  Such was the case in our text today.

The Need for Encouragement

The recipients of this letter were believers who had come to faith through the testimony of eyewitnesses of Christ. They were not novices and they had successfully endured hardships because of their stand for the gospel (Heb. 10:32-34).  Unfortunately, they had become “dull of hearing” and were in danger of drifting away.  This made them particularly susceptible to the renewed persecutions that were coming upon them and the author of Hebrews found it necessary to check the downward spiral with “the word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22).

“Today” referred to social and political pressures that potentially threatened their faith walk and Christian witness. “Sin’s deceitfulness” speaks to satanic attacks to simply “give in” to the external pressures versus standing firm in the faith.  In this case, it meant returning to Judaism.   

Fast forward to the 21st Century 

Our “Today” mirrors that of the writer of Hebrews.  Our faith is being challenged and with each day we are persecuted for our Christian beliefs and practices.  And what is the Church’s response?  What is our individual response?

In many case we have become dull of hearing and drifting away.  “Sin’s deceitfulness” has lured believers (and non-believers) into a false sense of “rightness” resulting in willful disobedience and depraved immorality.  Ruin is the outcome for those who continue on this path.

Destruction is certain for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark; that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (NLT)

The prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. And worse yet, my people like it that way! But what will you do when the end comes? Jeremiah 5:31

People think they are wise following the ways of the world, but in reality, they have become fools (Rom. 1:21-22).

Read:  Prayer Delivered in Kansas State Legislature

Encouragement in its basic form is a call to move people to hope and service for the Lord.  It is meant to incent believers to pursue God’s divine purpose for their life (Jer. 29:11).  Whether we strengthen, comfort, or exhort, every believer has a part to play in the spiritual success of those individuals God places in our path.  It’s time for a “word of encouragement.”