Recently, I have had some disheartening encounters in my life where I was left with a feeling of discouragement. I felt hurt and sad, wondering why Christian friendship at times falls so very short of what God would intend it to. I was left seeking refuge in God. And because our God is a God who is there for us in all times and who equips us with His Word, I came across some scripture in Romans 12 during my quiet time yesterday that dealt with the very feelings I was having. Funny how God does that, isn't it!?!
In these verses, Paul talks about the gift of encouragement...
"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8, NKJV)."
As I thought about the word 'encouragement,' I wondered what exactly this word encompassed. So what does Mr. Webster say about the word 'encourage'?
"To give courage to; to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope; to raise, or to increase, the confidence of; to animate; enhearten; to incite; to help forward; -- the opposite of discourage."
As I look around in my life and in the church body, I see many people who have been given the gift of encouragement. They are people who aim to lift their brother or sister up. They are people who unveil our eyes and help us to see the potential we have in Christ. And they are people who make us better people ourselves, giving us courage and hope, and helping to increase our confidence, just as the definition says.
But as I look around, sadly all too often I also see people of discouragement. And to the shame of the church, I have seen discouragement running ramped among believers. People using other people as stepping stones for their own advantage. People aiming to make others look bad, and people who try to discredit fellow believers in order to promote themselves. People whose goal seems to be pulling other people down for their own selfish motives. People in competition with one another, instead of trying to help and encourage one another.
When we have encounters with these people, we are left feeling worse about ourselves, and ultimately feeling less confident, less capable, less important.
How sad that there are so many people who feel that they need to compete for a place in this world, for a position 'over' a fellow brother and sister. I truly believe that God's heart is breaking as He sees His children tearing one another down in order to achieve more confidence for themselves. And really, when it's all said and done, those 'discouragers' are left not filled, but empty. They are left with nothing but a trail of people they've stepped on along the way to get to what they've perceived as the 'top.' And as they look around, I'm sure it's a lonely place. Selfishness and self-concern above all others is inevitably bound to breed loneliness.
Although it is true that those people of discouragement can't 'make' us feel bad, that we ultimately choose the way we react to their words and actions. At the same time, it's also true that they can 'help' us feel bad, just as they can 'help' us feel good.
Don't get me wrong, I have some people in my life who embody what it means to be an encourager in Christ. But I also have experienced the hurt that comes from people who instead offer discouragement. And whether their motives are that of competition, or of feeling threatened, or of selfishness, the result is the same: it's all sin that leaves our brother or sister feeling hurt.
I have to tell you, I struggled writing this post. As a sinner and a stumbling believer who so very often falls short of the example of Christ, I above all would never want to appear that I was claiming to be anything higher than I am. I make mistakes and I fall, and I am left seeking forgiveness from the Lord for those mistakes and stumbles. No, I am not pointing a finger. I am merely sharing something that God has laid on my heart, and something that I have experienced first hand in my own life. I am not perfect, but I have been blessed with a desire to lift others up. And in turn, I desire to be surrounded by those who will lift me up and encourage me in my faith as well.
So I humbly ask that you join with me in the pursuit to be an encourager! While I know that there are people who are given a supernatural gift of encouragement, we are all called to be encouragers of one another. To put aside our self-absorbed world and to love on one another. To not put ourselves more highly than another person, but to be humble.
Aren’t our hearts too easily brought down into the depths, even at times to the point of giving up hope and doubting whether we will ever be delivered from the frustrations and difficulties of life in this hostile world? I don’t mean hostile in the sense that our lives are threatened, but hostile in that this world is no friend to us. To be followers of Jesus Christ means we are counter-cultural. Only amongst ourselves can we find a sympathetic ear that can listen and truly understand the troubles that come with being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only within the family is there comfort that comes from those that have experienced the comfort of God Himself.
We don’t dare withhold such a blessing from one another. But I think we often do. And how much unnecessary suffering do we experience simply because we neglect to encourage one another in our troubles?
Look at Hebrews 3:12-13…
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort (or encourage) one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13, NKJV).
We are actually given the responsibility to prevent one another's spiritual regression by means of encouraging one another in the faith daily. Not just on Sundays, and not just in special seminars or conferences, but in our everyday lives. This faith in which we live is to be spoken of amongst ourselves perpetually, for our own spiritual good. Like Naaman who would have died physically if he had not listened to the encouragement of his servants, we need to heed the encouraging words of one another so we don’t begin to die spiritually.
Let us encourage one another to be encouragers!