Monday, September 8, 2008

Seven day challenge...

The Bible tells us that encouragement is both a duty and a gift.

In Romans 12, we find encouraging listed in the gift mix that the Holy Spirit gives right along with serving, teaching, prophesying and leadership. It’s right there in verse 8. Talking about spiritual gifts, Paul says, “…if it is encouraging, let him encourage…” (Romans 12:8a, NIV) Pretty cool, huh?

That God chose to inspire those words says something to me and you. He says to us: Encouragement is vital to the church. The church cannot thrive without men who speak encouraging words. The church cannot survive if women will not act in encouraging ways.

So God gives the gift of encouragement to some. For these gifted encouragers saying the right thing in difficult times comes naturally. Those with the gift of encouragement know instinctively what actions are needed to strengthen a brother in dire straits.

There are Spirit-gifted encouragers all around us. They’re humble folks, uncomfortable in the limelight. They just walk through life building others up. They serve quietly. They love people one by one by one.

Still, as sneaky as they are, you know who I’m talking about. You’ve met them. They’re the individuals who almost always lift your spirits when they’re around. I say almost always because encouragers, even gifted ones, are human. They have off days. They face difficulty and crack from time to time. But usually, they’re full of praise and good words. It’s fun hanging out with them. When you’re down, these are the people you run to.

I thank God that he gifts people for the ministry of encouragement.

I’m glad he commands the rest of us to be encouraging too. It’s just like evangelism or giving. Some are gifted and can win people to Christ on an airplane. Some are gifted and can give more generously than others. All, though, are called to both activities.

Encouraging is our duty as believers, just the same as these others.

Our Lord’s command concerning this matter is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

Here’s what Barnabas’ pal wrote as the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart: “…encourage one another and build each other up…” Then for encouragement’s sake he added, “…just as in fact you are doing.”

The Thessalonian church was already on the ball. They were encouraging each other. They were building each other up. Paul gives them two thumbs up! ““Keep it up! You need each other’s good words.” Remember Thessalonica was the town where the fires of persecution were so hot, Paul had to be spirited out of town under cover of darkness. And when the rabble rousers there heard he was just down the road, they came after him. Thessalonica was not an easy place to be a believer. Encouragement was in order every time the church met.

That’s still true of the church and it always will be. I suppose that’s why the writer of the book Hebrews included it in his words of instruction to the church.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25, NIV)

The church is to be full of encouragers. Every time believers meet together, every follower of Jesus should be looking for ways to spur their brothers on toward love and good deeds. Every time disciples see each other on the street they should be thinking of ways to express their love to each other.

There are opportunities to strengthen fellow believers every day if you have your eyes open, if your ears are tuned to what your friends are saying.

From the writer of Hebrews a call to action: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV emphasis mine)

Can you do that? Can you encourage someone every day this week? Do you know seven people? I know you do. You know many more people than that. So pick seven neighbors. Pick the folks you know could use a lift. Speak kindly to them.

Start today. Find someone else you can encourage before you leave work. Run to the other room and build up your kids. Pick up the phone and call a friend just to say, “Thanks for being there for me.”

Can you imagine how much joy you and I can bring to the world just by following the Lord’s command this week? Picture it. Single moms cared for. Coworkers not so discouraged. Students believing they can do their work. Christians in good spirits. Makes you smile just thinking about it.

Now do it.

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