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A Discipline for Us All

We need it; we're commanded to give it.

Encouraged and Encouraging (1)

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5.11 (NASB)

Where seldom is heard
One of the unhappy consequences of the materialism, narcissism, and tribalism of our day is a rising sense of disappointment and discouragement. These often lead to other negative affections, such as resentment, fear, anger, desperation, and even hate. People are discouraged for a variety of reasons: The things they strive so earnestly to possess don’t actually satisfy them for very long; people are so busy looking out for themselves that no one seems to be looking out for others; and the competition and strife between political and cultural factions makes for more tension than most of us want to endure.

Parts of the American landscape used to be sung about as seldom proffering a discouraging word. Now, discouraging words come at us every day from the media, politicians, co-workers, social activists, and assorted Eeyores who just can’t keep their discouragement to themselves. These days it’s the encouraging word that seldom is heard.

This is especially evident within the Christian community, where the discipline of encouragement founders on the rocks of small visions, poor teaching, the egos of leaders, and a “good enough” view of what it means to follow Jesus.

Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to encourage one another. Both the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible translate this Greek verb, παρακαλέω, parakaleo, as “encourage.” It is quite a common verb in the Greek New Testament, and its use varies from context to context. The ways it is used, and the variety of translations to which it is susceptible, give us some insights to the meaning of the word: “ask”, “beseech”, “exhort”, “comfort”, “call together”, “request”, “console”, and of course “encourage.” To encourage therefore is to take action toward someone else, to move that person to action, perhaps even, as Paul has it, to build them up.

Paul believed that we all need to be encouraged. He also believed that we all need to encourage one another. Encouragement, in other words, should be one of the most characteristic ways of our relating to one another in the Body of Christ. Encouraging one another is a discipline for all of us to learn, practice, and benefit from in our walk with and work for the Lord.

We all need more encouragement; and we all need to encourage others more than we do. But just what is encouragement? What does it accomplish? How should we practice it? These are the questions we’ll be considering in this study.

Encouragement relates to courage. Courage is that disposition of the soul that moves us into the unknown, the uncertain, or even the improbable, full of conviction, confidence, and the expectation of success. Courage relates to the heart (Fr. cour), which is the seat of affections. Affections – our feelings, hopes, aspirations, attitudes, and dispositions – provide the motive power for the life of faith. Solomon counseled us to keep a close watch on our heart, because all the important issues of life issue from our affections (Prov. 4.23). Jesus said the same, that the heart is the wellspring of our words and deeds, for better or for worse (Matt. 12.34; 15.19; Lk. 6.45).

Like all affections, courage arises from the heart. But it does not originate there. The Holy Spirit of God must give us courage; He alone can cause courage to blossom in us, for He has come to dwell in us as the Encourager. His Name, and hence His mission in us, is taken from the Greek verb, encourage. The Spirit is the Encourager, and He is at work within us preparing our heart for encouragement (Phil. 2.13).

Encouragement is a bit like a lightning strike. Lightning strikes occur when electrical charges gathering in the earth combine with electrical charges gathering in the atmosphere. When this happens, a flash of lightning strikes with heat greater than the surface of the sun.

The Holy Spirit is at work within us, preparing the soil of our heart with spiritual charges that can produce a lightning strike of encouragement. The inward work of the Spirit connects with some outward work to generate encouragement in our heart. That outward charge must come to us from someone or something else. And it comes – when it comes – in various aspects and degrees of intensity and consistency.

And when we are encouraged – when the Spirit of God within us combines with some outward spiritual charge – then we act in a way that both expresses the Person of Jesus Christ and brings us to a higher stage of transformation into His likeness. When we are encouraged, the joy and hope of Jesus swell within us. Our outlook on the world changes as our heart engages the mind of Christ in us to help us see things the way He does (1 Cor. 2.16). We experience a certain spiritual energy stirring within us that wants to come to expression. Some action step is suggested, requiring a degree of courage heretofore not present in us. When encouragement strikes, spiritual energy is released for love and good works (Heb. 10.24). And we are stretched, if only a bit, to become more like Jesus and less like our old selves.

Called to encourage

The Scriptures call the followers of Jesus Christ to encourage one another. The Spirit is working in the hearts of all who believe in Jesus to cause courage to spring up. He is also at work in all who believe to enable us to bring the outward charge of spiritual power that combines with the inward work of the Spirit in others, so that courage ignites, and spiritual energy is released for good works of love.

But this doesn’t just happen. We must make up our minds to obey God’s Word by encouraging one another, by being the Spirit’s agents to bring the spark of courage to the hearts of our brethren in the Lord, that they, overflowing with joy, confidence, and hope, and carried along by the indwelling power of God and His Word, may venture into new areas of life and work, take up new efforts of love and good works, and be transformed into the likeness of Jesus in new and permanent ways.

The world is sinking into a slough of discouragement and despond, where passivity, helplessness, uncertainty, and dread abound. Christians are sinking, too. We need to hear words of encouragement. We need examples of courage that can empower us to new efforts of building one another up in love. We are called to encourage one another.

All that hinders us is the will to do so and a better understanding of what encouragement entails.

For reflection
1.  Can you think of a time when you were encouraged? Describe what happened.

2.  How are courage and encouragement related?

3.  Who are the people God has put in your life for you to encourage?

Next steps – Preparation: Commit yourself to becoming an encouraging person. Take that commitment to the Lord in prayer, and pray every day that you will obey the call of God to encourage and build up others.

T. M. Moore

Small Stuff
We can encourage people in even small and seemingly insignificant ways. Our book Small Stuff helps you be more aware of the opportunities for encouraging others that God brings to you each day. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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