Barriers to Encouragement (1)
“Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses…” Joshua 23.6
Our greatest need
I am persuaded that the greatest need of the people of God is courage. This is why God sent His Holy Spirit – the Encourager – into our hearts, so that, in Him and His power, we might go beyond ourselves day by day in laying hold on the precious and very great promises of God which are in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1.20; 2 Pet. 1.4).
Joshua called the leaders and people of Israel to “be very courageous,” for unless they were, they would give in to their fears, doubt God’s as-yet-unrealized promises, and just hunker down in their new homes and hope for the best. Courage is a disposition of the heart – from which flow the issues of life (Prov. 4.23) – which enables us to overcome fear, banish doubt, nurture hope and faith, and step forward into new challenges in the life of faith.
In Joshua’s day, the land of Canaan had been conquered, but it was not yet subdued. In our day, the fallen, sin-wracked world has been reconciled to God by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ; but it has not yet been restored to its goodness for His glory (2 Cor. 5.18, 19; Heb. 2.5-9).
By embracing our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12), looking steadily to Jesus, and submitting to the Spirit’s work of encouragement, we can expect to be made willing and able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we have ever dared to ask or think in knowing, loving, and serving our glorious Lord and King (Phil. 2.13; Eph. 3.20). Every believer should follow the example of the apostle Paul in pressing on to realize more of this upward calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3.12-15).
It takes courage to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and He has appointed each one of us to submit to the courage-giving work of His Spirit and to encourage one another in our walk with and work for the Lord.
But we need to realize that certain barriers can arise – in those we seek to encourage as well as in ourselves – that can keep this great work from going forward. By recognizing those barriers, we can look to Jesus and draw on the power of His Spirit to move on to more of the full and abundant life He offers.
In this final installment of our series on encouragement, we’ll examine a few of the barriers that keep us from being encouraged or from encouraging others, and we’ll consider the best ways of overcoming those barriers so that we may be strong and very courageous in following the Lord.
Perhaps the most common barrier to encouragement we’ll have to overcome is simply being unwilling to be encouraged or to encourage others. We know that God has called us to this work, and that He has given us His Spirit to encourage us in following Him. So why isn’t more work of encouragement going on in the Body of Christ today? Why aren’t we more courageous in following Jesus in all the ways we have previously considered?
Jesus recognized this barrier of unwillingness in His own day: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23.37)
Not willing. What a terrible place to be when the Lord of life, the King of joy, the Prince of peace, and the Majesty on high is calling you to participate in Him and His work of making all things new! Unless we are willing to be encouraged, we will not make much progress in the life of faith.
I had to learn this lesson early on in my walk with the Lord. For a full year after receiving Christ, I resisted the encouragement of my friend, Rick Duwe, to spend time with Jesus in His Word, take up the work of prayer, and fully embrace His calling for my life. Rick would often ask me about my time with the Lord, but I always had some excuse for why I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Then one day he confronted me in the student union, and once again asked if I had started reading the Word each day. I gave the usual lame excuse, but then added, “I really want to, though.” Rick jumped on that: “No, you don’t. You don’t want to spend time with the Lord.” I protested, “Come on, what Christian doesn’t want to spend time with the Lord?” Rick jabbed his finger into my sternum as he said, “You don’t!” Then he put an arm around me and said, “T. M., we will do in this life only and exactly what we want to do, and nothing else. And when you want to spend time with Jesus, you will.”
That challenge was what I needed to begin seeking the Lord daily in His Word and prayer. It’s fifty years on from that moment, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.
And when we want to live courageously for Jesus, when we truly desire to lay hold on His precious and very great promises, to be transformed into His likeness, and to live as His witnesses – when we truly want this, then we will be willing for the Encourager to take us there.
The desires of our heart
Psalm 37.4 offers what seems to me the most encouraging promise in all of Scripture: “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” God promises to give us the desires of our heart, whatever we might want, exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we’ve ever dared to ask or think! There’s just one condition: We must delight ourselves in the LORD. That is, we must seek Him in His Word, so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 5.39; 2 Pet. 3.18). The more we see Jesus in Scripture, and the more intimately and constantly we commune with Him in prayer, the more we will delight in Him. Delighting in Him, we will hear Him, and desire to follow Him in all His ways. His Spirit will encourage us to seek more of Him. Our heart will be filled with the sense of His beauty, the greatness of His love, the purity of His goodness, and the reliability of His Word.
And when that begins to happen, when Jesus is the delight of our lives, He will be the desire of our hearts. We will want nothing so much as Jesus and His Kingdom and righteousness. And He will give that to us, more and more.
But we must be willing. Jesus can encourage us to a bolder, more consistent, and more fruitful walk with Him; and He can use us to encourage others to the same. But we must be willing. We must not be those of whom Jesus says, “I longed to encourage you, but you would not.” We must rather be those who, like Isaiah, trembling before the might and glory of God, say day by day to Jesus, “Here am I; send me” (Is. 6.8).
Pray that Jesus will make you willing to be encouraged, to be made daily more courageous for Him, and that He will use you to encourage others as well. The Spirit Who dwells in us can make us willing and able to follow Jesus courageously. But He is looking to see if we are willing.
1. How can you know if you are willing to be encouraged and to encourage others?
2. What does it mean to delight in the Lord? How would you counsel a new believer to begin delighting in the Lord?
3. Why is courage the great need of this or any day for the followers of Christ?
Next steps – Preparation: Meditate on the Lord in silence, asking Him to search your heart and to make you willing to be encouraged and to encourage others in your walk with and work for Him.
T. M. Moore
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.