Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be Encouraged

{1 Thessalonians 5:9-11; ESV}
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Take a moment and ponder what Mike Yaconelli wrote in his book Messy Spirituality:
Sprinkled throughout our congregations are good people who have been paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, insecurity and self-doubt, insignificance and guilt, which are what cripples most of us who are trying to follow Christ. (p. 24)

Think about your church family. If we are struggling with sin, temptation, doubt, uncertainty, guilt, loneliness, insignificance, heartache, and fear, then it would seem likely that the other people we worship with struggle with similar things in our lives. Yet, there is an unspoken expectation that Christians need to have it all together, and so we end up hiding our true selves from one another. This is what Mike Yaconelli made me think about: Followers of Jesus need to encourage one another. Following Jesus is hard if we don’t have a support system to help us keeping going when we would rather give up.

I don’t know about you, but I have been there. In 2005 I was ready to throw in the towel and walk away from God, Jesus, and the Church. Guilt, doubt, and insignificance weighed me down and I wondered if this Christian thing was worth it. I have been one of those people sprinkled in the congregation, but I wasn’t an occasional visitor I was the youth minister. If I was struggling as the youth minister imagine how the occasional visitor is feeling. Think about the times you have struggled and the reasons you didn’t give up.

The New Testament book of Hebrews was written to a church family who were struggling. They were ready to give up in the face of persecution. Apparently they were Jews living in Rome and had accepted Jesus. These Christians had already been through one persecution where they lost most of their possessions. This new wave of persecution though was threatening their lives. A return to Judaism, which was a legal religion, was very appealing to them. It is in this context that the writer wrote:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV)

The writer of Hebrews called His readers to encourage one another, the echoes of his call fall upon us today. Following Jesus isn’t easy and we need all the encouragement we can get. How will we hold on to the hope we have in Jesus if we don’t have people encouraging us along the way? Encouragement is essential for remaining faithful through the struggles of life.

How can we receive the encouragement that we need? Encouragement doesn’t find us by accident. We have to take initiative if we hope to be encouraged in our lives. The writer of Hebrews provides us with two ways we can take the initiative to find the encouragement we need.

The first way we receive encouragement, according to the writer of Hebrews is to meet together. In other words we have to be involved in the lives of others and we need to allow people into our lives. The negative promise of the passage is that if we isolate ourselves then we will not be encouraged. We need to take the initiative to meet together.

Along these same lines we have to be willing to invite people in. Just because somebody is sitting in a pew or attending a small group doesn’t mean they are meeting together. We can be present in body but absent in every other way. By engaging other people we invite them to be part of the Church Family or the group and allow them to find encouragement.

The second way that we find encouragement is through faithful examples. Chapter 11 of Hebrews contains a list of Old Testament saints who endured struggles and remained faithful to God. It was important for the first readers to be reminded that following God isn’t easy, it never has been, and that there have been people who have endured to the end.

We need to be reminded of faithful examples. They could be ancient saints, modern day believers, or someone in between. These examples often provide encouragement and hope for the remind us what God can do through the most difficult of circumstances.

Following Jesus isn’t easy. In our church families their are dozens of people struggling with their faith, and you might be one of them. Through these dark times of we life we need encouragement, and that encouragement is found in fellow believers. Are you being encouraged? Are you an encouragement?


Alvin.Quidaoen said...

This is..... just what I needed to read, actually. Beautiful.

Paul Steele said...

Glad that you found this encouraging Alvin, especially since I had considered not posting it. Thanks for reading my ponderings.

Neill said...

One of your best, Paul!

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