Pursuing Encouragement Through Scripture

Psalm 119During a season of discouragement, I can’t convince myself that it’s going to end. Current discouragement always seems permanent. When discouraged, Scripture often frustrates me. I understand little to nothing and struggle with wandering thoughts. So, I just go through the motions and do my best to fight through wondering, “What’s the point? Why bother?”

When I’m discouraged and feel like reading God’s word is pointless, I must remember that my feelings often inaccurately gage the impact of God’s word on my inner self. I must force my vision outside of my feelings and remember that all previous seasons of discouragement eventually ended, which means this one will too.

Never has consistently meditating (reflecting) on Scripture failed to significantly aid my struggle through discouragement. Though the process seems minutely gradual at times, that’s how progress journeys to visible growth. Perseverance is essential to spiritual growth in the struggle through discouragement.

While I cannot feel the progress during this current season of discouragement, I can replay the memories of moving through and out of previous ones. In doing so, I come to know the truth currently at play even though feelings fail to confirm its activity.

While there are many others, three portions in particular showcase why Scripture encourages me.


God doesn’t just suggest encouragement, he actually commands it. What’s more, he gives us reasons to find that encouragement along with sources for making that happen. Scripture reminds believers that God’s promises continual support for his people, particularly when they become weary, depressed or disillusioned. And the encouragement it offers comes through a focus on God, not on ourselves or our problems.

For me, that focus consistently involves allowing Scripture to:

  • Shape my perspective
  • Give me boundaries
  • Keep me thankful
  • Guide my every step
  • Renew my hope

The most poignant times of discouragement in my life came clouded with depression and despair because of the absence of God’s Word in my habits and routines. Yet every time, God drew me back and drew me in. The seasons eventually ended, and I understood their role in my growth. Because he’s done this so many times before in my life, and because His Word promises He’s always with me, I know he’ll bring me through this season too.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s Word encourage you?

Pursuing Encouragement

runnerDiscouragement, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of the shape or the size or the person, discouragement stinks. Deflated. Struggle without progress. Stuck. Directionless. Yep, stinks.

My discouragement with running really epitomizes my battle with discouragement in general. Sure, I’ve experienced periods of relative success. But overall, running exists as simply a 20-year struggle. One might ask, “Why keep doing it?” Well… I guess because it helps me stare discouragement in the face and tell it, “I refuse to quit. I refuse to let you stop me.” If I quit running altogether, that opens the door for me to give up in other areas… in writing, in relationships, in faith. In the midst of discouragement, I often don’t know what to do, but I definitely know what not to do… quit.

While my own discouragement leaves me lethargic and frustrated, my inner locus of control keeps me moving even in the absence of any perceptible progress. However, seeing those I love — my boys and my husband especially — in seasons of discouragement creates a whole new level of struggle and even gets me to believe the possibility of defeat. If I felt knee deep in miry clay before, I feel like I’m laying down in it now and letting the mud seep into my orifices.

When the ones who usually encourage you lack their own courage, and when the ones who you usually encourage can’t or don’t receive it, and when all of this happens simultaneously, life just feels frozen. Yet we continue about our days, continue on the treadmill of life, waiting for that moment when we see the upward path again and can jump off into progress.

If I’m not careful, debilitating loneliness creeps in when I’m discouraged. And if that isn’t held in check, depression usually comes next. I’ve experienced this process one too many times in my life, and I’m determined to not experience it again. Ever. And I don’t want my family to live in discouragement one moment longer than necessary either because I know all to well what comes if it lingers.


Perhaps this battle with discouragement exists as an all-too-familiar place for you too. Perhaps you want to admit defeat and quit running, especially when the end seems hidden somewhere in the unknown depths of the mud. While I don’t know when this season will end for any of us, I do know where to go for encouragement within the struggle.

  1. Encouragement comes through meditation on God’s law and His word.
  2. Encouragement comes through experiencing the Holy Spirit.
  3. Encouragement comes through others.
  4. Encouragement comes through allowing others to encourage us.
  5. Encouragement comes through obedience.

In our pursuit of encouragement, we must realize that truth often comes long before we believe what it’s saying — before the feelings take hold. Knowing this, I see discouragement as a struggle awaiting victory, and I believe encouragement happens in the midst of — not after — discouragement. What I also know is that the path to being encouraged, to becoming unstuck, lies right on top of the path of discouragement. In other words, struggling through discouragement is the only way I’ll find true and lasting encouragement. With that, giving up simply isn’t an option.

DISCUSSION: In the coming weeks, we’ll explore each of the above sources of encouragement. For now, what testimony can you give regarding discouragement, struggle, encouragement and victory?


Spiritual Fitness

dumbbell-1306867-1599x1066My home gym contains everything I need stay in good physical shape. The treadmill, elliptical and boxing bag give me great cardio workouts. The kettle bell, weights and stability ball provide strength training and toning.

A healthy diet filled with the right balance of fruit & vegetables, carbohydrates & protein also contributes to my overall physical health. Avoiding unhealthy foods is a big piece of the puzzle too.

Health experts say that neither exercise or diet alone do the trick. Both are needed to be physically healthy. They also say we must not just do good for our bodies but also avoid the negative — unhealthy foods, overexertion, being sedentary, etc.

In general, we understand the need to operate at our best physically and that it impacts our productivity. We also know that being unhealthy causes our bodies to become overloaded and toxic. Most people at least acknowledge the importance of improved health through eliminating negative habits and increasing positive ones.

No doubt being healthy and strong physically holds tremendous value; however, that value has limits because our physical bodies have limits. Our spiritual health, on the other hand, holds infinite importance since it goes into life beyond the physical we see now and into eternity.

“Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding a promise for both this present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Knowing this, how can we make spiritual health a priority?

Like the way I have stocked my home gym for physical fitness, having the right tools and equipment on hand is important for spiritual fitness too. In addition, establishing healthy habits — simply using the available tools — also contributes to spiritual fitness.

With that in mind, consider the following as a sort of spiritual fitness guide:

  1. Know Your Bible Religious Stock ImagesRead the Bible. Open it regularly and read the valuable instructions included inside for living a godly life. Take this knowledge a step further by receiving instruction from godly pastors and teachers to help propel you into higher levels of spiritual fitness much like a personal trainer can take you to another level physically.
  2. Prioritize life around God. Making God one of your priorities puts him at the level of other priorities that fill your time. Instead, plan around God’s will. This puts Him at a higher level and shows He is not an item on our “to do” lists but rather the director of how we spend our time.
  3. Do an attitude check. Regularly assess the state of your heart, your intentions. Does what’s going on inside of you fit with what the word of God indicates about what our attitudes should look like? (Print and read ”Attitude – The Aroma of Your Heart” for a scripture study on what the Bible says about attitude.)
  4. Schedule fellowship. Growth happens best in the company of others. You can read books about personal growth, and you can read scripture about love. You can certainly pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to work in you for change. But what does doing these things really mean if we don’t interact with others? And, we can’t expect fellowship to happen by itself, especially in our busy culture. We must intentionally and deliberately put fellowship on our calendars on a regular basis.
  5. Pursue spiritual health. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. If you’re doing nothing to change the path of your life, then do something. Set a goal. Have some area in which you are pursuing a more spiritually fit existence. Remember that small steps add up over time to make a huge difference.

Spiritual fitness involves an intentional effort on our parts, as does physical fitness. So take some time today to ask yourself if spiritual fitness is a priority in your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you made God the director of your schedule rather than just an item in it?

You Are a Piece of the Puzzle

puzzleIf you enjoy putting puzzles together, the ultimate in frustration comes when you realize you only have a a few pieces left, and one is missing. What a letdown! No matter what, that puzzle will always be incomplete. Just one piece is indispensible for the complete picture.

My boys once put together a puzzle shaped like an elephant. The elephant was made out of hundreds of smaller pictures of other animals. So, not only was the puzzle itself a picture, but within that picture were other pictures. Therefore, a missing piece not only affected the puzzle as a whole, but it also the individual pictures that combined to make up the whole picture.

We all have our own puzzles that are our lives. Each of our lives also combines to create a larger picture. For the Christian, that is the body of Christ. The absence of any one piece and the picture is incomplete. The absence of any person and the whole picture is marred by the gaping hole much like a missing piece stands out in an otherwise-completed puzzle.

A body of believers (often called a church body) works the same way as a puzzle. Every individual in the body is a crucial piece for the complete picture.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In other words, we are all integral parts of the whole, which is the body of Christ. Each part has a specific function with a different purpose. We must avoid thinking we are the most important part, but we also must not think we are unimportant either. Instead of comparing one part to another, each part must fulfill its own purpose and must also work together to create a cohesive unit that glorifies Christ.

When a piece of the puzzle is missing in the body of Christ, there is a void that cannot be filled. While that does not mean that the work of Christ won’t ultimately be accomplished, because we know it will, it does mean that it will go forth differently than if that void was filled by the piece created to go in that space. God created each person to play a role in His will with each role being unique and able to be filled by only one person. If you don’t place yourself into the pile of pieces, you can’t become a part of the puzzle and the puzzle essentially can never be completed.

Life is so much bigger than any one person, but each person plays a part in making life complete. No one has all the pieces alone; we all need each other to complete the puzzle. We are each a piece of the puzzle of God’s will within the larger picture of the church. We all need to be in the box together, ready to complete the picture.

DISCUSSION: How does this play out in your life? What does it mean for you to be a part of the body of Christ?

What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?

Believing is Seeing

Birthday 2Until the recent past, shopping existed as therapy and a way to for a least a little while forget about life’s struggles. I loved finding good deals and saving money on unplanned purchases. Loved the image I showed from being stylish, though I’m not sure how much others actually noticed.

For whatever reason, the feel of some new thing energized me and gave me a sort of high. A high I forgot and needed again as soon as the new became old.

I’m not sure when, but the same sort of fading of newness happened with my physical self too. I find myself wondering…

When did the physical weariness begin to rear its ugly head?

When did the groaning and sighing become so commonplace?

When did my desire to recuperate replace my desire to be active?

I’m not talking a negativity, really, but rather an increased awareness that feeling new and energized — like I used to in a new outfit — happens a lot less frequently in the physical sense now than it used to not too many years ago. My body simply doesn’t respond and renew physically like it did even 5 years ago. At the same time, my desire to focus there exists more for maintenance purposes now anyway.

When I read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, I gain a better understanding of what’s likely happening. I’m becoming more aware of my earthly tent and its weaknesses. At times, I focus there and allow the number of my life as it increases toward finality to consume me. If I stay in that thinking, I get increasingly discouraged. But if I choose to dwell instead on God’s truth, I find tremendous encouragement once again. Specifically, I am renewed in my knowledge that…

I will have an eternal home in Heaven one day, one God Himself made.

The body I will have will be like wearing heavenly clothing, like putting on a new outfit but knowing the newness will never fade.

Not only did God prepare this eternity for me, He guarantees its reality through His Holy Spirit.

This reality — one more real than the physical one we live in now — not only encourages me, it gives me great confidence too. And this confidence…

Always exists even though I’m not yet in my real home.

Focuses on believing rather than seeing.

Provides motivation to always please the Lord.

The encouragement and confidence instilled by God’s truth in my heart through His Holy Spirit helps me turn my birthday focus from a melancholy perspective that feels overwhelmed by the current reality to one that aims to please God rather than self. One where the earthly weakness still exists but that matters less and less as eternal life draws increasingly near.

DISCUSSION: How does “believing is seeing” play out in your life?

Happy Birthday to Me

Birthday Cupcake with CandleMiddle age struck three years ago, and I muffled through the passing as quietly as possible. Since then, I prefer not to even talk about my age most of the time. (Okay, not at all, actually.)

Approaching my last day in this life doesn’t really bother me. The steady decline of my physical state between now and then bothers me. My body already shows signs of it happening, and I hate feeling helpless knowing it’s going to happen no matter how much I resist. Exercise. Healthy eating. Adequate rest. Anti-wrinkle cream. And still the signs of aging multiply.

The forehead crease between my eyebrows bothers me the most of all the signs of aging, probably because of its prominence. Without major intervention via Botox or going under the knife, the crease will likely continue to stop conversations. “What’s up with that crease in your forehead?” (Seriously happened.)

When I focus on my physical aging, a gaze that happens in August more than any other month, the mental and spiritual aspects of my self seem get wrapped up in the obsession too. And this all-inclusiveness of the aging process bothers me more than the forehead crease.

Anti-Aging Scripture

One portion of Scripture brings me not only amazing peace within my struggle over my physical aging but also tremendous encouragement and even guidance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

What’s that about “eternal glory”? Just this…

“…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)

As I celebrate (which basically means pretending it doesn’t happen) my third year past what many consider life’s halfway point, I am drawn to focus on the part of me that isn’t “wasting away” but is “being renewed day by day” (means I’m actually not aging, right?)… the part that gets to experience this “eternal glory.” I’m definitely up for that!

This change in focus certainly gives the physical decline (and I may be exaggerating its severity only slightly) less attention, which then allows my attentions to find their way toward God’s desires. And that renewed focus — the one bent toward eternity — completely changes my perspective by helping me to…

  1. Refuse to give up and become a couch potato.
  2. Focus on renewal instead of on that which will continue to fade.
  3. Look past the physical of this life and toward the reality of eternity.
  4. Maintain a forward focus instead of a downhill one.
  5. Seek eternal joy in place of temporary happiness.

And while I now feel motivated to continue making progress because of the truth of the Scripture given above, what follows in the next chapter of Corinthians ices the cake (and I don’t even eat cake, not even for my birthday). We’ll look at that portion of Scripture — at the new body we’re promised — in next week’s post.

DISCUSSION: Where does your focus lie?

A Pleasant Aroma?


Coffee Snob

Sauteing onions. Anything tropical. Blankets dried outside. All smells I enjoy. Each one brings to mind a pleasant thought or memory. My favorite aroma, though, is coffee. It draws me in, and I find great comfort in its fragrance.

Those closest to me, and even many not so close for that matter, know I love coffee. They know it makes me a happier person, especially in the morning. I blame my mom. She began the addiction when I was 13 by bringing it to me every morning when she woke me up for school. (I’ve never really been a morning person.)

My youngest son likes to bribe me to take him places by promising to buy me coffee (It often works.) My husband knows the best way to keep in my good graces (and to romance me) is by having coffee with me regularly. In fact, he often lets me know when he’s having coffee even when he travels or is at work, and I’ll brew a cup just so we can have coffee “together.”

My husband and others closest to me also know the coffee must be high quality. Don’t waste my time with the cheap stuff or if the coffee’s been sitting for a while and has that burnt, bitter smell – and putrid taste – to it.

My pickiness with the coffee led my husband to affectionately label me a “coffee snob.” If coffee doesn’t smell fresh and isn’t of high quality, I want nothing to do with it. (Actually, much of the not-so-cheap stuff doesn’t meet my standards either.)

A Sweet FragranceCoffee 2

I wonder if my fragrance as a Christian draws people in like I’m drawn by the smell of good coffee or if it wrinkles noses like when I run into the aroma of sub-par or stale coffee. Are people repelled or drawn by my fragrance? Am I a “sweet, life-giving perfume” or a “hukster” unconcerned with quality (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NLT)?

Even more importantly, what does God think about my aroma? He certainly desires to use every detail of our lives to illustrate His truth, to let His glory show through us (Colossians 3:17). He also uses that which we find appealing and that which repels us to help us better understand His desires for our living in relationship with Him and with others, to help us understand the impact of our aroma.

Even coffee, which a person usually either loves or hates, can show Scripture application in a way that not only sticks but that finds us regularly. For me, coffee provides a daily reminder to check my aroma, to determine whether or not I am appealing to others, to ask myself, “Do I have an aroma that pleases God and draws others to His grace and mercy or that repels them toward the world?”

DISCUSSION: How would you characterize your aroma?

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Lessons from a Blind Man


Blind Bartimaeus

Somehow, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) knew about Jesus. Knew enough to call out to Him even when those around him discouraged his doing so. In fact, their urgings to “Be quiet!” met only louder pleadings on his part. He wanted to be healed, he knew Jesus could heal him, and he probably realized this chance may not pass by him again. So Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus heard him, saw his faith, and healed him. In Jesus’ response, we get a picture of how He handled — and how we should handle — interruptions.

But that’s not the end of their interaction because Bartimaeus then followed Jesus. We don’t know how far he went with Him, but Bartimaeus’ immediate response involved following Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ response, we receive a poignant view of how to respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Responding to the Presence of the Lord

The presence of the Lord compels us to recognize our desperate need for Him. And in that need, we hopefully cry out to Jesus as Bartimaeus did. When we do, our lives become profoundly altered. Our perspectives change. The way we think changes. As a result, our actions change. When we respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives, we…

  1. Refuse to let circumstances stop us from calling out to Him.
  2. Refuse to let others deter us from calling out to Him.
  3. Realize that Jesus welcomes our interruptions.
  4. Realize that Jesus often asks us to play an active role in His ministry to us.
  5. Become willing to throw aside whatever might hinder our going to Him.
  6. Learn that interruptions often bring the most effective ministry opportunities.
  7. Learn to speak honestly to Him about our needs.
  8. Continue to respond by following Him even after He meets our most immediate needs.

As the way we think changes, our approach to loving others — to ministry — changes too. In essence, we become more like Jesus in attitude, action and word. One way that becomes evident is in how we deal with the unexpected happenings in our daily lives.

Viewing Interruptions as Ministry

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, as with many of Jesus’ interactions during His 3-year ministry, also shows how to handle interruptions as we live in ministry. When they came from people who sincerely sought Him, Jesus always stopped and gave his time and attention to the interruption. Actually, I’m not sure He even saw these interactions as interruptions. Others certainly did, but Jesus seemed to view them as part of ministry. Should we view them any differently?

With this thinking, the interruptions of life take on completely different meanings as they change from interruption or irritation or even frustration to ministry:

  • My teenage boys wanting to talk while I’m working
  • My husband wanting to go for a walk while I’m studying
  • A friend asking to meet for coffee when a project deadline looms
  • An extra trip to the grocery store when the food pantry needs stocked

Interruptions turned ministry create some of the most powerful interactions of love in a person’s life. Had Jesus not viewed interruptions this way, a large part of His earthly ministry — and some of the stories with the most impact for us still today — would not have happened.

The lessons in the story of Blind Bartimaeus not only indicate a counter-cultural path but also a forget-the-flesh path if we are truly to benefit from the presence of Jesus in our lives. Hearing and obeying His voice, letting it take precedence over what others say and do and even over our own circumstances not only gets us closer to Him, but it also creates an increasing desire to remain in His presence and to live ministry in the everyday events — planned and unplanned — of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you respond to the presence of the Lord? How do you respond to interruptions?