Discover Encouragement and Determine Reality

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

Presence Over Productivity

Presence 1

Productivity = the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.

Generate. Create. Enhance. Bring Forth.

We all feel good when these describe our day, week, month, year, life. We feel successful.

Presence = the act of being, existing or occurring at this time or now; current. Synonyms are being, companionship, company & existence.

Being. Existing. Occurring. Companionship.

True companionship — presence with another — satisfies a deep part in ourselves that otherwise remains untouched.

Both productivity and presence begin with outward activity, and both satisfy an inward need. But there’s a distinct and crucial difference between the two.

Alone, productivity remains pretty close to the surface of defining who we are as individuals. It brings a sense of acceptance from our culture. Eventually, though, as our ability to be productive waxes and wanes and even slows to a stop at times, we realize the limits of what productivity does within and through us.

Presence, on the other hand, fills a deep need within every person to receive acceptance as they simply dwell with others. Presence fulfills and rewards at our core. It allows for a deep satisfaction not found any other way.

Productivity still remains a healthy and satisfying activity. It even exists as a Biblical directive for our lives (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Acts 20:35 & 1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Presence, though, satisfies at a much deeper level than productivity because it creates purpose in our lives that fuels meaningful productivity. When presence exists with our Creator, joy and rest result (Psalm 16:11 & Exodus 32:14). When presence happens within the body of Christ (other Christians), we experience help, healthy and victory (Genesis 2:18 & Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

If you struggle with busyness and overload and have no idea how to create margin and find a simpler life, let me share a principle — a phrase, really, that bounces around in my head — it helped me when I was chronically overwhelmed and overloaded and it helps keep me from getting to that point again.

Presence 2

Always choose being fully present in your relationships over being productive. You’ll soon discover the productivity, at least in the areas that matter, happens not in spite of choosing presence but because of it.

DISCUSSION: How has making relationships a priority transformed your life?

Diligent, Peaceable & Occupied

The posts “Pursuing a Quiet Life” and “Balanced Goal Setting” give perspective on living out Paul’s directive for early Christians regarding focus and ambition.

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation deepens our application of this advice as we consider our own forward growth.

“And that you would be diligent, peaceable and occupied with your business, working with your hands just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

This version gives three descriptors to consider as we pursue a quiet life. (Note that in “Pursuing a Quiet Life” we looked at how “quiet” reflects an inner attitude rather than an outer physical state.) The Aramaic version of this verse also helps dial in a bit on the inner attitude that drives Paul’s directive.

First, a few definitions:

  • Diligent — constant in effort
  • Peaceable — inclined to avoid strife; not argumentative or hostile
  • Occupied — filled up; engaged mind, attention and energy

If we combine these definitions, we come up with a comprehensive view of the attitude we’re seeking when we think of a “quiet life” in the sense that Paul is encouraging it.

Make a constant effort to avoid arguing and hostility and to engage your mind, attention and energy in the work you’ve been given to do.

What does this constant effort look like in a practical way? In other words, how can we live quiet lives by being diligent, peaceable and occupied?

  1. Do your part to get along with others. You can only control and change yourself. (Romans 12:18)
  2. Focus on the work God gives YOU. When you do, you’ll have a lot less time to criticize others. You’ll also be much more productive this way. (Romans 12)
  3. Let grace carry you through your mistakes. When you make mistakes, learn from them, forgive yourself, and move forward in the grace of God. (1 Peter 1:13)
  4. Verbalize thankfulness in your victories. Realize that God does work good for those who love him, so give him the credit for working good in your life. (Romans 8:28)
  5. Pursue a quiet life in increasing measure. Refuse to let the chaos of the world infiltrate your attitude. Instead, secure your spirit in the peace that passes all understanding but that can also draw others to Christ. (Philippians 4:7)

When our energies focus in these ways, we’ll find our lives increasingly productive and effective. In addition, we’ll discover that the work we’ve been given — loving others and living to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-11) — happens through the living of quiet lives in our own unique ways.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can we increase our efforts to live diligent, peaceable and occupied lives?

Pursuing A Quiet Life

Focusing on Quiet

The Christians in Thessalonica were accused of stirring up discontent (Acts 17:6-9). So Paul encourages them to live respectable and modest lives for the purpose of putting to rest any lingering suspicions. He tells them to continue living to please God by pursuing a holy life and loving others and also challenges them to do these in increasing measure.

Quiet life

Before giving them instructions for moving forward, Paul first tells these early Christians what they are doing right. His example reminds us of the importance of recognizing where we stand with pleasing God before we move forward.

Then, Paul gives instructions for where to focus future efforts along with providing reasons for doing so.

What’s the focus? Lead a quiet life.

How do we keep that focus? Mind your own business and work with your hands.

Why should we focus there? To win the respect of and not be dependent on others.

Struggling with Quiet

Many people struggle with the idea of a “quiet life.” This could be largely because our culture promotes anything but living quietly. Added to this are Jesus’ own words telling us to “go and tell,” which sort of feels like a push to not live quietly. (Matthew 26:16-20)

The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines “quietness” this way:

“A calm, peaceful and restrained attitude to life and way of approaching God frequently commended in Scripture even in adverse circumstances. It is also a condition experienced by God’s friends and enemies when confronted by His majesty.”

In other words, a “quiet life” is an attitude rather than physical state of being. This means speaking out against injustices and proclaiming the Gospel still fall under the activity of a Christian, but they come from an attitude that reflects a quiet inner life.

David gives us a great visual for understanding this type of inner quiet.

“Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” (Psalm 131:2)

Pursuing Quiet

Reading 1 Thessalonians 4:11 in several translations helps to further understand what Paul meant by encouraging the pursuit of a “quiet life.”

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” (NIV)

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life.” (NLT)

“Aspire to live quietly.” (ESV)

“Strive earnestly to live quietly.” (Berean Literal)

“Ye study to be quiet.” (King James)

“Seek to live a quiet life.” (Holman Christian Standard)

Pursuing a quiet life exists as a deliberate effort on our part, and it won’t happen unless we choose to make it happen. Not only that, but the benefit lies largely with the impact we have on others.

“…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

Consider this pattern given by Paul to the Thessalonian Christians for moving ahead in your own walk with the Lord. Take time to assess where you are now, and adjust your focus according to God’s desires. Then, take steps toward achieving that inner quiet that speaks volumes about the presence of God in an individual’s life.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15)

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for pursuing a quiet life? How do you view the impact of such a life?

How to… Be Encouraging Just By Being You

Encouragement does not come naturally for me. Not something I’m proud to admit. Whether because of nature or nurture, personality or temperament, being encouraging to myself or to others comes with great effort, if it comes at all. Yet, the Bible says to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

Encouraging others is a desire of God’s heart. After this realization, my fix-it personality set to work figuring out how to be more encouraging. First, I set a goal of encouraging a certain number of people each week. That didn’t work. Honestly, I just kept forgetting to be encouraging. Then, I enlisted my boys’ help and asked them to remind me to be encouraging. But I think they were too used to me being me, and they forgot to remind me. So what did I do next? Well, I gave up for a while, not out of frustration but more out of knowing the timing wasn’t right. The Holy Spirit needed to do some work within me.

I knew I needed a heart change. I needed to see something differently or something new that I just wasn’t seeing. Since motivation wasn’t my issue, I started to see that the focus of my motivation was wrong. Instead of encouraging to make me look good, or at least not look like I didn’t care about others, I needed to encourage because I wanted to and because I believed in who and what I was encouraging. I needed to stop encouraging just to be encouraging and because it pleased God.

The following 4 realizations have helped me to at least start to be a more encouraging person.

  1. The Golden Rule is a great starting point. Not just a cliché saying, the Golden Rule actually comes from scripture (Matthew 7:12). To apply this rule to encouragement, consider the ways you are most encouraged and then encourage others in those same ways. For example, I enjoy being complimented on what I say, so I try to encourage others when they say something that encourages me.
  2. I gotta be me! A new Dr. Pepper commercial has a great song that says, “I gotta be me.” Being anyone else means bucking up against the “one of a kind” person God made me to be. What does this have to do with encouragement? When I am who God created me to be, I am better able to be encouraging. If I try to be my sanguine friends, I feel constantly sick to my stomach and worn out. But, if I encourage in my introverted way, I am being who God made me to be, which helps me be a better friend, wife, mother and servant.
  3. Apply Paul’s formula for life. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul gives a simple formula for living life: Live quietly, mind your own business and work with your hands. How does this encouraging others? Verse 12 says that living this type of life shows “proper behavior” that earns the respect of others. For me, having respect for someone is encouraging because they hold qualities that motivate me to be a better person. And, in keeping with the above two points, if respect for how someone lives their life encourages me, then perhaps how I live my life can encourage others.
  4. Balance listening and talking. As an introvert, I don’t say much when I’m in a group of people I don’t know well or if I am uncomfortable for some reason. But when I’m around people I know, I definitely talk more, often too much. Being too quiet makes people uncomfortable, and talking too much makes them feel unimportant. At least, that’s what it does to me. So, as I work to become more encouraging, I need to balance how much I talk with how much I don’t.

Encouraging others means accepting who God made them to be and appreciating the gifts, abilities and viewpoints He gave them. When we support others in a way that pushes them to be the best they can be, encouragement results.

DISCUSSION: What do 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 add to this topic of encouragement?

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