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.

Character Determines Potential

Character

“Character reigns preeminent in determining potential.” (Laura Hildebrand, Seabiscuit)

Character involves the moral or ethical quality of a person, and preeminent means superior and surpassing all others. Potential determines what something or someone is capable of being or becoming, their possibility. Potential exists as a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.

Combining these definitions gives us an amplified version of Hildebrand’s discovery about character.

“The moral or ethical quality of a person is superior to all other qualities in deciding the possibility of excellence that exists within someone or something and that may or may not be developed.”

We see this truth of character determining potential through the life of Seabiscuit as it intersects with his owner, Charles Howard, his trainer, Tom Smith, and his jockey, Red Pollard. Howard recognized Smith’s wisdom, and Smith saw the potential in Seabiscuit, who had not been trained properly. Pollard was the last piece in the puzzle that finally showed Seabiscuit’s potential to the rest of the country. These men brought out Seabiscuit’s character – his heart – with amazing results.

As a child, I remember desperately wanting someone to see my potential, but I too often just felt overlooked. Maybe that’s why stories like Seabiscuit inspire me. And maybe that’s why frustration overwhelms me when I see potential in others but struggle seeing the character necessary to make that potential show itself in meaningful ways.

Character does not simply involve the surface person. Instead, true character shows through under pressure and in our attitudes, actions and words, especially with how those play out when no one but God knows the truth.

“Good character is about making good choices no matter who is watching or who will know about it.” (Dan Black in The One Required Leadership Quality)

We’ve likely all known – or have seen on television – someone with immense potential but who failed to realize that potential because of faulty character. What begins as poor choices in private, a more accurate reflection of our character, eventually shows through in the public realm. Our true character eventually becomes evident to all.

Thinking about this idea of character and potential and remembering how it played out in the life of Seabiscuit, two application points emerge to focus on as we encounter potential.

  1. Potential means very little if character is not developed.
  2. Focus on character, and potential will take care of itself.

The Bible says character is developed through endurance of suffering (Romans 5:3-5). This truth was certainly seen in Seabiscuit, and we all know it’s true in our own lives too.

This idea of potential being determined by character exists as a life principle we can embrace at every stage and in every season. It’s why parents can’t shield their children from all of life’s struggles, but instead should focus on character development within whatever life hands their children.

We also must not estimate potential, others or even our own, simply by appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). The attitudes, actions and words that ooze out when under pressure are what best indicate the status of character and thus the development of potential, and we need God’s help in seeing and encouraging both.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

Struggling with Expectations

Note: This post was originally published on July 11, 2012 under the title “Could This Be Your Biggest Source of Irritation, Frustration and Even Anger?” It has been revised and updated significantly.

Expectations Are a Part of Life

Though my boys left elementary school years ago, I still remember the grading system used for their report cards.

  • BE = below expectations
  • ME = meets expectations
  • AE = approaching expectations
  • EE = exceeds expectations

In a college communication class I took years ago, the professor asked for our expectations on a particular assignment. Most students said, “I don’t have any.” Upon completion of the assignment, the teacher asked if expectations were met, and students answered either “yes” or “no.” The teacher then asked, “How can your expectations be met or not met if you didn’t have any to begin with?”

Anyone in sales knows that business revolves around meeting customer expectations. As Curtis Fletcher says in Creating Customer Expecta…, every aspect of a business creates expectations, from the tag line, to the company name, to the web site.

From business to education to personal relationships, expectations direct every area of life.

Analyzing Expectations

“Expectations are beliefs that spring from a person’s thought process when examining evidence.” (“What does the Bible say about expectations?” at GotQuestions.org)

With that definition in mind, consider that…

  • Expectations are often formed automatically and without effort.
  • Expectations are often unknown until they’re unmet.
  • Expectations are not always requirements, but we often treat them as such.
  • Expectations set standards that are often not agreed upon by those involved.
  • Expectations can be reasonable and still go unmet.

If you analyze your irritation, frustration and anger at any given time, in most instances you’d likely discover the root cause to be unmet expectations. And if you fail to adjust how you operate within these expectations, they’ll eventually wreak havoc in your life.

To avoid the chaos expectations often create, start by realizing that expectations become irritations, frustrations and anger when they are…

  • Unmet
  • Unrealistic
  • Unfair
  • Unset
  • Unclear

When we simply let the resulting emotions (irritation, frustration and anger) bubble up without assessing from whence they came, we’ll constantly find ourselves caught in the struggle that expectations create when left to their own devices. In other words, we need to deliberately make a point to understand and clarify expectations.

Expectations As Fuel for Healthy Relationships

We can’t escape the fact that expectations exist and that they are often the nemesis to healthy relationships. But they don’t have to be. Instead, the existence of expectations can fuel our communication, which can strengthen and deepen relationships. Expectations, especially when clarified and agreed upon, can actually help direct action toward progress.

Consider the following points to help clarify expectations in a way that can strengthen relationships, whether with your spouse, kids, coworkers or customers.

  • Understanding other people’s expectations takes work.
  • Telling someone your expectations takes courage.
  • Discussing expectations is often appropriate and necessary.
  • Writing down expectations can help clarify them.
  • Flexibility must accompany expectations.

Expectations must be acknowledged and communicated if they are to be a positive force in relationships. Yet, even with all our efforts toward communication of expectations, we still will regularly deal with the unexpected.

Expect the Unexpected

To ward off the negative impact of unmet expectations, we need to learn to expect the unexpected in the form of disappointments as well as surprises, unmet as well as exceeded expectations. They are a part of life because expectations are a part of life.

As we expect the unexpected, we can expect expectations to sometimes be unmet, unrealistic, unfair, unset and unclear because that is their nature. We can also learn to decrease the gap between expectations and reality as we learn to communicate better with those around us.

DISCUSSION: What is the most helpful piece of advice you have for managing expectations?

This post was inspired by the comments of Mark Allman in the post Happy Anniversary.

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Stability Amidst Constant Change

Serenity Prayer

Strange Things Are Happening

Wrinkles. Slowing metabolism. Almost constant aches and pains. Physical changes resulting from aging.

Driving. Dating. Independence. Teen boys growing into adults. Life’s seasons usher in change.

Friendships fade. Marriages end. Busyness distracts. Life’s choices result in the rippling impact of change.

“Strange things are happening.” So goes the song in Toy Story to reflect the pain accompanying life’s inevitable changes.

Change brings new excitement along with nostalgic longing to relive moments and feelings. And of course, regret shows up in the process of change too.

My heart aches from change at times. I can’t keep up, and my comfort zone feels tight.

“They say that change is good, but it isn’t.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)

Out of control weight gain. Families growing apart. Estrangement. No, change is not always good.

But it is inevitable. Sometimes we can shape the change as it comes. Sometimes, we simply have to choose how we let change shape us.

The only constant in life is change. At least, that seems to be truth when the focus lies with how change challenges our comfort and expectations. We must learn to expect the unexpected and deal with change as it comes at us. Right?

Fortunately, we have another option.

Change As A Catalyst For Transformation

My oldest resists change. He’d like the same meal routine week in and week out, and he’d also like to stay well within the realm of the known and expected at all times. Change visibly shakes him, but he eventually accepts and embraces it even if never becoming completely happy about it.

My youngest adapts quickly to change. He even seems to need it and to resist much structure. Change motivates him to activity, much like my morning cup of coffee wakes me up, but he fades quickly until more change comes.

Two extremes, yet neither fully functional. Expected, I suppose, in teenagers. Maturity will hopefully bring balance.

How do you react to change when it happens in your life?

While each of my sons reacts differently to change, both ultimately use it as a catalyst for progress and growth. They don’t stay stuck in their comfort zones.

Stability In The Unchanging

Though my boys respond to change in two very different ways, they both grow and mature through it because they also know stability. They have structure and consistency in their lives as much as two imperfect but being perfected parents can offer.

That stability only exists in our family because God provides it. My husband and I don’t. Our routines don’t. The presence of an unchanging, holy God gives the only real stability and consistency that can exist in a world where all else seems to live in the unexpected even with our desperate attempts at controlling everything.

  • Stability in a God whose character never alters.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

  • Stability from promises that never fade or fail.

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

  • Stability like a rock.

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3)

  • The only light to guide in the storm of inconsistency and instability that is life this side of Heaven.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Change is inevitable in this world. So too is God’s unchanging nature. Where do you place your focus?

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?

Cultivating Patience

sf_fruit_patience_07Some people seem more naturally patient than others. I’m not one of those people. But that’s not for lack of trying. Unfortunately, my “trying to be patient” never helped me maintain any consistent level of patience.

In Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore tells Harry…

“It’s not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

Fortunately, this holds true for patience. We can make choices that serve to cultivate consistent patience. We can…

  1. Let the Holy Spirit cultivate patience in us. We do this by becoming increasingly aware of and following His convicting, guiding and encouraging us as well as His focusing, enabling and teaching us. (John 14:16-17)
  2. Make basic physical needs a priority. If I’m tired, hungry or overwhelmed, I have almost no shot at maintaining any level of patience for very long, if at all. (Genesis 25:29-34)
  3. Stop avoiding the difficult stuff. We cultivate patience by practicing it. If we avoid difficult situations and people, we simply won’t see significant growth with patience. (Romans 5:3)
  4. Look for examples to emulate. Spending time with patient people helps us see how patience is lived out. Twenty-seven years married to one of the most insanely-patient people I’ve ever met has drawn me toward patient habits.
  5. Live in forgiveness. Simply put, the quicker I forgive myself and others, the more patience I have with myself and others. (Colossians 3:12-13)
  6. Learn to control what you say. Talking about frustrations, especially when I’m emotional, decreases patience. The sooner I move on from the discussion, the quicker I get back around to patience. (Proverbs 25:15 & Proverbs 21:32)
  7. Stay aware of patience levels. Everyone has limits with regard to patience. We must stay aware of when patience is running thin and learn to walk away before it runs out much like Joseph did when Potipher’s wife continued pursuing him. (Genesis 39)
  8. Know what you can and can’t control. No matter how much I try, I cannot control other people. I struggle enough controlling myself. So, I’m learning to control what I can and to not let the rest eat at me so much. Knowing what I can and can’t control takes the stress off my patience muscle in a huge way.
  9. Wait for God’s timing. Now we come to the matter of faith touched on in Patience is a Virtue. Trusting in God’s timing, or “waiting” on Him, increases our faith as we learn that He handles a great deal of our lives if we simply let Him and refuse to get ahead of His will. (Psalm 5:3, Psalm 25:5, Psalm 27:14, Psalm 62:5 & Proverbs 20:22)

Wait on the Lord HD_mainKnowing I can partner with God and His Spirit to cultivate patience encourages me in tremendous ways because I realize that I don’t have to try and create and maintain patience in my own effort. Partnering in this way not only multiplies the tools available for cultivating patience, but it also helps me understand why patience is so important.

Why is patience important?

Personally, understanding “why” goes a long way in fueling my patience. But more important than asking why patience should be important to me, I want to know why it’s important to God. Here’s what He says…

  • Patience proves — shows evidence of — Godly character. (Romans 5:3)
  • Patience shows our love for others. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • Patience is part of our Christian clothing. (Colossians 3:12)
  • Patience shows us worthy of the calling of Christ. (Ephesians 4:1-2)
  • Patience illustrates our choice to follow flesh or spirit. (Romans 8:12-17)

We have to remember that we simply cannot consistently practice patience — or any of the other fruit of the Spirit — in our own efforts. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit partners with us to accomplish patience in and through us. And when we LET Him do this work in us, our Godly character becomes a testimony of patience to others.

DISCUSSION: How have you become more consistently patient over the years?

BE Encouraged

God gives Christians a variety of ways to receive encouragement, including through scripture, through the Holy Spirit and through fellowship with other Christians. All of these provide consistent and bountiful resources of encouragement for His children.

Even in this abundance, we’ve all come across a brother or sister who simply refuses to be encouraged. They’re usually identified by the words “Yeah, but…” in response to any sort of verbal encouragement and often appear blind to any other sort of encouragement.

With total transparency here, I must admit I’ve been that person way too often. Not only have I refused verbal encouragement at times, I could hardly stand to be in an encouraging atmosphere (worship service, for example).

At its heart, failure to be encouraged through the ways God offers encouragement exists as an issue of obedience. We can’t escape the truth that Scripture does in fact command us to “be encouraged.”

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

“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 1:9)

What I notice most about these and the many other Scripture about encouragement is that the focus of an encouraged individual lies outside of the self. In fact, the focus lies specifically on the Lord.

During the times I’ve refused to be encouraged, my focus fell on myself — my feelings and my emotions — rather than on what God has done, what he’s doing, and what he says he’ll do. The first nine verses of Psalm 77 show this state of mind, the one we find ourselves stuck in when we are discouraged.

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

When we choose to focus on God instead of our feelings and emotions, we’ll experience a building confidence for the present and the future. We’ll realize that experiencing discouragement is inevitable, but being encouraged is a choice. The transition in Psalm 77, verses 10-12, shows this switch of focus.

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

The rest of Psalm 77, verses 13-20, then take us through all there is to focus on with regard to God — His activity, His holiness & power, redemption and His creation. In doing so, we discover much-needed encouragement.

Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Turning our focus to God as Psalm 77 illustrates helps us find peace in chaos and to discover courage as we wait for God’s timing. Moving our focus from emotions and feelings toward God and His might, power and goodness, allow us to move forward in confidence because we know God goes with us as our constant source of encouragement.

DISCUSSION: If you dwell in discouragement, how can the encouragement God offers help you move forward?

Pursuing Encouragement Through Fellowship

As an introvert, spending time alone comes quite easily for me. As a writer, aloneness is often required for productivity. Even though my career and my personality promote solitude, and I really do like the peace and quiet, I cannot escape the need for regular connection. If I go too long with out it, which happens periodically, I become discouraged and even depressed almost without realizing it’s happening.

Everyone needs connection, whether they admit – or realize – it or not; in fact, it’s one of the primary ways God encourages believers. We’ve already talked about how He encourages through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. Let’s now look at the role fellowship with other believers plays in encouragement.

Fellowship

Encouragement Through Fellowship

Scripture says quite a lot about encouragement, and much of it focuses in on the encouragement received through fellowship. For example, encouragement through fellowship…

  • Promotes watchfulness as Jesus’ return nears. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Hebrews 10:25)
  • Defeats selfishness as we seek to build others up. (Romans 15:1-2)
  • Creates unity among believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Provides opportunity to use spiritual gifts. (Romans 12:6-7)
  • Glorifies God. (Romans 12:8-9)

While I believe each of these to be accurate simply because I trust the inerrancy of God’s word, experiencing encouragement in action takes this knowledge to, well, a more encouraging level.

Barnabas’ Example

A man in the early church named Joseph was given the nickname Barnabus.

Barnabas

Barnabas encouraged Paul by helping him gain acceptance into the church even after he persecuted it (Acts 9:27). Barnabas also encouraged Mark by helping him gain a second chance after serious failure (Acts 13:13 & Acts 15:39).

While I love how Barbabas encouraged others by helping them move forward after serious mistakes, I love even more that he was willing to take a back seat to others. When others give of themselves for our benefits, we are encouraged. When they put their reputation on the line, that usually provides motivation for doing our best.

If you look at the list above for how believers receive encouragement through fellowship, it’s not hard to see how Barnabas lived out each of them. And I’m pretty sure, based on the Barnabas’ in my own life and that I’ve watched in the lives of others, that he not only encouraged those he was directly involved with but also anyone who witnessed him in action. Encouragement has a tremendous ripple affect after all.

So even though spending time alone comes quite naturally for me and in fact energizes me in ways that extroverts cannot understand, I also know that being with others is essential for my spiritual health. And while I read Scripture that tells me how and why encouragement comes through others, it’s the actual encouragement in action that solidifies my belief in this truth.

DISCUSSION: How have you witnessed encouragement in action through the lives of other believers?