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.


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…

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 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?

Pursuing Encouragement Through the Holy Spirit

Trinity with Crown, Cross, and DoveThe church I attended from birth to age 18 talked a lot about the Holy Trinity with most of the focus being on God. We also tossed around Jesus’ name some but mostly just at Christmas and Easter. We really talked very little about the Holy Spirit and then only as the name for the third part to the Trinity.

My lack of early learning about the Holy Spirit resulted partly from a gap in the teaching received and partly from me not paying attention. (Mis-remembering might be at play some too.) For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit simply was not only my spiritual radar until my late 20s.

When I discovered what Scripture said about the Holy Spirit, though, the embers were stirred, the flame flickered, and I realized two things:

  1. The Holy Spirit had been active throughout my life. In fact, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14). I could actually look back and point to His activity throughout the years.
  2. I missed out on what the Holy Spirit offers largely because of my own ignorant resistance.

What does the Holy Spirit offer?The Flame in Yellow and Orange

“And I [Jesus] will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor-Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever… you know Him because He (the Holy Spirit) remains with you continually and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17, AMP)

For the first 3/4 of my life, the Holy Spirit seemed like this mystical, other-world being. Actually, we called Him the Holy Ghost, and He really did seem like a ghostly sort of figure to me. Certainly out of reach and definitely not a comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor or strengthener.

When I discovered the Holy Spirit’s role and looked back on my life and saw Him fulfilling that role even when I didn’t look to Him, I wondered…

How can I have even more Holy Spirit activity in my life?

“ Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

In other words, the Holy Spirit is on always ready to comfort, advocate, intercede, counsel and strengthen, and I just need to not push that help away or get in His way. I simply must choose to walk according to the Spirit’s leading.

Personally, I “subdue” (other versions use “quench,” “stifle” and “extinguish”) the Holy Spirit when I get too busy, become overwhelmed or put my focus anywhere but on God. Conversely, when I purpose to spend regular time with Him through studying the Bible, spending time in His creation and fellowshipping with other Christians, I more clearly and more often “hear” the Holy Spirit.

So, pursuing encouragement through the Holy Spirit involves making God a priority every day. It involves not letting my life get so busy I can’t hear or don’t recognize His promptings amidst all the other noise. And it involves trusting Scripture and relying upon it as the guide for my life and the main tool the Holy Spirit uses to interact with me.

DISCUSSION: How does the Holy Spirit exist as an encourager in your life?

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. Studying Scripture
  2. Pursuing the Holy Spirit
  3. Spending time in fellowship
  4. Allowing ourselves to be encouraged 

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: What testimony can you give regarding discouragement, struggle, encouragement and victory?


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”?

Don’t Sleep Through the Storm

Gifted Sleepers

My husband has a gift for sleeping. He falls asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, and he’s perfected the art of the power nap. He can also sleep on airplanes, even during turbulence. In fact, I’ve witnessed him fall asleep prior to takeoff and not wake until landing for shorter flights. I’m jealous. I do not have that gift.

I think Jonah had a gift for sleeping too. After choosing to deliberately disobey God, Jonah heads in the opposite direction of God’s leading. He boards a ship to Tarshish (the most remote location he could think of) and promptly falls asleep in the ships belly. In fact, Jonah sleeps so soundly that he fails to wake even when the storm hits.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’” (Jonah 1:5-6)

In other words, “How in the world can you sleep in this storm?”

Now, maybe Jonah was just a good sleeper like my husband. Or, maybe he’s like so many of us who sleep (literally and figuratively) in order to avoid God-given responsibility (or responsibility of any kind for that matter). Regardless, it took a serious storm plus another person shaking him awake to finally get Jonah moving.

What can we learn from this single scene in the rather short story of Jonah?1100938_57493317

  1. Storms are sometimes from God. Whether he allows or sends them, storms (trials) are sometimes God’s tools for shaping our lives.
  2. God sometimes uses others to shake us into action. We often fail to have the right perspective during our own trials and need to hear another’s perspective to help us get moving.
  3. God sometimes uses unbelievers to direct believers. The captain was not a believer (yet), but he still implored Jonah to call on his God because the captain’s god (or gods) wasn’t getting the job done.
  4. God uses storms to get us moving in the right direction. The more determined the disobedience, likely the more powerful the storm. If there’s a raging storm in your life, consider how God might be using it to direct you.
  5. Even the best sleeper can’t ignore God forever. We can choose to dismiss Him, but no trick exists for completely and permanently avoiding Him. We will one day have to face Him (Galatians 6:7).

Try as we might, whether by literally sleeping or by “sleeping” in the form of busyness and distractions, we cannot avoid storms meant to set us on the right track. Over time, however, we may put our awareness of God to sleep and become less and less able to see and hear His directing. Let us each determine first not to be deliberately disobedient and to secondly not “sleep” during God’s redirecting.

DISCUSSION: How can we be sure to avoid “sleeping” and missing God’s directives?

Consider reading the following posts for helping answer this question:

Be Prepared

Prepared 1“Got your food bar and water bottle?”


“What about your spikes?”


So went the conversation just before my son left for school the day of his first track meet of the season. I wanted him to be prepared to do his best, and that meant not having to stress over forgetting something. This conversation really just represents one of the many I’ve had with my boys.

My husband, knowing I’m not a morning person, has told me more than once that he’ll see the boys off to school in the mornings while I get a bit more sleep. But, I just can’t release the need to make sure my boys are prepared for the day ahead. I remind them often to prepare the night before, but being teenagers and also boys, they usually don’t. While my husband is a terrific father, and good at many things, planning ahead is not his strong suit. Plus, he just doesn’t have mom radar.

Being unprepared can be frustrating and embarrassing. It can turn an ordinary day into a bad one very quickly. And too many unprepared days usually lead to an overwhelmed life as getting by consumes any best that might otherwise exist. A habit of unpreparedness eventually creates a reactionary, drama-filled life. And that sort of life comes characterized by relentless stress and exhausting overhwelm.

The Value of Preparedness

Prepared 2I want my boys to learn the value of being prepared because I know this habit sets them up for an effective and successful life. Vastly more important, though, is them knowing the concept of preparedness as it relates to their spiritual states. I want them to know that their heavenly Father also values being prepared and wants them to always stand ready.

Matthew 24 conveys God’s preparedness message aptly. In it, we have Jesus’ words telling us to not panic and to instead prepare to endure to the end. The idea of panic and endurance tells us the situation will be dire and feel desperate at times.

Jesus also tells us what to pay attention to and what not to let steal our focus. In that, he directs us to…

  • Know the Truth (His words, Scripture, prophecy, etc.)
  • Know what’s coming
  • Know what you don’t know (the exact timing)
  • Know your responsibility as these events unfold

This chapter in Matthew ends with a call to preparedness, to

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus gave us what we need to be prepared, and called us to a continual state of preparedness.

A Habit of Preparedness

Living with a habit of preparedness based on the information you have creates the mindset necessary to be ready for THE event of all time — Jesus’ return. This is ultimately why I teach my boys the mindset of preparedness. My hope is that doing so will create a way of thinking that flows into every area of their lives, from the small events like track meets to the big ones later in life, but most importantly to the only thing that ultimately matters — their individual relationship with their Savior.

Seeing the connection of everyday habits to our eternal perspective helps us better see the truth in how all we do can truly be to His glory.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Preparedness is, for me, one of the most powerful examples of this principle.

DISCUSSION: How would you describe your level of preparedness, both in life and eternally?

Hear. Listen. Understand.


Most people are very good at hearing. We know the right stance and facial expressions and even the appropriate verbal responses to confirm our hearing. But hearing remains only a physical act if we fail to fully engage in the process.

My 14-year-old has perfected the art of hearing. Eye contact. Mostly stationary. “Yeah” and “Uh huh” in the right places. Yet, his behavior later often confirms that he stopped with only hearing my words.


Once we hear, the next step involves truly listening. This means we choose not to form our response while another person talks. It means we decide to give value to the words we hear because we value the person saying them. Listening means we recognize that the words hold meaning and purpose beyond their initial point of origin.

As my boys mature, they move beyond only hearing my words and into listening for value. They attempt to apply instruction not just in my presence but as a choice for responsible behavior. They seem to grasp, at least at times, what many adults seem to be conveniently confused about, that those with experience and who love us quite possibly have valuable instruction to help better our lives.


Next comes understanding. After we hear and choose to truly listen, application starts to become a reality through our habits, and understanding grows. As understanding blossoms, the activity of hearing and listening changes from surface value to one of depth. A sure sign of understanding involves a person seeking out opportunity to hear and listen rather than waiting for them.

When my boys seek out my or their father’s advice, we see signs of this process happening. When a student takes notes and asks questions of a teacher, understanding is being sought. When someone spends additional time, perhaps in meditative prayer, reading or studying, they show a desire for the process of hearing, listening and understanding to become habit.

Jesus encourages this process in Matthew 13 as does Isaiah in 6:9-10. Lots of other places in Scripture emphasize the point too. Only when someone truly gives himself to hear, listen and understand does he finally see the significance of the repetition.

“Then the godly will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom: Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:43)

DISCUSSION: How does the “hear, listen & understand” process exist in your life?

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Consumed With “Shoulds”

mercy not sacrificeAll to often, I become easily consumed with thoughts of what I “should” do to truly be a good wife, mother, friend, writer, church member, daughter, Christian, etc. Those ideas are usually based on what others say, think and do and how I appear in comparison. Of course, this comes all filtered through my own perceptions and assumptions. And this line of thinking always leads to internal defeat as I realize my desire to promote self and feel good about where I fall in the lineup.

In this way of thinking, activity becomes the focus. The more activity, the better. But I always end up feeling restless and unsettled. Never arrived. Never content. Why?

When my heart’s focus lies with appearances, with going through the motions of “shoulds,” I’ve filled my life with activity (with busyness) that appears meaningful but really exists as quite the opposite. Seems a lot like a focus on the rule following of the Pharisees, doesn’t it?

Filling our lives with the activity of sacrifice (busyness) provides ample distraction from addressing the true condition of the heart. Being busy (offering sacrifices)results in appearing accomplished but fails to consider the state of our intentions and motivations.

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

Jesus used the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12-13 & 12:7) knowing the generational familiarity it held for his listeners. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way:

God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.”

Old Testament connections to this are many… 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-19, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, & Micah 6:6-8. All get at this tenant point of Scripture… our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.

These Scripture represent the truth of what God asks of each of us. He doesn’t first ask for busyness (sacrificial activity) but for a sincere faith and devotion to him. He asks for loyalty and obedience. He asks that we are fair, just, humble and merciful. Only then is anything we do — our activity & our busyness — pleasing to him.

Isaiah 1:11-17 gives a succinct path for learning to live out this pattern of being over doing.

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

Of course, God exists as the object of these action steps. He exists as the focus of our activity. And as we seek to live this pattern, we find that the busyness of the world falls away. The “shoulds” disappear from our radar, and we move into the rhythm he meant for us to follow.

No longer do we focus on offering sacrifices — keeping ourselves busy with going and doing — but we instead find ourselves living in a way that naturally loves and serves. Only then do we live driven by our heart’s inward faith instead of trying to create the perception of an inward reality that we think makes us acceptable.

DISCUSSION: How does the truth “obedience over sacrifice” become a reality in the life of a believer?

Some Days…

Some days, all my writing sounds terrible Everything I write makes no sense; in fact, it’s horrible. This isn’t writer’s block, I promise. I could write for hours. Just some days, the words only sound stupid and useless. Like today.

way wrongToday, my inner self wants so desperately to write something meaningful, even profound. But the words that come out are trivial and childish. Today, I feel like giving up on dreams of becoming a successful writer (whatever that means). And when I let my imagination wander down this road, I always arrive at the same conclusion — What would I do if I did not write?

You see, I know writing is my calling. At some level, I’ve always known this to be true. Just some days, my heart and my head fail to connect in carrying out this calling. Some days, I lack the faith to walk down the path of God’s leading. Today is that kind of day.

cagedWhen I meet with this kind of day, which happens infrequently but still with some regularity, two very strong emotions rise to the top. The first is fear. Old feelings of depression and pointlessness surface on days like today, and I fear returning to my old life in the pit. The second is desperation. A part of me starts pacing like a caged animal desperately wanting what it sees standing outside the cage.

Only, I can’t exactly see what’s standing outside the cage. I know it represents hope and increased faith and removal of fear, but I can’t quite focus on the specifics. All I seem to be able to hone in on is the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that says I’m trapped.

You might not be a writer, but that doesn’t matter. Just insert whatever description you have for your calling, and I’m certain you have days like I’m having today. At least, I assume this is a common human experience and not a corner of the world that only I know exists. Right?

Everyone has desperate days where they wonder if they missed a lane change somewhere or perhaps even took a wrong turn. Either we have these days and we know we have them, or we have them but have mastered the art of busyness to keep us from admitting we have them.

Since we all have had them and will have them again, the only question that remains then is “What do we do about them?”

What I feel like doing is hurling my computer across the room because it fails to put into words the ideas and thoughts and musings of my heart. Yet, I know the regret and shame that would soon follow, and so I refrain. What, then, is left?

First, I make sure I’m physically at my baseline. This means assessing if I’m hydrated, properly nourished and not overly tired. And where possible, I make needed adjustments.

Second, while all of Scripture exists as a guide for living a Godly life, most Christians have a “go to” verse or chapter or even book that always provide not only a place to rest but a place to reset. For me, that’s the book of Isaiah. I read the highlighted portions, sometimes stopping to read around them too, and if that doesn’t bring relief, I venture into other highlighted areas of Scripture.

Third, and really this exists infused within the other two, is prayer. While I feel what I’m feeling and as I try to convey those feelings in writing, a part of me prays for relief. I ask for the answer for this sudden onslaught of anxiety and fear and if not the answer, then simply relief.

Beyond these, I must refuse to think. Because if I allow my thoughts to further internalize what I am feeling, that’s when vain imaginations begin to take me down some very dark and all-to-familiar paths. Sometimes, if I am to focus on facts over feelings, that means simply not allowing myself to dwell on my feelings.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you have days like this?

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Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape the fact that Scripture also clearly advocates for a right relationship with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, building up the body of Christ, and for unity and peace by way of example for non-Christians.

The holidays have a way of amplifying the state of relationships, and, unfortunately, to make bad ones worse and cause good ones to struggle. Why is this? Likely, much of the strain comes from already struggling finances, expectations and disappointments that seem to surface at their highest intensity during the holidays.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered and approached rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes. What might this look like? Consider the following notes provided by my pastor during a teaching on Proverbs 3:5-6 and infused with my own thoughts and reflections.

My pastor titled his lesson, “Staying Healthy Through the Holidays,” and it largely inspired this series.

  1. A healthy family is committed and caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. An environment of respect needs cultivated. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Family convictions must be developed and deliberately lived out. These convictions must be stated and then allowed to shape traditions.
  4. Family dynamics change from year to year, and flexibility is required to maintain relationship through those changes. Purpose to adapt as people grow and mature and as numbers increase and maybe even decrease at family gatherings. Refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Assumptions can kill relationships. For this reason, make a point to respectfully express your feelings. Don’t take for granted that others know how you feel about them. Let them know verbally (say it) and physically (hugs, smiles, etc.).
  6. Many relationships fold under the weight of responsibility, which often increases during the holidays. Be sure to share responsibilities with others, which means not only asking what you can do to help but also asking for help too.
  7. This one may offend the technology-addicted, which is almost everyone these days… Engage people and be fully where you are. That means putting down the smart phone or tablet and making eye contact with people in the same room as you. And be sure to have alacrity, so your loved ones know you truly don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Like assumptions, expectations can also be relationship killers. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.
  9. As Scripture clearly points out, people are a priority. Because it’s important to God, be faithfully devoted to what will last… loving others.

Depression hits its height for many people during the holidays. So does family contention. And most likely, these two realities are closely related the the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year. Fortunately, a deliberate choice by the individual Christian can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you, and this directive certainly includes our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What are your recommendations for healthy relationships during the holidays & beyond?

Relationships 2

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