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.

How to… Be Accountable

So far in my Christian life, I have been influenced tremendously by both the law (what I should and should not do, obeying the rules) and my own nature (the desires of the flesh). As Kathy Howard says in The Proper Climate – “Fruit of the Spirit” Lesson 1, “freedom cannot be found in observing the Law. And indulging our sinful nature will never produce the righteous life God desires.” Instead, true freedom is found as we “live according to… life in the Holy Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). (For a terrific study on living in the Holy Spirit and specifically on the fruit of the Spirit, please check out the wonderful Summer Bible study by Kathy Howard titled Fruit of the Spirit: Plant Grow & Cultivate.)

Recently, a friend and I have been pushing each other to focus more on walking in and living life as directed by the Holy Spirit. We are challenging each other tremendously in this area. Had we not been, I am not sure Kathy’s Fruit of the Spirit study would have caught my attention. Why? Having an accountability partner, something I longed for my whole adult life but couldn’t find, has played a large role in tuning my spirit to help me be more in tuned to the Holy Spirit.

Informally, this type of accountability can happen when a body of believers comes together regularly in worship and small group study. It can also happen when a group of runners gather every Saturday morning for their “long runs.” In a more formal sense, the idea of an accountability partner provides a unique way to be encouraged on a more intimate level. Whether formal or informal and whatever the focus and purpose, the benefits of accountability increase when individuals are…

  1. Meeting regularly. My accountability partner and I meet for discussion about every other week, and we see each other at church on Sundays. Face-to-face connections provide the glue for relationships. Hebrews 10:25 warns against stopping this habit and connects it with the idea of accountability.
  2. Connecting often. In our busy culture, meeting face-to-face regularly can be a struggle. Fortunately, that same culture gives a multitude of ways to connect in between face-to-face meetings. Blogs, email, Facebook, and Twitter provide unique ways to connect with others. The truth that No Man Is An Island holds true more today than ever.
  3. Teachable. When I taught college English classes years ago, most students wanted to learn at least to some extent. But a few students wanted to get a passing grade without learning. This isn’t possible in college, and it’s not possible in life either. In order to move toward excellence, one must be willing to learn from others. (Proverbs 23:12)
  4. Transparent. This does not necessarily mean airing one’s dirty laundry, but it does mean an honesty that gives room for true accountability. I have been in what I thought was an accountability relationship where the other person was not teachable or completely transparent, and I discovered that not only was I wasting my time but “casting pearls to swine” too (Matthew 7:6).
  5. Prepared. Just like taking a test without having studied is unwise, so too is expecting accountability to take place when you’ve made no effort to make progress. To prepare for the time with my accountability partner, we both make notes about what the Holy Spirit lays on our hearts, and we come ready to discuss those. There are many ways to prepare for accountability, and the specifics really depend on the unique reasons behind the partnership.

Without question, God encourages the idea of accountability. Hebrews 10:24 says to “think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” Whether formally or informally, having people we can encourage and be encouraged by goes a long way in helping us to “hold tightly to the hope we say we have” as well as to “encourage and warn each other, especially now as they day of his coming back again is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23, 25).

DISCUSSION: What other elements need to exist in accountability relationships?

Related Posts:

How to… Be Encouraging Just By Being You

Sunday Reflections… No Man is an Island

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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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