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?

Struggling with Pride

Pride

“The Great Sin”

In one episode of the Big Bang Theory, Raj accuses Sheldon of arrogance. While funny, the clip aptly illustrates the pride and arrogance constantly oozing out of Sheldon. Perhaps, like me, you find Sheldon’s arrogance amusing because, well, you can relate yet remain certain your own arrogance pales in comparison.

While we can laugh at others prideful antics on television, we also must admit to the reality of pride’s severe impact on culture. And it’s not at all funny.

Consider the following all-to-real examples of pride:

  • Politicians pursuing personal agendas.
  • Business and financial catastrophes like WorldCom and Enron.
  • Attention-seeking TV & music entertainers.

Pride exists abundantly within Christianity too. Stories of pastors living in extravagance and debauchery along with the many examples throughout Scripture tell the tale well.

Pride touches every aspect of life and culture throughout history. And while the widespread preoccupation with self continues making light of pride and even seemingly promoting it, as Christians we cannot consider pride humorous at all. In fact, we must consider it, as C.S. Lewis did, “the great sin.”

An “Anti-God State of Mind”

Seeing pride in others is easy, but seeing it in ourselves… not so much. Consider what Lewis says to ask yourself to find out if pride is a problem for you:

“How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”

Our annoyance and frustration with others too often points to our own problem with pride by revealing a desire to elevate ourselves in some way above others. Pride is very much a struggle of the competitive nature within every one of us.

Lewis describes the struggle it this way:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Pride, as Lewis describes it, creates an “anti-God state of mind,” living within us as a “spiritual cancer.”

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

The story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector proves Lewis’ point well. Please take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the passage found in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees words and actions show that pride involves:

  1. Thinking we have any merit in our own abilities.
  2. Seeing others with contempt and disrespect.
  3. Placing ourselves above others.

Lewis’s describes this “anti-God state of mind” with these words:

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

The words and actions of the tax collector, however, give us a needed view of humility. The tax collector stands at a distance and shows that he knows he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy and grace. He can’t even look at God because of the contrast between God’s holiness and the man’s own sin.

Identifying Pride

Fortunately, Scripture provides the necessary instruction for identifying pride in our lives.

  1. Ask God to reveal your pride. We must ask God to show us our pride, because we likely won’t see it otherwise.
  2. Earnestly seek God. And remember, eradicating pride is not a one and done deal.
  3. Seek accountability. God encourages us to seek others help in eliminating sin.
  4. View humility as essential. Christ’s example of humility sets the standard.
  5. Look in the mirror of Scripture. The Redeemer Church of Dubai offers a list of “30 Biblical Indicators of Pride in Our Lives” and gives a great way to use Scripture as a mirror for identifying pride.

Pride blocks our ability to see God (Deuteronomy 8:14). Humbleness, on the other hand, involves awareness of the heart’s true condition, one of sinfulness, hopelessness and utter depravity without the redeeming work of Christ. We’ll look at humility in detail In a couple of weeks.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on pride?

Two resources in addition to Scripture played a tremendous role in this very personal study on pride: Pride & Humility by Thomas A Tarrants & The Great Sin by C.S. Lewis.

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How to Build Trust

TrustWith lives securely based on trust in God, we can move forward in imperfect relationships. We work toward holiness together, knowing we’ll make mistakes but also seeing progress made toward complete perfection. And that moving forward requires we build trust even within imperfect relationships.

Truths About Trust

In order to build trust, we must first understand some truths about trust that may be difficult to admit and accept. We’ve talked about these truths already in previous posts (listed at the bottom of this post), but let’s revisit them for a moment here.

  1. Only God is completely trustworthy. He never changes, and we can be completely confident in Him at all times.
  2. Expectations and past experiences shape trust. How much we trust others depends on their overall trustworthiness. How much we trust them also depends on our lifetime of experiences with trust as well as on our expectations about trust.
  3. You’re the only person whose trust you control. Determine to be trustworthy. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Purpose to live peacefully with others as much as it is up to you to do so. Build trust by making sure your words and actions always match up.

Understanding how trust works allows us to build trust in relationships. Learning to trust is a process, and we must continually work to maintain that trust. And often, we must choose to build trust even in the absence of trustworthiness because people need the opportunity to be trusted in order to become trustworthy.

Working to Build Trust

Consider practicing the following as you work to build trustrust puzzlet in your relationships:

  1. Verbalize it. Talk about trust. For example, I tell my kids that how much I trust them is up to them. They determine the level of trust I have for them based on their overall choices. Discuss broken trust when it happens, learn from it and move toward reestablishing it. Never forget the tremendous role communication plays in building trust.
  2. Accept it. Since human relationships involve imperfection, we either have to accept broken trust or refuse to be a part of any relationships. Accepting it doesn’t mean accepting the behavior. It mean committing to dealing with it when it happens, hopefully without severing the relationship.
  3. Wait for it. Trust takes time to establish. It also takes a lot of ups and downs. Determine to build trust over the long haul, and refuse to give up even when trust is broken.

After being hurt yet again by broken trust, we naturally want to retreat and live a life not trusting others in an effort to avoid being hurt again. Yet, when we focus on the One who is completely trustworthy, we can enter relationships, be hurt by broken trust in them, and continue moving forward.

Derailed by Broken Trust?

Because we’re safe in the hands of the One who is trustworthy, we know He won’t let anything ultimately hurt us. He’s got us for eternity, and nothing can take that away. This motivates me to bravely enter relationships knowing I’ll be hurt. It leads me to ask others to trust me even though I’ll likely let them down at some point.

Since no one can take away that which is most important – salvation & a relationship with Christ – living within the boundaries of imperfect relationships doesn’t frighten me anymore. I can feel the pain of broken trust and choose to move forward, to build trust again, and to work toward peace and unity and because it pleases God.

DISCUSSION: How does your relationship with Christ encourage you to keep working toward trusting in relationships?

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Other posts on trust:

Separation Is In the Preparation

Rookie Wisdom

Prior to the Wildcard playoffs, Seattle Seahawks’ rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was the subject of several newspaper and television features lauding his leadership ability. While being interviewed, Wilson’s verbalized his philosophy:

1-11-13 separationThese features went on to describe Wilson’s detailed approach to preparing for games, citing a specific story about how he put “cheat sheets” on his teammates’ chairs prior to their Monday morning team meeting following an away game the day before. Actions like these, teammates say, are why Wilson has become a team leader even though he’s only 24 and in his rookie season in the NFL.

And while watching Wilson on the field before and during both before and during games, his actions emphasized his leadership ability as he encouraged and motivated his teammates. Clearly, Wilson’s approach to preparation has separated him as a player and leader in the NFL.

Biblical Principle

As Christians, we are called to separate ourselves too. Just as Wilson has separated himself from being an average football player, we too should seek to separate ourselves from blending in with the world around us. Specifically, the Bible talks about Christians separating themselves in three aspects of life. We are to separate ourselves from:

The World1 John 2:15-17 encourages us to love the things of God instead of the things of this world, and Romans 12:2 encourages separation by not conforming and by letting our minds be renewed.

False Teachers – In Romans 16:17-18, we receive warning to avoid those who deceptively preach anything contradicting God’s Word, and Deuteronomy 13:1-3 indicates deliberately and consistently choosing God above all others.

Disobedient Christians – According to Matthew 18:15-17, while we are not to instantly avoid fellowship with disobedient Christians, we must do so when every effort to persuade them from wrong receives rejection.

Separation through Preparation

Just as Wilson deliberately prepares himself as a football player thus allowing him to excel when game time comes, we too must prepare to separate ourselves as Christians in order to excel in glorifying God.

Wilson’s preparation comes through viewing game tapes, analyzing opposing players, creating a plan for the next game, and making sure he’s in top physical and mental condition. A Christian’s preparation – and maintenance – for separation comes through establishing Godly habits, keeping short accounts, taking thoughts captive, having firm convictions and refusing to conform.

Examples to Follow

Russell Wilson seems to provide a terrific example for other football players as well as athletes in general to follow.

Scripture gives Christians numerous examples of the importance of preparing ourselves to become and remain separate. Examples include the Recabites, Daniel, Joseph and even David. The Recabites show the importance of knowing your why and being ready with an answer. Daniel gives a great example of the value of the habit of daily prayer. Joseph shows us that staying true to God holds significant long-term impact. And David lets us know that even when we mess up, pursuing God restores us to our separated (holy) state.

AMPLIFY: Many questions resonate in my mind as I consider how I can personally amplify my separation from the world, from evil and from disobedience. Does what I read and watch honor God? Are the video games my kids playing harmful to their minds? Am I too busy, overloaded and stressed? Do I over-plan and miss God’s plan way too often? Am I preoccupied with money? Do I explore alternative teachings? Am I too open-minded? Do I justify my attitudes, actions & words? Am I unteachable? Am I creating my own reality in order to continue doing what I want? Do I avoid conflict? Do I get caught up in comparing myself to others?

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional examples, biblical or otherwise, of someone implementing the principle of “separation is in the preparation”? In addition to what we’ve already mentioned, how else does the Bible tell us to live separately?

Related Posts:

How to… Take Every Thought Captive, Part I

How to… Take Every Thought Captive, Part II

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Go Against the Flow

Moneyball tells the story of a general manager who decides to build a baseball team based on statistics rather than individual talent. Everyone, except the economist working for him, thought he was making a huge mistake. Everyone was wrong. His counterintuitive decision was right on the money. Billy Beane went against the flow of conventional baseball wisdom, and it changed the game of baseball forever.

Ever had an idea or wanted to make a change that went against what everybody around you was doing? Or, maybe you felt the need to resist going in a direction everyone else was taking. Going against the flow is difficult simply because it sets us apart from everyone else.

4 Principles for Going Against the Flow

Scripture says that while we may plot our course, the Lord directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). Choosing to follow the steps He indicates often means going against the flow of our culture.

These 4 principles for going against the flow can help you better see the steps he wants you to take.

#1 Acknowledge Limits

Our culture is one of pushing limits. The world of sports is a perfect example. How fast can the mile actually be run? How many touchdowns can one person make in a season? Who can jump the highest or farthest? No matter what records are broken, the new record always becomes the goal. But the truth of the matter is that we do have – and need – limits. Limits allow us to avoid significant negative consequences (think weight control and traffic signs). Intentionally setting limits on desires and pleasures allows us to stay balanced and healthy in body, mind and spirit.  Setting limits is also counter-cultural because we’re told daily we can have what we want when we want it… no limits. Embracing the blessings of limits can protect us from thinking outside of the will of God.

Acknowledging limits goes against the flow of mainstream thinking.

#2 Raise Expectations

There is always someone who isn’t doing as well as you in some way, and it’s easy to get a false sense of superiority. Comparisons are dangerous, yet our culture promotes them like crazy. Comparisons create a false reality, and they can lead to pride in feeling like improvement is unnecessary. When we realize that Jesus is the bull’s-eye, though, we understand the need for progressive improvement. He is the standard by which we should measure our lives. In doing so, our expectations are raised, and we can set goals that don’t pit us constantly against one another.

Forgetting comparisons is certainly not mainstream thinking.

#3 Be Separate

Holiness is a Bible word that many think means perfection. But holiness is not about being perfect; it’s about being separate. When you separate yourself, you avoid conforming to the world. You avoid walking the path of destruction. You become an example of one aiming for the bull’s-eye. Others may consider you odd, but their approval isn’t what matters. The question you must ask is, “Does God approve of my life?” if the answer is yes, then you are living a life of separation and not conformity.

Seeking God’s approval over man’s approval goes against the flow.

#4 Make Relationship a Priority

Limits and rules exist for our safety, but they mean little more than restriction and confinement without relationship. Parents can discipline kids, but kids won’t truly aim for obedience if the relationship is weak. The book of Leviticus is all about establishing rules for the safety of the Israelites. While they focused on God, the rules weren’t a big deal to follow. They followed them because they loved Him. But as soon as they took their eyes off of Him, the rules were broken and rebellion reigned. Relationship makes following the rules a desire rather than a requirement.

Focusing on relationship over self does not support the thinking of our “me first” society.

Directed Steps

As John Carty noted in Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life,

“It’s not easy to overcome the training and traditions of a lifetime.”

Often, though, this is exactly what Christ leads us to do. He sometimes directs us to go against the flow of the training and traditions of our comfort zones.

Are you willing to take the steps He directs?