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.

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

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?

What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?

How Do We Live Out Trust?

Trust

Living Out Trust

Trusting another person often makes a bold statement about your trust in God, a statement saying you choose obedience over trying to protect yourself. Because we have a 100% reliable source of trust, we know the answer to the question “Where Should You Place Your Trust?” So, we move forward in relationships with others who will let us down because we remain confident God never will.

Showing Trust in God

The best place to start living out trust that is rooted and grounded in God is through tangible expressions of that trust. In other words, living out trust comes through practical expressions and actions that show God exists as our source of trust and confidence. That happens through…

Actively showing our trust in God opens us up to living out trust by trusting others because we know our trust lies rooted in Him, not them. But, that doesn’t mean trusting in others is easy. It’s especially not when a wound from hurt is fresh or when it festers from long-term infection or when we know other wounds are forthcoming.

People & Trust

Trust in the LordPeople will break my trust again. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter though because they can never take away what truly matters, that which only comes from God.

The most important thing I have to lose – my salvation – can’t be lost. So, it’s not important as much whether others are trustworthy as it is whether or not I’m living a life that truly trusts in the only one who is trustworthy. That’s the root of living out trust.

Showing Where Trust Lies

We can show our trust in a variety of ways. Most importantly, that means showing where we place our trust and giving glory to God by doing so. That happens when we:

  • Choose to trust people knowing they’ll let you down. Do this knowing and proclaiming that God can and will make good out of it. Declare that He rights wrongs. (Luke 18:7)
  • Build relationships and strive for unity even amidst continually broken trust. If for no other reason, do it out of obedience to the One who is completely trustworthy. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
  • Look at our expectations and adjust or maybe even eliminate them. Do your part to live at peace with others. That involves not setting them up for failure. (Romans 12:18)
  • Don’t mistake people letting you down for God letting you down. Don’t blame God for people breaking your trust. Choose to follow God’s will regardless of what others do or don’t do. (Joshua 24:15)

Living out trust means choosing to continue trusting others even amidst hurt and betrayal. It means working to build trust and doing your part to live peacefully with others even when you know they’ll let you down. You can do this because God is bigger than and can heal the hurt from any broken trust.

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Other posts on trust:

Staying Committed, Part 3 of 5 – Biblical Lessons on Commitment

In order to stay committed and to keep commitments, in order to finish strong by Staying in the Boat until we cross the finish line, we need to focus on full commitment to God. We must be constantly reaching toward the Great Expectations He has for us with regard to commitment. His way is the only way to truly stay committed.

The Bible gives many examples of individuals who stayed committed to God and as a result kept their commitments to themselves and others as well. Their stories and lives provide terrific lessons we too can apply in our own struggle to stay committed.

Your commitment does not depend on the honesty of others. (Joshua 9)

Joshua made a mistake trusting the Gibeonites, yet he still kept his promise to them because he knew how God felt about keeping your word. Their being deceitful had no bearing upon whether or not Joshua kept his commitments even though doing so still had significant consequences.

Just because your circumstances change does not mean your commitment should. (Daniel 6)

Daniel showed commitment to God over a lifetime. His life spells out the most important aspects of keeping commitments: Extraordinary spirit, faithfulness, living according to God’s will, praying continually despite consequences, living under God’s protection & affecting others through commitment.

Your friends and culture do not have to agree with your commitment. (Genesis 7 & Hebrews 11:7)

Moses stayed committed to God even when he most likely faced tremendous peer and cultural pressures. Let’s be clear that scripture does not say he had peer pressure. We are making a pretty safe assumption based on the corrupt culture of the day and the fact that it had probably not rained since creation (Genesis 2:5-6). Moses kept to God’s instructions regardless of the influence of the surrounding culture or of his peers.

How you feel has nothing to do with whether or not you keep a commitment. (1 Samuel 1:11, 24-28)

Hannah was infertile and had prayed that God would open her womb and allow her to have a son. She then promised that son would belong to God “all the days of his life.” If you have children, remember back to before you had your first child. Did you even come close to imagining the depth of love you would have for him/her? With that in mind, do you think Hannah’s heart was breaking when she gave her son to the Lord while he was still very young? But she kept her commitment to God anyway regardless of what her feelings wanted her to do.

Making your life line up with God’s will sometimes means fulfilling back commitments. (Philemon)

Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who had escaped. He became a Christian, and Paul sent him back to Philemon to keep his commitment. Sometimes, we have back-commitments we’ll have to keep when we get right with God in any area of our lives.

You can still keep your commitments when others release you from them. (Ruth 1:16-18)

Ruth was under no obligation to keep her commitment to Naomi, her husband’s mother. Yet, she made the decision to stay with Naomi and never deterred from that decision. God blessed Ruth for her devotion. He blessed her for making a decision and following it all the way through totally and completely.

God Himself provides the perfect picture of commitment.

God has kept and/or is keeping His commitment to Israel (whole Old Testament), to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3 & Nehemiah 9:8, 23), and even to Satan (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26) just to name a few of the big ones. God was and is faithful to the unfaithful, rebellious, doubting & wandering.

He made His commitment to us before the world was even created. (Matthew 25:34), and His commitment to us shows we can trust Him. Likewise, when we stay committed, we build trust with God and with others.

DISCUSSION: What other biblical examples of commitment can you think of? Which one do you connect with the most & why?

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