Expecting Encouragement

Feeling Encouraged

Encouragement can feel a variety of ways. When I’m encouraged, I’m any number of the following…

  • Motivated — Appreciated — Energized — Hopeful
  • Validated — Inspired — Reassured — Comforted
  • Supported — Positive — Enthused — Supported

When I’m encouraged, I’m more patient as well as more motivated to pursue peace with others. Encouragement just makes me an all-around better person. Does it do the same for you?

Expecting Encouragement

When I expect encouragement from other people, I’m always disappointed. They never meet my expectation, usually because they’re too high and/or because they just don’t know what they are and have no way of knowing. Also, I want encouragement from others to be authentic, a genuine part of who they are, and not from a place of obligation and should.

When I expect encouragement from God, I’m never disappointed. He goes beyond my expectations and far surpasses anything I can hope or imagine.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Beyond Expectations

What does it mean to not only receive encouragement from God but to have what He gives go well beyond what we can think of or even imagine? Maybe you are like I once was and how Han Solo so perfectly expresses…

“I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.” (Star Wars: A New Hope)

God’s encouragement always seems to be surprises and unexpected even when they happen every day.

  • A sunrise or sunset
  • Ocean waves
  • A child’s laughter
  • A smile from a stranger

Even though He so faithfully and consistently doles out encouragement, I still find myself surprised by it.

God encourages through the people we know as well as through the daily events in our lives too. He encourages us in many unusual ways too. Take a minute and think about the ways God has encouraged you recently in through these areas.

Really, there are simply too many ways to list. You just don’t always realize that until you get going. I find that once I start to list them, I have a hard time stopping. I’ll simply list how scripture says we are encouraged by God:

1. Through the Holy Spirit

“The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

2. Through Scripture

“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” (Romans 15:4)

3. Through our position in Christ

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?” (Philippians 2:1)

When I experience all the emotions that can accompany being encouraged, I better understand what Isaiah meant when he wrote what has become one of the most quoted passages of Scripture.

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

While I’m changed in many ways when I am encouraged by the Lord, the biggest impact comes in a desire to encourage others. Encouragement is just one of those gifts you don’t want to keep for yourself.

Do You Remember Your First Love?

Love quote

The anticipation. The excitement. The eagerness. The desire to please. Consuming thoughts. Irrepressible smile. Immense feelings. Overwhelming emotion.

Do you remember? If so, you probably realize you don’t still feel the same way you did when that love was fresh and new. Hopefully, though, the love you experience now is deeper and better, less based on emotion and more on relationship.

While this description certainly describes the time I first fell in love 27 years ago with the man who is now my husband, that’s not the love relationship I’m talking about here.

Do you remember the first time you truly realized how much God loves you? Remember when you discovered he wasn’t a distant God but a personal Savior? What Do you remember when you first realized that he loved you enough to come to this earth as God in flesh? And what about the knowledge that your sins are wiped away as if they never happened?

With that first love came a fervor, an unbridled enthusiasm. Along with it came an understanding of the seriousness of sin and the thrill of being forgiven.

Do you still feel that way?

Love verse

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

When I think of what it means (and feels like) to fall in and out of love, I better understand the point God wanted to make to the Ephesians and why this message is so timeless and so very relevant for us still today both as individuals and as the corporate church.

Forsaking your first love means you neglect it. You find yourself going through the motions of life, doing the busyness of life much like the Ephesians did. Revelation 2:2-3 tells us they worked hard, persevered, resisted sin, sought truth & endured hardships all without becoming weary. Yet, they were still found guilty of leaving the love they had when they became Christians & formed the church.

In other words, they lost the fervor (earnest feeling, ardor, passion and zeal) they once had for God. They became apathetic and were simply “doing church” without truly loving God or other Christians. Been there? I have.

Remember. Repent. Return.

When my husband and I grow distant from each other, even if just a little, we find that returning to what initially helped our love grow — spending quality time together, listening intently to each other, intentionally doing acts of kindness for one another, preferring one another, etc. — helps us return to and even go deeper in our love for one another.

Remembering these varying degrees of love I’ve felt over the years for my spouse helps me better understand how to return to the fervor I once had for Christ before apathy and boredom crept into my life.

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

The word used for “first” in this context means foremost, as in time, place and order, and the word used for “deeds” means toil or effort. In other words, get your priorities back in order and do the most important things again, things that seemed so natural at first.

For the Christian, this means putting your relationship with God first, making it your top priority. This begins when we realize what we’ve stopped doing that we need to go back to doing. It also means ridding our lives of that which draws us away from him. It involves asking for forgiveness for the neglect and the wandering. It means returning to a dependence on him to continually rekindle that first love within our hearts and lives. It also means making a habit of doing the things that continually deepen our connection with him.

DISCUSSION: What practices can you return to to rekindle your connection with God? What priorities need reestablished in order for love to be the primary driving force in your life?

Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Holiday Relationships

Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape that Scripture also advocates for a right relationship with other Christians. We are to encourage and build up the body of Christ. We are also to set an example of love for unbelievers to see.

The holidays seem to amplify the state of relationships; unfortunately, that includes making bad ones worse and often causing good ones to struggle. So much strain comes from already struggling finances, unmet expectations and inevitable disappointments.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes.

Healthy Relationships

Consider the following advice as you work toward healthy relationships through the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be committed to 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. Cultivate respect. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Develop & live out family convictions. State convictions and then allowed them to shape traditions.
  4. Be flexible. Flexibility is required to maintain relationships as life changes. Purpose to adapt, and refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Don’t let assumptions kill relationships. Make a point to respectfully express feelings, and don’t take for granted that others know how you feel. Say it both verbally and physically (hugs and smiles).
  6. Share responsibilities. Ask what you can do to help but also ask for help too.
  7. Engage people and be fully where you are. Put down the technology and make eye contact. Make sure your loved ones know you don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Don’t allow expectations to kill relationship. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.

Depression and family contention hit their height for many during the holidays. Most likely, these two realities are closely related to the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year.

Fortunately, a deliberate choice by individual Christians 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 toward healthy relationships during the holidays and beyond.

Relationships 2

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5 Ways to Be Strong for the Stressed

Strength for stressedLife fluctuates. Sometimes we live in more struggle than victory. But sometimes, we get to bask in the mountaintop sunshine. Most of the time, though, we seem to live with a mixture of both struggle and victory.

Fortunately, for the most part, we each fluctuate at different levels and paces. For example, sometimes my exercise partner encourages me out the door. Other times, I’m forcing her to meet for a run. Sometimes my husband provides stability and help in my busyness; other times, he leans on me.

What relationships in your life reflect this same exchange of encouragement?

I remember a time when I did all of the leaning and needed all of the encouraging. I felt so buried in struggle I had no strength to lend to others. What others did for me during that time taught and prepared me for how to be strong for others later.

The following 5 ways to be strong for the stressed stand out as tremendous helps during my own season of needing to draw strength from my others:

  1. Encourage. While what encourages differs from one person to the next, finding small ways to encourage others helps them put one foot in front of another.  A “praying for you” text or even just a smile from across the room go a long way in encouraging someone when they are struggling.
  2. Listen. Simply listening to a person talk about struggles helps tremendously. Whether it just allows that person to vent or helps them find solutions, authentic listening truly relieves the intensity of stress.
  3. Create space. Find ways to help unload the person’s schedule. Take a friend’s kids for the evening or clean her house while she’s at work. Giving the gift of margin creates breathing room that might be just enough to encourage hope for more permanent relief.
  4. Pray. Often, someone who is overloaded got that way because they refused to allow others to help them. No matter what you can pray for them, and you can let them know you are praying for them. So many times, I could sense extra strength coming through the prayers of those who loved me.
  5. Create comfort. When stressed out, comfort seems absent and quite distant. Bring a friend coffee or make him a favorite meal or treat. Find out what brings comfort, even if only for a moment.

Strength for OthersFor the first time in 20 years, I’m less stressed than my husband, kids and most of my friends. A new experience, to be sure. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I am just balanced and in rhythm right now, and they are all going through times of intense struggle and less balance. I know this will probably change, that I’ll need their strength more and they mine less at some point. But for now, I can take what others did for me and pay it forward.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can you suggest to be strong for others who are stressed and overloaded?

How to… Instantly Make the World Better

1-28-13 toolsMy instinct when hearing about a problem and even when seeing a problem walking by me is to instantly think of solutions. How can this problem be fixed? How can this person be or do better? I can’t fix most of what I see, whether on the news or walking by me at the grocery store, and that bothers me. (Just so you know, I am hardest on myself when it comes to fixing problems.) I am bothered by the sadness and apathy I see in the world, and I want to make it better somehow.

While I’m confessing here, let me also say that I’m a homebody. While there are others, one reason is that the visual stimulation overwhelms me when I go out in public. No, this is not a phobia, I promise. I just get so easily frustrated by people, by lives that are unhealthy in the spiritual, physical, emotional and relational sense. And that ill health affects all of who they are and what they will do – or not do – in life.

People seem in their own little worlds, unaware of how what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say, affects others, how it ripples out to affect their culture and world. Please know that I realize I contribute to this problem at times, but I have a great deal of control over changing that. I can’t make others change.

Fortunately, each person can instantly make the world better by doing small acts of respect. These small acts can not only brighten days on an individual level, they have the potential – as they accumulate over time – to affect change on a much larger scale.

Warning: These suggestions may rub some people the wrong way because they get at some habits that we carry rather close to us, and they force us to admit those habits may not always be beneficial. Yet, we need to realize that what often satisfies in the immediate can at the same time be contributing to a larger problem

1. 1-28-13 cel phonePut your cell phone away. When a friend stops mid-conversation to text, I feel unimportant. When the guy behind me in the checkout lane gets his items mixed in with mine because he’s talking on his phone, I feel invisible. And when someone swerves like a drunk because he’s texting while driving, that makes me angry. The message being sent, really, is that the person on the other end of the phone is more important than the person standing in front of them, more important than having manners, and even more important than my life.

If we can learn how to keep technology from consuming us (watch for a future post on this topic), perhaps personal value will increase and depression decrease. Maybe that would make the world a better place.

2. Use your turn signal. And use it before you actually slow down to turn. Life hands us so many unexpected bumps, and we all could really use more warnings to help us prepare. We all could use less abrupt stops and turns.1-28-13 Turn signal

Fewer driving frustration would significantly lessen the level of stress in a person’s life. Less stress would make the world better. Right?

3. Smile. There are a lot of unhappy people, probably largely because they feel unimportant and stressed. Research shows that smiling increases happiness and success. And the smile doesn’t always have to be genuine; even a forced smile brings these benefits.

1-28-13 smileNot only does smiling bring you benefits, those on the receiving end feel happier too. And wouldn’t more happiness make the world a better place?

As individuals, we can all play parts in shining light in this dark world through simple acts that require us to get outside ourselves by preferring and showing consideration to others. It’s these small acts that can instantly make the world better by helping people feel more valued and less alone. At least, I know that would make my world better.

AMPLIFY: There’s this crease in my forehead that gets deeper when I frown or am in deep thought and lessens when I smile and am more relaxed. I am so inside my head sometimes (I blame it on my melancholy, introverted personality), that I slight others by unintentionally ignoring them and probably frightening them with the crease that could hold a pencil. I need to get outside of myself, smile more, and decrease the crease.

DISCUSSION: What small acts do you think would make the world a better place?

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How to Interact with an Introvert

She sits quietly at the table with this deep wrinkle in the middle of her forehead between her eyebrows. She doesn’t say much, but instead gazes intensely and seems to be deep in thought. About what? Who knows!

Conversations take place around her, and yet she says very little.She occasionally stands next to her husband or a close friend and participates in their conversations, but she rarely starts one of her own. She smiles and makes eye contact yet refrains from holding that glance long enough to invite a conversation. Does she even want to talk to anyone?

Perhaps you’ve seen a person like this maybe at church or even attending a business seminar. Maybe you wonder if she’s even happy to be there. Sometimes, maybe you see her reading. Really? Reading in a crowd of people?

She seems smart, yet you aren’t sure if she really wants to talk to anyone. You wonder why she doesn’t talk much. I mean, who doesn’t like to talk, right?

Should you approach her? Would she just ignore you or perhaps find an excuse to escape?

If you’ve ever crossed paths with an introvert, perhaps this description sounds familiar. Many of my extroverted friends said they wondered most of these things about me at some point. Fortunately, they now accept that I simply am not as social as them.

5 Tips For Interacting With An Introvert

The following will help extroverts feel more comfortable approaching an introvert who seems content left alone as well as better understand what’s happening behind that intense gaze.

  1. Approach them. Introverts generally want connection, especially if they put themselves in a social setting. The more you approach them, the more likely they will reciprocate in the future because they are comfortable and feel safe doing so.
  2. Let them listen. They are good at it, and they have less of a need to talk than you do. Many extroverts find that relationships with their introverted friends allow them to sort out their own thoughts in the way extroverts prefer… out loud.
  3. Let them think. Introverts typically take longer to form their responses than extroverts. Silence really is okay. Be sure to pause occasionally because after thinking for a while, introverts usually have something very valuable worth hearing.
  4. Revisit conversations. Chances are, an introvert has done some thinking since the last time you talked and has more to say on previous conversations. Go ahead and revisit what you talked about the last time you chatted.
  5. Remember that it’s all about energy. Introverts get their energy from time alone. Extroverts get their energy from interacting with others.  Neither is wrong but both impact an individual’s approach to social situations.

Introverts In The Church

In Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, Adam McHugh looks in detail at the life of an introvert and his/her place in the Christian church. What McHugh says applies really to introverts in any organization though.

The book provides advice and insight into how introverts view the world and how they can find their place in an extroverted culture. The above 5 tips were not directly taken from McHugh’s book but from this author’s life as an introvert; however, they are certainly infused within the book.

McHugh talks about how introverts feel constantly pushed to be more outgoing and to change who they are at the core to properly serve Christ. With good intentions, extroverts sometimes encourage introverts toward extroversion not realizing that this is like asking a cat to be a dog.

At their core, introverts want desperately to not just be who God created them to be and for others to embrace and support them in that endeavor. They want to be authentic, and as McHugh says,

“the central component of character is authenticity. Someone with character acts in unison with his or her God-given nature.”

These 5 tips on how to interact with an introvert will hopefully serve as a starting point for extroverts who struggle understanding their less social counterparts.

DISCUSSION: What tips, thoughts, ideas do you have for introvert/extrovert interaction?

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