The Bible speaks of us being in a race, a race to the very end. I don't know about you, but this race can feel very hard at times. How often do we doubt God's goodness in the midst of suffering? How often do we struggle to believe that God really has a plan for our life? How often do we wonder if it all has a point or not? How often do we feel tired by striving to live in a way that pleases God? How often do we think that living life in our own way would just be simpler? How often do we doubt that we're even trusting in a God who is real?
The answer is, I'm guessing for many of us, is, well, often! And this is where encouragement comes in. The Bible tells us that encouragement serves the purpose of helping us to remain faithful, to keep trusting, to keep growing. It is only by growing in our faith and knowledge of God and his sovereign goodness that we can live life in a fallen world free of fear, allowing us to care for others selflessly. Here are some verses I've found helpful.
- In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul talks of what it is like to live in the last days, as children of the light because we have received salvation through Jesus. And at the end of that he says 'encourage one another and build each other up'. I'm assuming we encourage one another by speaking of the truth of this salvation.
- Hebrews 10:24, 25 says that we will encourage each other by not giving up meeting together. And why should we meet together? To be just another club or feel good gathering? No way! Our purpose is to 'hold unswervingly to the hope we profess ... consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds ... and let us not give up the habit of meeting together but let us ENCOURAGE one another'.
- In Ephesians 4:14-16 we are told 'Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ'. Often this verse is used as a reason for to telling someone that they have bad body odour or their singing is atrocious or they have badly behaved children ('truthful yes, but, you know, hey, I did it in love'). It's not trivial things like annoying habits but the TRUTH (see Ephesians 1:13 'and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation') - the truth of the good news of Jesus that will change me, transform me each day to be more like Jesus. I think the way we often use this verse trivialises what Paul is actually encouraging us to speak about with one another. That is, the truth of the good news of salvation.
Over time these verses have helped me understand the true deep role of encouragement in the life of a Christian. To truly encourage someone else is to keep reminding of them of fundamental truths.
God is on our side.
We are not alone.
We do not face the unknown future alone.
And because of this we can offer true, eternal comfort that moves beyond platitudes.
PS More to come on how we can do encouragement without the smultchy blah, blah ...