Friday, January 19, 2018

Be an Encourager! (Acts 20:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Hey dad, I’m having trouble with my homework, can you help me?”  “No, not now, I’m too busy.  And I don’t know why you’re having trouble anyway.  Why, when I was your age, I didn’t get any help from my folks, and I was a good student, I worked hard, and got good grades.   I expect the same from you.

So let me ask you point blank - are you a discourager or an encourager? Let's start with some cold and all too familiar facts of life.  We live in a sinful and fallen world.  Life is far from perfect.  Life is hard.   Life is not always fair or just.  Life is worrisome and frightening.  There is disappointment and suffering.  Are you feeling encouraged yet?  This will change, praise God, when Jesus returns at His second coming in glory and God’s sovereign love visibly rules over all.  But in the meantime, we walk by faith and not by sight.

Jesus encouraged the disciples when he taught them the beatitudes:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted; Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

The apostle Paul too was a great encourager.  Despite being persecuted during his three missionary journeys, despite his poor health, despite problems he encountered with other religious groups, as we are told in Acts, the apostle Paul, a man with a deep faith in Jesus Christ, and a conviction that God had called him to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, encouraged followers of Jesus and new believers on his journeys to Macedonia and Greece.

You may know the story about basketball great Larry Bird and his extraordinary record at Indiana State and with the Boston Celtics, and later as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.  But you may not know what he had to overcome.  He was one of six children.  His father was chronically unemployed, an alcoholic, and tragically committed suicide when Larry was in high school.  Larry’s mother worked three jobs to provide for the family.

From early on Larry’s love and talent in basketball was clear to everyone.  But he had a bad temper, he couldn’t control his anger, and his high school coach who had talked to him many times finally told him he was no longer on the team.  Larry was devastated. But the coach continued to be an important part of Larry’s life and worked and helped him to deal with his temper and refocus his energies and the next year Larry made the team again and became a star on the Spring Valley High School team.  Without that coach, basketball may have never had a Larry Bird.

The question is can you be an encourager in an imperfect world and with imperfect lives?  Of course, this is the day; now is the time. There will be no better time.  Why?  Because when God creates a brand new world devoid of evil and suffering, as the Bible promises there will be no more sin, or suffering or pain or injustice.  So now is the greatest time of all.

Look at yourself or your own circumstances.  Are you totally happy or satisfied or content?   We can always find things we don't like about ourselves or our circumstances and become discouraged and quit.  Or by God’s grace we can say - I’m down, but not out, get up, dust ourselves off and move forward.

Look at your relationships, relationships with family or friendships or at school, or at work, or in the neighborhood. Relationships are always less than ideal, they often don’t meet our expectations, and we can become discouraged and close ourselves off from people or get up, dust ourselves off and by God’s grace do the right thing which is often the hardest thing.

Or look at our government, politics; no, on second thought, I don’t think we will go there.  Some people complain:  “My life is terrible. It’s their fault, whoever they are, they caused this to happen and blame everyone around them.”  Like the man who said to the pastor: “My life is a mess Rev. there is nothing you could say or do to make me feel better, but go ahead, just try, I dare you.

The question is, if all is dark and hopeless, why are some people such great encouragers?  Think of one person who encouraged you at a critical time in your life.  Picture their face. Why do you think they were such a good encourager to you?

Here are some things I’ve observed as a pastor about encouragers.  Often, not always but quite often the people who are the best encouragers have themselves experienced pain in their lives: suffering, hurt, disappointment, and loss.  They developed an empathy for others.  When you find out about them you are stunned at what they have gone through.  In spite of these things, or despite them, they are positive, caring and supportive.

I’ve observed that such people are often thankful people, grateful people, and humble people.  They can encourage because they do so out of a heart of thankfulness, rather than bitterness or resentment.   I’ve observed that generally, not always but generally, people who have faith, a healthy spiritual life, people who trust their lives to God, people who walk with God, are there for you and with you.

I’ve observed that they are good listeners, which is I think is the number 1 quality of an encourager.  They are genuinely interested in you.   They take time and have time for you and really hear what you are saying.  Further, they have the ability to put themselves on the shelf and put you in the center.    Rather than telling you what you should do, or giving you their answer, they try to draw the answer, or solution or options out of the dialogue, out of the conversation.  They seek to let God’s Spirit work and bring a more positive perspective out of the conversation.

You can be a great encourager by listening, showing that you care, praying with someone, offering to help in some way, etc.  Sympathy, empathy, listening, caring, compassion and faith are great qualities for an encourager.  I’ve had people say:  “Pastor, she has so many problems, I don’t have any answers, I never know what to say, so I find excuses not to call or visit.”   That is totally understandable.

Sometimes there are no ready solutions, or answers, or way of making the problems disappear and an encourager helps the person learn to accept it and live with it in faith and prayer and daily turn it over to God so they can get on with life.

It is our old nature to judge, to be critical, to not care rather than to encourage?  But it is our new nature, our becoming a new person in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit that changes us and inspires us to a life of encouragement.   Think for a moment about a time when you encouraged someone?   Encouraging can change a life; encouraging can save a life.

An encourager isn’t blind to human flaws and weaknesses.  An encourager recognizes sin and shortcomings and yet seeks a constructive approach to others.  An encourager tells the truth in love to another if they are hurting themselves or others, but in a way that builds bridges rather than burns them and focuses on what is positive and possible in persons.  An encourager has patience, energy, and commits others to prayer.  An encourager can always find something to encourage others about.

Like the story about a concert which had just finished hearing a solo by a squeaky tenor.  When finished, the applause was less than enthusiastic.  One member of the audience exclaimed: “Extraordinary!   Bravo!”  “Excuse me,” said a puzzled woman sitting in the next seat. “I can claim some knowledge of the subject, and I think his voice was very poor.”  “Voice?” replied the other man.  “I wasn’t thinking of his voice.  I was praising his nerve!

As a pastor, I have worked with many families over the years, and I have seen the damage – how one’s spirit, one’s confidence, one's identity, hopes and dreams can be shattered, crushed when others have discouraged them at a critical moment.

Jesus calls each of us by His grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of encouragement.  And what a powerful and astonishing witness it can be.  Some of the greatest success stories of history have followed words of encouragement.

How can you become an encourager?  You decide to.  You make a decision.  You pray “Lord, I want to be an encouraging person, help me to change and become an encourager.  I am personally grateful for brothers and sisters in Christ who have encouraged me in the church.   I am grateful for Nancy who has encouraged me when I get down.   I am grateful for teachers, friends, and family members who have encouraged me.  Their words and support made all the difference.  May your walk in the Spirit be a ministry of encouragement to others so that God may use it for His glory.  Amen!

No comments:

Post a Comment