Let’s talk about Encouragement. God’s Word is full of encouragement in both the Old & New Testaments. Our Spiritual Life passage seemed pretty clear to me. NO MAN SHALL BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE YOU ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE; JUST AS I WAS WITH MOSES, SO I WILL BE WITH YOU; I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU, OR FORSAKE YOU. BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS …….ONLY BE STRONG AND VERY COURAGEOUSEOUS……HAVE NOT I COMMANDED YOU? BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS. DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED, AND DO NOT BE DISMAYED: FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.
I think a bit of context would be helpful. Moses had been the leader of the Israelites for their entire lives. Joshua had been his lieutenant, his military commander. Now Moses is dead and God has selected Joshua to fill Moses shoes – to become the leader of a couple of million people. While being a military commander was no small task, ruling, leading, guiding, teaching more than 2 million people is very daunting. I think we can all have some empathy for Joshua’s self-doubt. Look how precise, how strategic, is God’s encouragement to Joshua. It is like a laser bomb. It is dialed-in. “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” Joshua is the same name as Jesus – deliverer from our enemies.
God is like this for each of us today. He can deliver us from our enemies – self-doubt, challenges in moving on, depression, despondency, barriers in simply coping with the day at hand. God is our strong salvation and he provides comfort and encouragement but we do need to read & study, to internalize this phenomenal message.
As a young child attending Junior CE in the Westerly, RI SDB church, I memorized Joshua 1:9. It has remained with me to this day. My dad was the leader and we were learning about the giants faced by the Israelites as they began to enter the Promised Land. Dad was very high tech for the time, using a flannel graph on an easel with cutout figures. We thought it was pretty cool. Of course, I learned this verse in the King James as that was what we used at that time. I still find a certain resonance with the King James language because of its early implanting in my memories. Unlike many of you who have taken a “life verse” for yourself, I never did. That approach either didn’t come up in my instruction or I wasn’t listening. However, Joshua 1:9 has been with me since I was 10 or so and has found its way into my consciousness often without me even realizing it. It is just there and it has comforted – encouraged me often. I usually don’t have to summon it; it just appears. It seems that the Holy Spirit ordained it to be my life verse outside of any intention on my part.
People seem to think that I am an encourager. I am heartened and encouraged by that but don’t necessarily see myself that way. In fact, those who know me well, know that I can go to the dark side fairly quickly and often do in my personal life. I usually don’t stay there long – many times it’s just a quick drive-by and, over time, I have learned to stay as far away from that line as possible. However, I DO like to catch people doing things right and I take pains to discover this kind of thing. I believe I am good at acting on these things when I do discover them and am quick to let these individuals as well as those important in their lives know.
I learned this, not intentionally on my part, but because God led me to careers where I was tasked with teaching and being a champion for customer service and corporate culture. This was a frightening challenge because it was new to me and I felt inadequate but I soon became aware (perhaps the Holy Spirit working?) that I had a natural affinity for these topics and arenas. I loved them, I resonated with them, I discovered I could pass them on and instill them in others. The Lord said to Joshua, BE STRONG, BE COURAGEOUS … FOR YOU WILL LEAD. I read, I studied, I memorized, I meditated, I learned it, I try hard to live it. I came to the realization & understanding that people will blossom when receiving affirmation and encouragement.
Reflect on these words from the successful financial executive, Charles Schwab – “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
Dick Lyles is a Leadership guru. His words of wisdom “Make people stronger, rather than weaker, as a result of your interaction with them.” are powerful and effective.
Here’s another illustration or two. I am not an avid sports fan but I do like the Olympics. Think about a young, adolescent female gymnast on the balance beam. She is an elite athlete having dedicated nearly every aspect of her life to bring her to this moment. Less than 1% of the world’s population can compete at this level let alone be the gold medalist. She is on the world stage. The gym is overflowing with spectators and there are millions in the TV audience. The world waits and watches. She begins her routine but bobbles and comes off the beam. She is stunned and disappointed but in a couple of short minutes she will be allowed a second attempt. Have you taken note of what is happening at this moment? Typically her coach has her wrapped in his or her arms. The coach’s head is very close to hers and the coach is talking quietly and directly into her ear. What do you suppose he is saying? Do you think it is, “Boy, was that stupid! You know better than that! Good grief! What is your problem? OR do you think it is more on this order, “You are so strong. You are so prepared. No one works harder than you. No one is better than you. You have nailed this time after time and you will nail it now. Your routine will be so fine because you are a champion.
Consider how we parents and grandparents behave when a baby begins to take its first steps. We get down on the floor. We clap, we cheer, we close the distance between us and the baby, we positively acknowledge any motion that even comes close to a step. Maybe we should do that with each other as adults.
God’s Word speaks to us eloquently, viscerally, and often about the refuge and strength we have with Jesus as our Savior and the encouragement we receive from that. Most of you here know that, at least at some level, and can recite those very verses that tell us this wonderful news of encouragement. Today, I want to focus our thoughts on what I believe to be our responsibilities in following Christ’s example in encouraging others.
1st Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
2nd Corinthians 1: 3-4 – Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, SO THAT WE MAY BE ABLE TO COMFORT THOSE WHO ARE IN AFFLICTION, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
I think we can focus best by living the vision of our church. Let’s review:
WHY DO WE LIVE? – We Live For God’s Glory
HOW DO WE LIVE? – We become more like Jesus
We serve one another in God’s love.
We share life together in the spirit.
WHAT IS OUR MISSION? – We connect people to Jesus and help God change their lives.
We have a significant model from Christ’s life and from the lives of his Apostles in the way that they gave encouragement to people. They continually offered encouragement and the people benefited and rejoiced in that encouragement. The dictionary says that encouragement is to give hope or confidence, to urge, to stimulate, to help to develop. So. . . . one of the ways we can become more like Jesus is to become encouragers, and through encouraging, serve one another in God’s love, thus sharing life together in the Spirit. Our encouraging words and acts can help connect people to Jesus and help God change their lives.
Encouragement lets people know they are valuable to you and to God.
This work, this life action of encouragement is not something you can get someone to do for you. You cannot outsource your heart. If you think the problem is out there – > that is the problem.
You have to be intentional – You have to declare, “I will make people glad they talked to me today.”
So, you may be thinking, “How will I be able to do that?” It depends on how you view the world. It may be helpful to ask, “What is my lense?” “How do I view my neighborhood, my community?”
Until you reflect and gain some insight the world may present like this:
It may appear fuzzy, confusing, and maybe even a bit intimidating. What is that anyway?
As we begin to ponder and study we may see more clearly but be daunted by what we see. It may be overwhelming to us and appear like this:
OPPORTUNITY IS NO WHERE
As we grow and begin to cultivate our craft – memorize, meditate, learn it – we can see it in a new light. As we actually begin to live it we become consciously competent and more fully understand that —-
OPPORTUNITY IS NOW HERE
Each is the same but the meaning changes based on our lense. What filter do you wear when you walk into a room?
Jesus is the light of the world. If we truly want to be more like Jesus we must also be a light! The words of the Chris White song say, “ Carry your candle and RUN (notice it does not say walk, shamble, lollygag around) it tells us to run to the darkness. Hold out your candle for all to see. Take Your candle, and go light your world. What is your world? It may be the people in your neighborhood. It may be those with whom you worship. It may be your school system or your work group, or your exercise class or your quilt class or your coffee buddies.
“Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” – Elizabeth Harrison.
Plato said, “Those having the torches will pass them to others. Carry the fire.”
Nice words from both but only words until we choose to draw inspiration and encouragement from them and realize that each of us has a torch and we can carry the fire.
Some have said, “Don’t worry about the little things.” Well, there are no little things. I encourage you to be intentional in your encouragement. We all have the same amount of time. God has given that to us in equal measure 24 hours per day / 7 days per week / 365 days per year. We can randomly stumble around or we can be intentional. It is a choice, every day. I urge you to choose to cast a shadow rather than living in one.
As a result of my study of the Strengthsfinder philosophy and approach I am encouraged in my belief that in life there are few coincidences. Almost every event has a reason. Bonds exist between and among all peoples. Everything in life is somehow interrelated and interdependent.
Perhaps Herman Melville captured this best, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow man; and along these fibers are sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back as effects.”
The study and application of Strengthsfinder also leads to meditating on, learning, and living your individual Strengths Statements. This is not an easy exercise for most. I found it significantly challenging. Among my top three Strengths Statements is – I feel strong, fulfilled, authentic, and powerful when I am affirming, acknowledging, and encouraging others. I realize that when I encourage others, catch them doing things right, then I am also affirming myself. The gifts from the Holy Spirit are truly amazing and powerful but they must be used to be effective. The more I encourage others, the more I am encouraged myself.
Walk into a room and see how you can contribute. I can’t do much but I CAN do that. I can’t take responsibility for the church dinner but I can make the coffee or I can take out the trash, or I can do the dishes. I can’t be responsible for making Milton beautiful but I can pick up litter when I walk, or I can pull weeds in the library flower bed. I can call that lonely person two houses down. I can send a note to that person who, in excitement, fear, & trepidation sang or played their first solo right on this platform in front of us – a body of encouragers. (The real truth is that you can do something; or you can do nothing) Small deeds are better than great intentions.
We drastically underestimate the positive influence we can be. Let me give you three quick examples. Right after graduation from Milton College I was a junior high social studies teacher. I left teaching and joined the management team of a forward thinking banking organization. I was 29 years old – a mere child in many respects. The bank put my picture in the paper telling my world that I was the Bank’s new Training Director. I had never had anything like this happen before and I was impressed. Not long after, I received a small envelop in the mail at my home. It was nice stationary. Who doesn’t like to get a piece of personal mail? On opening it, I discovered a clipping of my newspaper notice with a few handwritten congratulatory notes. It was signed, Ken Bick. I didn’t know a Ken Bick and had to ask my employer who he was. I was told something to the effect, ‘Oh, Ken, yea, he does that sort of thing. He was a long time Janesville school administrator. I didn’t know Ken Bick from Adam and there’s very little way he would have known me. Nearly 40 years later I am still thrilled with the note. A few years later I was promoted at the bank and another notice was published in the paper. I received another note; this time from a Janesville CPA. I didn’t know him either. 30 years later I still have the note and Joel has a picture of it on the screen. // If you ever drive by my house you may notice that I often park one of my cars in Columbus Street just across High St. from Sue’s and my home of 41 years. Our driveway is very congested and it just makes life easier. Besides, I need all the exercise I can get. One morning several months ago I went out to go somewhere and saw something bright green under my windshield wiper. I immediately went to the dark side I mentioned earlier and wondered how I could have been given a ticket. I have been parking there in that very spot for years with never a problem. When I reached the car and disgustedly snatched the offending document from under the wiper I discovered this very card. It’s a simple 3×5 index card and written on it is “You Are Nice – #RAK #Kindness. I simply sat in the car seat and pondered, “Who would give me that?” I think it must be the young neighbor girl down the street to whom I had been sending notes for her honor roll accomplishments but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s more fun not to know. Anyway, it certainly made my day and has made many other days when that darker self tries to rear its head and I pull this out as reminder. I didn’t even know these people and I was thrilled. How affirming, how encouraging to know that the things you do are noticed and that they do matter. If I felt this way from notes received from people I didn’t even know think how I might feel receiving something similar from those I do know, admire, and respect. Do not ever sell yourself short on the dramatic, positive, influence a word, a nod, a text, a voicemail, a touch can make. Remember – “A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow man; and along these fibers are sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back as effects.
I send a lot of notes, I leave a lot if voice mail messages, I send many texts, They are seldom long or eloquent in their words. They take me, maybe, two or three minutes. But, they are impactful. How do I know? People tell me. Often, the next time I see someone to whom I have reached out, they say something to the effect, “How did you know to leave that message on my machine that particular day?”, or “How did you know how much I needed that note on that particular day?”. I reply, “I didn’t know but I do get nudges”.
I have been asked if God talks to me. Not in words but so often it is crystal clear to me that I need to write a note, send a text, or leave a voice mail, and that I need to do it now. I do believe there is a short window of time when these encouragements are most efficacious. Let me give you one example about the nudge and about the timing.
During my first retirement I was substitute teaching. My assignment that particular day was at the Edgerton Middle School. When I arrived in my assigned classroom and read the lesson plan I questioned whether I should develop a quick case of the flu. It seemed that a couple of classes were meeting together and I would have the responsibility of discussing human growth & development – a type of sex ed. I thought, I know this stuff but I am not equipped to discuss it with middle school students. As I was summoning my courage a young woman appeared. She introduced herself as one of the school counselors and that she was there to conduct the discussion. Phew, thank the Lord I dodge that bullet. She did such a good job. I know I needed to write her a note. I had to do some research to get her name and where to send the note but the note writing got put on the back burner. Many days later this niggled at me. I thought, “Too much time has gone by. It doesn’t make sense to do this now. You missed your window by not doing it right away.” However, I was driven to write the note anyway. I did and put it in the mail not knowing when it would arrive at the school. Not too many days later Edgerton experienced an ultimate tragedy when a middle school student overdosed and died. This student also had ties to Milton. As this horrific event unfolder I received an e-mail from this counselor. She referred to the tragedy and stated that she had been dealing with families and students all day. She was exhausted, distraught, and emotionally used up by what she had been through. She said she dragged herself to the office at the close of the day to check out and see if there was something she needed to be aware of in her mailbox. Well, in her mailbox was my note. She asked, “How did you know to have this arrive on this of all days. I needed this so much.” Well, clearly, I didn’t know. Had I done it my way the note would not have gone out at all because I thought I had let too much time pass.
The listen here – Be open to and act on those nudges.
Here’s a question for you. If you remember Fred Rogers and the TV show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, please raise your hand.
I don’t know what you remember about him but I learned so much about working with people, my life’s work, just by watching his calming, affirming style.
Fred Rogers was promoted to glory in 2003. His passing had a surprisingly profound effect on many of us who had grown familiar with his voice, his songs, and his calm affirmations. Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote about Mr. Rogers after his death. She told of Fred Rogers’ relationship with his grandfather. Listen to what his grandfather told him when they were together. “You made this a special day, just because you were here and you are you. I like you just the way you are.” Sound familiar? One grandfather’s legacy for his grandson became a legacy for millions.
None of us has an audience of millions. All of us have an audience of one, or two, or ten. What could happen if each of us picked five people in our life and paraphrased Mr. Rogers’ grandfather to them when we were together? Every time! Without fail! To a co-worker – “My day was better because you were a part of it.” To your spouse – “You are special to me and to the world.” To a child on your block – “I’m so glad you live on my block – it makes me grin to see you.” Every time! Without fail!
This congregation, this gathering of believers, this neighborhood – we have been given an incredible legacy from Jesus. Unconditional love, acceptance, affirmation, encouragement, forgiveness, and eternal life. Let’s ensure that we have created and actively participate in a living neighborhood that we can carry with us and show to others every time, without fail.
Our take away for today >>>> Christ alone, cornerstone. Weak made strong in the Savior’s love. Through the storm He is Lord, Lord of all.
Memorize, meditate, learn it, and live those comforting words of scripture,
God clearly tells us to be encouragers. What are you waiting for?
Be tuned to the opportunities
Listen to the nudges. Then act on them.