1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
We pulled up in front of the traditional looking church building with plenty of time to spare. Suanne and I had invited a couple of friends to join us as we visited this church. The doors were open, but there were only a couple of people inside. Within a few minutes, others began to arrive. We were warmly welcomed by several people. Finding our seats, near the front of the church, we settled in for the service.
The service was different from what we are used to, yet familiar. There were songs of praise, scripture readings, and prayers. I felt a genuine sense of the presence of God, even though I could not understand the words being spoken. The service was in Chinese.
I had been asked to preach for this Chinese church, by a good friend. He and his wife had been students in Mankato, and had attended our church. They were very active in reaching out to other Chinese students. Through them, we developed an extensive network of contacts, within the Chinese community. They had been a blessing to us. Now it was my turn to be a blessing to them. Their church is currently without a pastor. They are seeking qualified people to fill their pulpit, while they search for a new pastor.
The time came for me to take my place on the platform. I had chosen to share a message on encouragement. As I began to speak, I felt a little uncomfortable; not quite myself. But as I got into my introduction, I could feel the Spirit of God empowering me to speak words of encouragement to these people. As I looked out at the faces of these Chinese believers, I was emotionally moved. I was struck with the responsibility to genuinely feed this little flock, not just fill a time slot in their service. I also was struck with what a privilege is was to share my heart with them.
After the service, I was encouraged by the response of the people. Especially the genuine thankfulness of my friend, Jay. He expressed how much I had helped him to grow in his faith, while he was in Mankato. Now he was being called upon to give leadership to this church. He doesn’t feel adequate for the task, so he was so appreciative of my willingness to assist him.
I went to that church to encourage a small group of believers. I came away encouraged by that same group. They embraced me with grace and appreciation. They were genuinely thankful that I had preached and that we had come to join them.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another is encouragement. There are so many things that discourage us. The environment in which we live does more to cut us down than to build us up. Satan is constantly attacking us, seeking to steal away our joy. He wants to isolate us and immobilize us with fear, frustration and futility. We desperately need words of encouragement.
Throughout Paul’s letters, he continually calls us to practice encouragement. He does it through example, as well as specific teaching. Even though Paul often had to deal with difficult issues in the church, he always found some way to build up the body. He encouraged others by sending his representatives to them. He encouraged others by writing to them. And he encouraged others by regularly praying for them.
The writer of Hebrews understood just how important encouragement is for us. Near the beginning of his letter, he challenged his readers to actively encourage one another so that they might not fall prey to sin’s trap. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13) Notice that he calls for daily encouragement. We all know that negative things can quickly overshadow the positive. We need a daily dose of encouragement, if we are going to be strong in our faith.
Later in his letter, he again stresses the importance of mutual encouragement. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25) Hebrews reminds us that the spiritual battle will continue to heat up. As we draw ever closer to the return of Christ, Satan fights harder to distract and sidetrack believers. So it is essential that we band together regularly to encourage and build one another up.
On the very heals of my encouraging time with the Chinese church, Satan shot me with a discouragement dart. I found myself living under a cloud for the next day. But God is reminding me that He is faithful, and that He will not abandon me. Like King David, we need to take our discouragement back to God, lay it at His feet, and allow Him to lift us up again.