Wednesday, September 12, 2018


1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

                                I can remember the experience like it was yesterday. I was a first grader at Chester Elementary School and I was eager to please my teacher. I was full of energy and excitement; so much so that it was hard for me to contain it. So, every time the teacher would ask a question of the class, I would blurt out an answer. I wouldn’t raise my hand, or wait to be called on, I would just speak up. Patiently the teacher would remind me to raise my hand and wait to be called upon, but I just didn’t get the message. One day, she had had enough. After another outburst of enthusiasm from me, I found myself sitting out in the hallway. I was ashamed and humiliated. Something changed within me at that moment and I stopped volunteering answers. I stopped raising my hand. I answered the teacher only if I was specifically called upon to do so. In essence, I retreated into a shell. I didn’t risk volunteering an answer again until I was in college. The power of that teacher’s words stayed with me for a very long time.

                It wasn’t until many years later that I came to grips with what had happened in me. I went from being eager and ready to engage to a person who timidly waited for permission from others before I acted. It is a trait that I still fight against today. The approval or disapproval of others can be a powerful motivator in our lives.

                When I was thirteen, I went to Christian Service Brigade summer camp for the first time. Each night we would gather around the large campfire circle. We would sing songs and listen to a devotional talk from one of the leaders. On Wednesday of that week, the speaker talked about being sure of our salvation. Something powerful stirred within me and I stayed after the campfire to talk with the leader. He prayed with me and an overpowering sense of relief and assurance flooded my soul. I determined right there that I would come back the next summer, not as a camper, but as a worker.

                When the time came, I signed up to work in the kitchen for the five weeks of Brigade camp that next summer. I was instructed to come a week early for staff training, so with a fair measure of fear and apprehension, I showed up at camp. The director, Charlie Steward, greeted me as I arrived and informed me that I had not been assigned to work in the kitchen, but that I had been assigned to be a junior counselor in a cabin. I was shocked, but being the compliant that I am, I accepted my new assignment. That experience launched me into an amazing adventure that lasted all the way into my college years. It was during that time that I clearly heard God’s call on my life; all because Charlie said that I had more to offer than washing dishes in the dining hall.

                I sat in the coffee shop at Bethel Seminary across the table from Janette Bakke and Dan Erwin. I had enrolled at Bethel in the Master of Christian Education track. My intention was to be a medical missionary, working as a Medical Technologist in a hospital in Haiti, and working with children. Being an introvert, I thought that this was the best way for me to serve God and still stay in the shadows. Janette was one of my Christian Education professors and Dan was one of the preaching professors. On that occasion, they both told me that I should explore more preaching. They were challenging me to move from Christian Education into pastoral ministry. That made me very uncomfortable, but I felt God’s tug on my heart, and I made the switch. That conversation changed the direction of my life in profound ways.

                We don’t always realize the power of our words. At the moment our words may seem insignificant to us, yet might make a profound difference in someone else’s life. Our words have the power to discourage a person and send them into a defensive shell. Our words have the power to encourage someone to break out of their defensive shell. Our words have the power to challenge someone to take a God-sized risk.

                I attended a reunion of the summer staff from Stony Glen Camp after I was already in full-time ministry. A young man came up to me and told me that I had been his junior counselor when he had attended camp as a young boy. Then he thanked me for my encouraging words to him. Because of what I had said to him, he had decided to pursue full-time ministry. I didn’t remember the conversation he referred to, but he did, and it made a profound difference in his life.

                Three times in the New Testament we are specifically instructed to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11
    Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

 Hebrews 3:13
    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 10:25
    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.

                The focus of each of these passages is to intentionally strengthen the faith of others. There are so many things in our world that discourage us and tear us down. As followers of Christ, we need to actively build one another up, in the Lord. This is not artificially boosting someone’s ego, but genuinely building up their confidence in Christ. This concept of encouraging others is emphasized in several other passages as well. The point is brought home clearly in Ephesians 4:29. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

                Andy Stanley, in his book “Visioneering”, reminds us that we have the power to cast a vision in the lives of others with our words. We can cast a negative vision that can cripple a person or we can cast a positive vision that will empower a person. Our words are powerful. We need to use them wisely, carefully, and intentionally.     

No comments:

Post a Comment