It seems that regardless of what community to which we belong, including the church, people can and will be exposed to some kind of criticism or disapproval. Imagine a place where this doesn't exist. Imagine a place where people can come together, honor each other’s strengths and gifts and not just forgive their shortcomings, but embrace them. I imagine such a place.
So today I want to encourage people in faith communities, work places and homes, to encourage one another. Not so we can just go smiling off into the sunset because it made us feel special for a moment in time, but because encouraging others is life changing, can uplift and renew a culture, and it’s biblical.
Encouragement goes straight to the heart. In fact, the word itself comes from a combination of the prefix, “en” which means “to put into” and the Latin root “cor” which means “heart”. When we are encouraged, our hearts are strengthened (not really our blood-pumping organ, but that part in us that is tied to our soul and to our personhood). When our hearts are strengthened, we become resilient and ready to be vulnerable with one another. In other words, I think when we feel encouraged and supported by one another, we can fully enter into God’s work in the world and become stronger people and a better community.
St. Paul uses words like “encourage” and “build” when he speaks to his newly formed congregations in the early church. He admonishes his churches to encourage one another and “build each other up” because he knows the devastating results that can happen otherwise. In Pauls’ time, it was hard to be a Christian, or Christ follower. Christians met in private homes and were typically “underground” assemblies so that the authorities wouldn't detect them. Paul, before his conversion, was one of these authorities that with glee would arrest, and bring to trial, followers of the Way.
Today, we may not be arrested for following Jesus (however, when one stands for justice for the hungry, homeless, or disadvantaged, contemporary Christians have been known to spend a night in the slammer), but this does not mean that being a Christian isn't a challenge. It’s a big challenge! We live in a culture that is becoming less and less churched and where people are giving more and more into the ways of the world and of their own ambitions and personal goals; usually in the pursuit of high salaries and powerful positions.
By the time we make it to church on Sunday morning (if we can garner the energy to do so to begin with!), we are in need of a recharge, an uplifting experience, and a community that loves and supports us. St. Paul tells his church people in Thessalonica, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing...respect those who labor among you...esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves...encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them” (5:11-14).
Today I ask the people of St. Christopher’s to accept a stewardship season challenge: Encourage someone. Encourage a fellow church member as often as you can between now and the culmination of our stewardship season on November 6. Of course, we should continue after the 6th, but maybe, just maybe during this campaign entitled “Living Generously”, we can begin a cultural shift and create a culture of generosity and encouragement, and leave behind a culture of criticism.
*Here are seven ways I found that we can encourage one another:
1. If an encouraging thought comes to mind, share it! It may not have the same effect if you wait. Don't let shyness hold you back. Instead, form a new habit: “Encourage one another daily” Heb 3:13.
2. When you introduce someone, add a few words of praise for the person’s abilities or accomplishments. It's encouraging to be praised in front of others.
3. When someone is discouraged or hurting, offer specific, practical help. If you ask, “How can I help?” the person might be at a loss to answer. It may be better to ask, “Would it help if I…” or say, “I would like to…”
4. In a digital age, write a handwritten note to compliment someone or to share a positive word.
5. Write someone a note to tell them that you're praying for them.
6. If you’re part of a church group, Bible study or fellowship, be committed to showing up. Your presence encourages others that they are part of a community of faith and that they are not alone. The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together...but let us encourage one another” (10:25).
7. When you see someone making positive changes in their lives, affirm them.
8. Tell people how they’ve encouraged you!
If we take on the challenge to Live Generously and encourage one another and not be critical, I promise the result will only be positive. This is part of our stewardship: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12). Are we willing to take on this challenge?
*(Source: “19 ways to encourage others” www.thelife.com)