A number of thoughts swirl through my mind today and they all center on the importance of encouragement. Just as sunshine after the rain brings a beautiful sky and cheer to one's heart, so an encouraging word (or several words) brightens the soul which is hurting or tired or simply in need of encouragement. Look around - you can often see those in need of it. Then again, many who are the "smiley-est" people are the ones who need it the most!
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the importance of encouragement. Just a cursory search brings up these principles:
- We are to encourage "stooping hearts" by making them glad with a "good word" - Proverbs 12:25.
- We are to speak to the needs of those around us - Proverbs 25:11
- We are to "sharpen" one another - Proverbs 27:17
- Exhortation and encouragement should function regularly in the church - Acts 15:32.
- We are to bear one another's burdens - Galatians 6:2.
- Love is the basis for encouragement and comfort - Colossians2:2.
- The body of Christ is to be active in edifying one another - I Thessalonians 5:11.
- We are to comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, and be patient toward all men - I Thessalonians 5:14.
- We are to provoke one another to good works - Hebrews 10:24.
- We are to exhort one another in living for the Lord - Hebrews 10:25.
- We are to actively love one another in Christ - Hebrews 13:1.
Not one aspect of life is excluded when it comes to encouragement. We are to encourage one another to read the Bible, to memorize the Word, to reach the lost with the Gospel and to pray. We should encourage moms with newborns and parents with wayward teens, pastors who have been faithfully serving the flock and missionaries who are thriving or tired or burning out. We should encourage sisters and brothers and friends and acquaintances and people we may not even know well - because that word of encouragement might be the ONLY one they hear that day or week!
In our day of "likes" and "dislikes" and criticism for everything from restaurants on Yelp to movies on Rotten Tomatoes, we forget how immensely powerful encouragement can be. I would like to encourage you today - pick someone you know who might need encouragement and call them up or send them a text or write them a nice card and tell them how much you appreciate them. Tell them what about them encourages you and how you see them striving on in the Lord. You never know what a difference that word of encouragement can make!
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
How many times have we read or heard sermons on Matthew 17:20? Right after the disciples were brought a child whom they could not release from the power of Satan, Jesus cast the demon out. The disciples then asked why they were unable to help the boy. Jesus' answer came in verse twenty. "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
The common expositions on these words of Jesus have long bothered me. In Bible studies or sermons, mustard seed faith often becomes, "If YOU have faith as a grain of mustard seed then YOU can move mountains," but Jesus never said that. Jesus said if you have faith as a grain of mustard you can say to a mountain "remove" and it will be removed. What is the emphasis here? Is it on having faith enough to watch a mountain quake? No! It is on having faith in the One who could shift that landmass by its roots!
The disciples surely had faith in their own abilities to say the right words or pray the right prayer over the boy - hence the question to Christ as to why they were unable to do so. Faith in their own ability, however, didn't matter. It was faith in Christ and Him alone which would make the difference. It was not just "having faith," but having it in the One who could move those mountains!
It is no wonder Christ said only a mustard seed of faith would accomplish such grand and glorious objectives - look at who that seed of faith is to be placed in! It is to be placed in God Almighty! It is to be placed in the Creator of the heavens and earth, the mover of mountains, our Sovereign Lord and Savior of all humanity! Of course a mustard seed of faith in Him could move mountains! He is SO vastly great that the smallest amount of faith in Him could shake the world! Look at what He has done through faith in Him: He has healed countless people, restored sight, made whole the broken, cleansed leprosy, conquered sin and death, and restored countless sinners unto salvation and a relationship with Him for all eternity!
Mustard seed faith has absolutely nothing to do with us and everything to do with the One through whom all things are made possible! It is through faith in Christ that we are restored, made whole, and caused to become sons of God, joint heirs with Christ. It is through faith in Christ that we are made free from the bonds of sin and death, raised to new life with Him. It is through faith in Christ that we are lead and guided and directed to live out His will for our lives. It is through faith in Christ that mountains will be moved and obstacles destroyed -because when that mustard seed faith is placed in the Lord on High, all things truly are possible.
I talked with a friend the other day who is, amidst rather dire warnings, returning to the tenuous mission field the Lord has placed upon her heart. Even though there are threatenings, even though she may very well face physical harm, she is returning. The future is unknown and can, at times, seem bleak, but I understand why she is willing to forsake her friends and family and a life that is safe and familiar. Because life lived without Christ is no life at all.
In our rather comfortable American Christian lives, we are not often called upon to make the "hard" decisions. We are not often asked to deny Christ or die. We do not often live in fear of our lives. Rare is persecution for our faith (though it is growing). Many, however, are the missionaries in foreign fields who have to make these decisions on a regular basis. They go anyway, in complete devotion to the Lord's call upon their lives. This attitude and example is something we need to learn from.
We are all called to 'go and do and be.' These three words are not written here in the grand and often misguided American 'go explore the world, do what makes you happy, and be yourself' sense, but rather a greater and God-commanded way of living. It is 'go ye therefore and teach all nations,' reaching out to the lost and poor in Delhi or Skid Row or the family living three doors down. It is 'do everything he has commanded' with a spirit of love, grace He has given, and passion for the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is 'be Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.'
No matter where He calls us to live, we all must 'go and do and be.' We all must "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" so that His will becomes our all and everything (Phil. 3:14). We must preach Jesus Christ regardless of our circumstances - Paul sets that example time and time again. "For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on ever side; without were fightings, within were fears" yet he preached the Gospel anyway (2 Cor. 7:5). Living in America, this can be a hard concept to grasp for we rarely face such circumstances. My friend, however, lives by this principle and so must we.
Let us 'go and do and be,' my friends! In our neighborhoods, in our city, state, country and unto the ends of the world!
As I write this, two friends of mine are on their way overseas. One is a "first-timer" in the mission world and is going for the initial four-year term. The other is a "veteran" and is going back to her beloved field in a very dark area of the world. Two other couples I know are actively pursuing the same course. Meanwhile, the Lord has brought a gal who has been overseas for multiple years back to the States for full-time ministry just like He did with me. The Christian life is full of paradoxes and nowhere do I see that more clearly than in the area of service to our Lord and King.
One of the friends mentioned above wrote this on her blog recently,
"...following this One is worth every move, every friendship gained and lost, every possession sold or given, every sickness in a new place. Christ says he gives us freedom, and we often think “freedom from sin and death, freedom from Satan’s condemnation and the grip of the world.” But what about freedom to go wherever he calls whenever he leads? What about freedom to give up even good, normal desires and activities for the sake of something that transcends family bonds and traditions and places and time? I am rootless right now, but I will gladly be rootless for something like this. I am rootless, and I am free."
I love that! Rootless. Is that not what every single one of us should be? Rootless to our own desires and hopes and dreams? Rootless to the common American assumptions about how life is to be lived? Rootless to our own preconceived notions about what life with Christ indeed is like? Because not everyone will be called overseas. Nor will everyone be called to missions in "Jerusalem." Some will go to Judea, some to the uttermost parts of the world, some to families, some to friends. But ALL are called to serve the Lord with our ENTIRE beings, mind, body, soul, and strength!
Being rootless does not only mean freedom to leave your native land. It means being freed to do WHATEVER God calls you to do! It means talking to that person God has put on your heart. It means praying for your coworkers and asking for the boldness to witness the Gospel. It means living this life as though, truly, you do not belong here and you are looking forward to a permanent eternal home, lived before the God you serve. It is a way of life, a mentality, a focus, a dynamic way of living so that, whether you find yourself overseas or in your hometown of 300, you can still just as vibrantly serve the Lord and please him, forsaking the desires of this life in favor of His will and His desires.
Just as death brings life and leaving all begets great riches, so too, this paradox of rootlessness enters the Christian life. Rootless to the world, rooted in Jesus Christ!