I flew into San Diego on a Sunday so I missed church that day. One week into my 3-week stay we headed to my daughter and son-in-law’s church, a small church startup that promotes family participation. The congregation of about 40 people, meeting in the all-purpose room of a local elementary school, ranged in age from infants, my grandson among them, to grey-haired grandparents, which of course does not include me!
It was not their typical Sunday as the pastor and his wife were traveling to visit relatives. Apparently the pastor’s wife normally leads the worship band and they mentioned more than once that they felt ill-prepared in her absence. In reality they were well-enough prepared musically, it was their confidence that needed some bolstering.
The worship set was well-laid out and their execution was beautiful, even without a drum set. But it was the heartfelt encouragement they received from an unlikely congregant that transformed their offering into a truly joyful noise.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The custom at this family church is for the youngsters who will be leaving for children’s church to sit on the front row during worship. Part way through the worship band’s set a young girl of about 3 or 4 years of age started clapping at the end of a song. The congregation realized they might follow suit. And then…the most precious words came out of this little girl’s mouth: “Good job! That was really great!!” Then she stood up beaming from ear to ear and went to her mother. “Wasn’t that great?”
“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Spoken by Jesus in Matthew 18:4
I thought my heart would burst right out of my chest just then, as that sweet little encourager lead that congregation in the purest moment of worship we would share that morning. And it started me thinking anew about ways to encourage those around me.
I have to admit, my voice is not always like that of the young girl, applauding and praising other’s efforts. Even as I type those words I cringe a little. I could say “Well, my spiritual gifts lean more towards equipping than encouraging.” And that would be true… Equipping, by its very nature, is more practical than reassuring, more clinical than compassionate. But I don’t think that lets me off the hook to develop my ability in this area.
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” Hebrews 10:24
One of the first definitions I found for ‘encourage’ said ‘to stimulate spiritually.’ I could end my post here and feel quite satisfied about having made a point. Except that as I looked into the Greek word for stimulate I found an interesting tidbit. The Greek word, paroxusmos, evolved into our English word paroxysm. Commonly used as a negative connotation in our language these days, it means ‘an uncontrollable outburst’ and is often associated with anger.
However, it can also carry positive connotations. The dictionary provided this explanation: a paroxysm of giggling. Well, of course! My dear friend and ministry partner often sit in her office discussing options for ministry. I already knew that our sometimes uncontrollable outbursts of giggling really do spur us on in ministry! But seriously, as I looked at these definitions and considered its meaning in the Greek (to stir up, provoke, goad ~ in a positive sense to rouse one to action or emotion) I realized that indeed I have a responsibility to encourage those around me.
The author of the book of Hebrews provides a small prescriptive for how to provide such stimulation. In verse 25 we see:
“Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some”
The word forsaking here is the same word Jesus used on the cross when He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In the Greek it means to utterly abandon or desert. As we head into summer I think of some of my church family that I will likely not see again until Fall programs kick-off. One of my greatest heartaches in ministry is to see churches that shut down any formal Bible study or gathering over the summer.
Not to get on my soap box, but ‘summer vacation’ did not begin this way. Summer break allowed students time to help with the growing and harvesting seasons on their family farms. Now however, when such measures are no longer necessary, we have made summer break the reason to check out of our normal routines. My motto lately has become ‘God doesn’t take the summer off and neither should I.’ This doesn’t mean I don’t take time to get away on occasion. Truthfully, I am enjoying a little down time from my very full ministry schedule. However, I don’t make it a habit to utterly abandon these responsibilities.
I often think that if we would observe a more consistent ‘sabbath rest’ we wouldn’t need extended periods of vacation. But that is a post for another day! In any event, I am excited that our church has some exciting plans for gathering this summer, not the least of which is some solid teaching by a well-know apologetist and some great summer study/book club opportunities. Wherever you’re at I encourage you to find a place to get into the word this summer!
The second prescriptive found in Hebrews 10:25 seems a little redundant:
“Encouraging one another”
It seems redundant until I realize that the word ‘encouraging’ comes from the word ‘parakaleo’ which is the root of the word sometimes used to describe the Holy Spirit ~ Paraklete. Literally, the word means ‘called alongside’ and reminds me that our encouragement of one another is part of our high calling as believers. It is not merely something we do for one another, it is part of who we are to each other.
What is interesting here is that often we think of encouraging as comforting, especially where we see the Holy Spirit called The Comforter. But the word also has connotations, especially in this instance, of admonishment and exhortation. These words are most often used in terms of warning or calling upon toward action, not necessarily drawing the person being encouraged into a place of comfort, but of obedience.
I am fortunate to have (and hopefully provide) this kind of sister-in Christ relationship with a few good friends. In our culture today though I find that this intention needs to be declared outright. It is too easy to let our behavior be governed by socially acceptable practices than by the Word of God unless we allow each other to speak into our lives. Some of the greatest encouragement I’ve received has come in the form of a sister speaking up when she could as easily have let me wallow in my bad behavior. Sweet friends, hear me when I say ~ Go find you some friends like that. You will not be sorry!
Of course when the day is done and we’ve exhorted and admonished and come alongside one another it never hurts to say those words “Good job! That was really great!!” So find some friends like that too! And be this kind of friend to one another…
Rejoicing with you,
p.s. If you are looking to spend more time in the word this summer try making a list of all the ‘one another’ statements in the New Testament and ask God to show you which one(s) He would have you work on!