To be an Encourager…

Staring into space was lovely this morning.  The air was cool, the sky blue, the sun brilliant and I was bushed from raking and digging and hauling compost and wrestling with roots and rubbish.  It was a relief to stop, lean on the shovel and stare.  But tonight it is tiresome. I sit before a blank screen staring….scanning the ‘skies’ for gathering clouds of thought, hoping to settle soon on something constructive to write here. Something encouraging.  Life can be so lonely and so… well, un-encouraging, even when it’s not downright DIScouraging.  I’ve been asking myself (and Jim!)  lately, what would it take to become an encourager…

I check my email, consult a writing blog for ideas, write a couple emails, send a text message, make a note about an upcoming event…still no fitting words with which to begin. The screen is blank.  Hmm… I haven’t yet checked Facebook…

How often I have wished for a life coach who knows me better than I know myself and will help me overcome my personal hurdles—including this immobilizing self-doubt. I don’t need someone who will merely cheer me on irrespective of the direction I’m headed.  That almost anyone can do. (And if there’s a cliff ahead, I’d rather be warned!)  No, I need someone who will steer me where I need to go, who will redirect my focus when it’s misplaced or just too compulsively narrow!  Someone who knows me better than I know myself and who has my best interests at heart…Now that’s the Life Coach I need…. but how is that a useful post?  Starting with a discussion of personal deficits is no way to offer encouragement.

Meanwhile, I have checked Facebook.  I’ve seen my daughter’s pictures, read about the down-side of church-supported orphanages, looked at the news in Alaska and Arizona, “liked” more things than I can remember… and still not come to terms with what to write here…

What would it take to become an encourager? I’ve been pondering these things. One thing is obvious, it will require looking beyond myself and my perceived needs–lifting my head from navel-gazing and noticing that others may perhaps need encouragement at least as much as I.  Likely none of us is immune to the need for encouragement, or Scripture wouldn’t make such a point of calling us to it: But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Heb.3:13  We get so easily ‘stuck’ in our own mire  with little perceived strength to lift another.  Perhaps that’s why we’re cautioned to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:4) !  It will rescue us from impotent self-absorption.

Also, to truly encourage we have to have something to offer, lest in extending a hand or opening our mouths we merely add insult to injury or fuel the fears that were already gaining ground.  I did that earlier this week. In my eagerness to warn, I shared my own story of mishap but failed to include the grace part—the way God came to my rescue.  In choosing to focus on the really scary part, the part about me! I left off the most important part of the story.  Encouragement will ultimately always point to Somebody bigger than ourselves as the Hero who will save the day. It will be by His strength that we are enabled to lend a hand or speak a word, not our own self-seeking impulses.

Another trait of an encourager is long-range vision.  I have to see the potential in you before I’m going to be able to coach you to reach for it. I have to believe firmly in God’s design and calling for you if I’m to spur you on to the love and good deeds He’s custom-made for you to walk in.  Seeing ahead and believing what could be is not my strong suit.  (Remember I don’t even play cards! haha) I have need of such hope in the yet unseen.  I marvel at what a good coach can accomplish, or rather what a coach can goad his team to do, all because he believes they can do it.  It’s amazing.

But as my beloved coach pointed out to me this morning, the greatest need of a real encourager is love.  Not the casual mushy gushy “I love you all” tossed out to an unknown audience, but a love that is committed to your success and willing to sacrifice himself to help you achieve it.  Love is not threatened by or envious of another’s success but rejoices selflessly.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things—pretty ideal qualities for an encourager!  But what would it take to become such a person?

Ironically, the answer is in the word itself.  To ‘encourage’ is variously translated in Scripture: to beseech, comfort, exhort, being the primary terms used.  But the underlying root means ‘to call to one’s side’ (in order to) console, encourage, strengthen.  And it is the very same term used to describe the Holy Spirit, our ‘Comforter’.  He is the One sent to come along side us to encourage, strengthen and be with us forever (Jn.14:16). He is the One who will remind us of what Jesus has said and teach us all we need to learn (Jn.14:26), the One who lives to make intercession for us (Rom.8:26), the One through whom God’s love is poured into our hearts (Rom.5:5).  This Encourager is the One who reminds us that we are God’s own children and can cry out to Him as our ‘Daddy’ (Rom.8:15)…  Surely this is enough for any of us to become an encourager. And by faith I say Amen, so be it!

And I’m counting on you who read here to keep pointing me to the One who is my sufficiency, and yours, for all things.  I need that reminder, often!  Thanks for coming along on my journey to grace.

–LS

P1120550And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (II Cor.9:8)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Heb.10:23-25

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. II Cor.1:3,4

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Gal.2:20-21

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Some definitions:

Encourage:  to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence

Discouraging: depriving of confidence or hope or enthusiasm and hence often deterring action

A Care Label worth reading

Have you ever stared at a Care Label in dismay at all those cryptic symbols–that tidy row of do’s and don’ts, all laid out in code?  

Every vehicle, appliance, gadget and piece of clothing comes with instructions for its rightful use and care and a profusion of don’ts and warnings for the user unaware:  Don’t submerge in water. Don’t drive drunk. Keep out of reach of children.  Don’t bleach. 

But this sign I saw recently on a hydraulic scissor lift takes the cake!image

Is there anything you can legitimately do with this device?

Christianity in a past era particularly was often seen as a religion of DON’Ts. In an effort not to be ‘worldly’ some groups established long lists of do’s and especially don’ts.   I grew up in such a sect.  Many were the rules, mostly unspoken,  associated with holiness. They would at least mark the user as holier than the rest of Christendom’s worldly folks! We were the ‘faithful few’.  We kept the rules. Sanctification was seen as do-able, or more accurately, as achievable if you didn’t do a number of things.

For instance, playing cards with real ‘playing cards’ was taboo. (Somehow ‘fake’ cards like Crazy Eights and Fish and Old Maid were ok, at least in our house.) Going to movies was frowned upon so that the debut of The Hiding Place caused great struggles of conscience. Dancing and drinking were completely shunned and wearing jewelry and make-up, suspect.  Though not explicitly stated, it did seem more saintly to avoid looking stylish, cutting your hair or wearing pants.  And it was the ideal in the generations before mine to wear a dark navy uniform.  This even included the bride at her own wedding!  as though to be beautiful, even attractive, was at odds with being holy.

This sort of rule-making and keeping was well intended– thought to be an aid toward attaining holiness and maintaining separation from the world. The unforeseen effects were often pride and an odious self-righteousness which proved to be ‘of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’ Col.2:23  It isn’t my intent here to mock these practices but only to point out how their application  has distorted my own concepts of holiness and the process of sanctification, which to this day are under reconstruction. [That is not so say that there were not many truly godly people modeling a genuine faith to me within the constraints of this strict system. My own precious kith and kin were among them and I truly do treasure my unique God-given heritage.] 

That being said I welcome reminders that the process of sanctification isn’t a row of DON’T symbols dependent on my diligence,  but a walking in dependence on the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in my heart. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal.5:16)

I’ve been studying I Thessalonians today.  Sanctification is a recurring theme, as is Jesus’ Second Coming.  The two go together really.  The hope of the One assures the ongoing process of the other until the day we will be presented blameless before our Saviour.

I am struck by the succinctness of Paul’s concluding instructions—a compact set of DO’s and DON’Ts that if followed will,
I suspect, accomplish our sanctification quite nicely.  

And if followed they will definitely set us apart from the world.  Imagine it:

Rejoice Always. The world knows nothing like this, having nothing so unchanging as our Lord to guarantee sustainable joy!

Pray without ceasing.  “The way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing. We should rejoice more if we prayed more” –Matthew Henry

Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  This kind of gratitude will test and strengthen our trust in God’s sovereign care and provision.  If He has arranged all the circumstances of our lives for our good and His glory, how can we complain?

And tacked onto these, an essential DO NOT, essential because this is the source of our ability to rejoice, to pray and to give thanks:
Do not quench the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit within us not only makes us holy but is interceding for us according to God’s will (Romans 8:27). How reassuring is that!  No wonder we are told not to silence His voice by our own obstinate refusal to listen.(Cf.Heb.4:7)

And a wise caution: Do not despise prophecies but test everything. Hold fast what is good.  Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians has been strewn with prophecy—a warning to expect suffering, a ‘heads-up’ about the Lord’s coming, and instructions on how to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  We are of all people most fortunate to have the living and abiding Words of God at our disposal.  They are essential to our sanctification!

And lastly, Abstain from every form of evil. May we cultivate appetites for what is truly good and recognize that holiness is far more beautiful and desirable than evil’s fleeting allure can ever be.

Now best of all the wonderful paradox with which Paul closes:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (I Th.5:23,24)

Our sanctification is ultimately God’s business.  He calls us to it and oversees its completion in us.  We have only to take note of the Care Label’s instructions:

Rejoice always,
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in all circumstances
      for THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Don’t quench the Spirit
Don’t despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every form of evil.
I Thess.5:16-22

–LS

Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
Ps.29:2

Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory… not in the passion of lust like [those] who do not know God ….For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. ( I Thess.2:12; 4:5,7,8)

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Rom.8:27)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit…(5:16-19)

My Haunted Home

Hauntingly lonely.  Those were the words that came to my mind as we walked in late after dropping our ‘baby’ off to fly away to school.

Having dropped her off very early that morning Jim and I  had spent a lovely day together, albeit punctuated by glances at the clock and calculations as to where Rachel would be by now…

‘Ah. She’s getting on the plane now…She’s realizing how tired she is…Oh. She’s arriving in Houston… Oh, she’s on the last leg of her trip—must be relieved and excited…Ah. She’s heading for the baggage claim and shuttle to meet the others.  So exciting. So tired..’

As her long awaited dream was taking shape before her eyes we were doing rather ordinary things… riding tandem in the balmy morning…sitting in traffic and more traffic…. shopping at at Costco… waiting for ferries, driving home…

But then we’d arrived home and oh how empty the house felt– hauntingly lonely. Mechanically, automatically as is our custom no matter how late we get in, we unloaded the van and began putting away our few things– toiletries, laundry, groceries in their old places, warding off words that might lead to disabling tears. It all seemed rather strange, this rattling around as a two-some in a house meant for a family.  But as part of the familiar process we checked the mail, and there was just the reminder I needed. Yes, our house is haunted. It’s haunted by grace.  God knew just what I’d need…

P1120529In the mailbox just outside the front door, tucked in with a letter for Rachel from a pen-pal, was a handmade card from old missionary friends we trained with.  Our babies were babies together and then our paths parted to far-flung places.  They are just returning to their post after sending their youngest off to university. The opening words were: “We have come to another chapter in our lives…”  How apropos! What am I whining about; their children are whole continents away!

It was a short note, a grateful one acknowledging the Lord’s goodness, grace, protection and leading in each of their children’s lives…and it closed with a prayer from Colossians: “that you continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (1:10)  Somehow it was just the reset that I needed, like a silent assurance that God sees, God is pleased, God has purposes yet for our lives. Continue to walk…  This is all we need to do. Just keep walking with Him.  Our roles may be changing but the underlying  purposes for our lives have not changed. We are still here to know Him and live for His pleasure, whatever that may entail.

We are not alone, never have been, never will be.  When Jesus went away He promised not to leave His disciples as orphans.  And so He hasn’t.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well here residing in us to strengthen, encourage and enable us to do all that He will yet call us to do, including living with contentment in every circumstance!  The Voice of God still echoes off the pages of His Word filling our empty moments with grace.  We shall survive and thrive in this our haunted home for His pleasure.

 

And may you too be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light!
(Col.1:11,12)

–LS    P1120543

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph.3:20,21

Rejoice: It’s always the right thing to do

As the rhythm of my life changes with all the little ‘chirps’ nearly flown, and I wonder what the new tempo will be like, I’ve been reminded this week that it is always fitting to rejoice in the Lord.

When all else sways, moves, leaves empty, disappoints, here is One who is constant and unchanging. Everything else is subject to change but Him.  I’ve been realizing how much I have to rejoice in this week but also recognizing that my rejoicing has to go beyond these earthly reasons because they’re so fickle.  It was great to spend time with family, such a wonderful lot of family.  I’ve been so blessed. There are all sorts of joys and things to praise God for but I guess what I see is that  as we grow up so life’s victories and struggles get bigger too.  It’s as if the flip side of every praise is a cause for prayer. It can all seem too big for me and then I’m reminded: Rejoice in the Lord always.  He is, after all, the LORD of all of it!

Whether in Ezekiel or Ephesians or somewhere in between there are endless reasons to rejoice in the Lord. I’ve been collecting them this week. Can I share them with you?

For starters, we are members of His body!—He nourishes and cherishes us.  He gave himself up for us to sanctify us, to wash us clean with His word, to present us to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. Imagine it. Believe it. Incredible! [Eph.5]

If there were nothing else to rejoice in today, this would be enough.

It is always fitting to rejoice in the Lord—this Lord who has us in His care, who counts us His own cherished sheep,

who gives life and hope where once there were only dry bones,

who softens hearts that once were stone,

who brings to repentance and restores relationships,

who saves His own from their backslidings and makes them fresh and clean,

who prompts and answers the prayers of our hearts,  [see Ezek.36]

who makes Himself known in unexpected places—in lions’ dens and fishes’ bellies, in storms at sea and  quiet walks…

This is our God. This is our LORD.  Aren’t you glad?!

P1120449

I took a stroll in the woods this afternoon. It was too balmy a day to stay indoors—70 degrees with 70% humidity.  Splendid.  I huffed up the side of Scout to sit a while overlooking the Strait, couched in thick moss, barefooted, bare-armed, a soft breeze cooling my face…No agenda. Can’t see what’s ahead, only that change is imminent. Don’t know how to plan for it except to follow the Spirit’s lead and rejoice in the One who is unchanging…So I sat sketching roughly the scene before me—the graceful arbutus, the distant islands, the sea in between and the dark stands of fir trees– sketching as a means of slowing down to savor this moment, this beauty.  Then I started a scattered listing of reasons to rejoice in the Lord.  It looked something like this:

Rejoice in the Lord

unchanging

faithful to love

compassionate

near

aware

mighty to save

a wonderful counselor

Strong

My Helper

My Refuge

In Charge

Patient

Kind

All-Knowing

With me. Always.

And I pulled out Philippians for a read-through of this classic text on joy no matter what.  Paul commends rejoicing in the Lord as always fitting, always a smart safeguard.  Some days its easier than others. Perhaps these days recharge our batteries and re-set our hearts for those to come.  They certainly raise me above the temporary reasons to cheer or groan…

Meanwhile a hymn came to mind. I could still hear its echoes from last Sunday’s glorious rendition. We were back at our alma mater on the prairies with a host of folks who really know how to sing hymns—with energy and harmony and deeply felt confidence.  It gave me goosebumps and is still ringing in my heart.  I wrote down the words I could remember and had to look up the rest here. How fitting for such a setting as this afternoon’s:

1 I sing the mighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at his command,
and all the stars obey.

2 I sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
He formed the creatures with His word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread
Or gaze upon the skies.

3 There’s not a plant or flower below
but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise and tempests blow
by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee
is ever in Thy care,
And everywhere that man can be,
Thou, God, art present there.

–Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Amen and Amen! And that’s Someone worth rejoicing in, always!

–LS

What tops your list of reasons to rejoice in the Lord?  I’d love to hear.  Drop a comment in the box or send along an email…

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