November 28, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 28}: Series Summary

Guys, this is the next to last post of the November 2015, 30 Days of Encouragement series!  How fast has this month gone by?!  Don't forget that Monday is giveaway day.  You could be the happy winner of this little collection of goodies:

Throw your name in the hat by leaving an "I'm in!" comment
before the end of the day tomorrow.

When the series began our focus passage for the duration was Hebrews 10:19-25.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:19-25

Here we see that our motivation for spurring one another toward love and good deeds, meeting together, and encouraging one another is Christ.  He has made all the difference in our lives. We can approach God!  Christ is interceding for us as our High Priest!  We are cleansed from sin and have hope!  The Good News of new life in Christ motivates us to consider others and encourage them.

Thanks to the input of Drs. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender from their book Encouragement: the Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, and the Merriam Webester dictionary, I came up with this definition of Christian encouragement:

encouragement: the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope that is grounded in Christ and points them to Him

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Don't you want to be that for others?  As we learned, though, it takes practice and a transformation of our hearts to encourage one another, because - forgiven or not - we still naturally think primarily about ourselves!  Throughout the series I have endeavored to expand on the who, what, when, where, how, and why of encouragement, give you a framework for growing as an encourager, and offer practical ideas for you to put encouragement into practice.  My prayer is that the Lord has used this series to ground you in Christ and point you to Him.

With the Spirit in us, we have so much power, friends.  Be a vessel for the Lord through which His encouragement can flow to others.  You don't need a seminary degree or staff position at your church.  You possess the Spirit, can read God's Word, have access to Him in prayer (thanks, Jesus!), and people in your life to encoruage.  I anticipate that as you step out in faith to encourage others, you will find God faithful.  I know, because I have!

I wonder if any of you have stories already from this very month of how you've tried to encourage others.  I'd love to hear them!

November 27, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 27}: Worship and Sunday School

You've arrived almost at the end of a month-long series.  Check out the intro here.

If you have been around Life in the Valley long enough, you know that I put a high value on being and active part of a local congregation.  I hesitate to say 'church' because people often think of a building and maybe passive participation.  Rather than say that we're  going to church on Sunday, I make a point to use the word worship.  We are headed out the door to engage in something with our little branch of God's people on this earth.  Gathering on Sunday morning is not about checking an activity off the to do list, like you would a workout or a Boy Scout meeting.  Worship is meeting with God and His people, getting rightly oriented (focused on the Lord) as we start another week, confessing our sins and being assured of our forgiveness among the throng, hearing the word preached so we are prepared to go forth and love and serve the Lord, and so on.  The Bible also has a lot to say about how each part [read: each person] is critical to the body of believers, having different gifts to offer.  You are important!  Sunday morning worship is critical to our spiritual health and life and to the strength and health of our congregation.  My favorite days are communion Sundays, when all of those sinners walk their way to the front to take and eat in remembrance of our Savior.  SO MUCH FORGIVENESS AND GRACE, folks!  All over the world on a Sunday, people receive the elements.  Jesus' love, power, forgiveness, and grace are so high, long, wide, and deep.

[Do] not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing...
Hebrews 10:25a

Another "church thing" upon which I place a high value is Sunday School.  Now, Sunday School is not a Biblical mandate or anything.  No one is obligated to go to Sunday School.  But boy, is it valuable.  Gathering on Sunday morning to study the Word or a biblically-based book is good for us, especially given how little time most Christians devote to their spiritual formation.  The church has something set up and ready for you to learn, to grow, to be stretched!  Why not take advantage of it?  I also love those blessed folks who prepare lessons for my children every week and faithfully teach them about God, His ways, and His story.  The other gift of Sunday School is the relationships.  Sunday morning worship is a terrible time to try to get to know people at a church.  But Sunday School?  Ah, yes: a smaller group, more interaction, a chance to ask questions, a place to get to know some of those fellow saved-by-grace sinners.  I encourage you to give Sunday School a go, starting this Advent season!

What does this have to do with encouragement? you might ask.  Good question.

Back to that Hebrews verse, with the rest of it:

[Do] not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25

You've heard me say it before: It is very difficult to encourage one another without ever getting together!  Your local congregation should be a place of flowing encouragement.  It may not be that for you right now, and you cannot control whether other people are being encouraging, but YOU can make the move to encourage.  Go!  Be there.  Engage and encourage.  You cannot know your people wihtout gathering with them.  Sermons and Sunday School topics will give you things to talk about beyond the weather and how things are going at work.

Crabb and Allender argue that the church should be a place of encouragement, where people are pushing one another to consider God, spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, and where lives are being transformed not by counselors, but by lay people who have learned the habit and skills of encouragement.  Again, pick up their book.  In fact, they have a study series you could do in a Sunday School class!  <wink>

In all seriousness, though, I cannot encourage you enough to be an active part of your local congregation.  Sure, being part of a church can be tough, because people go there (people not much different that you).  But don't give up meeting together.  Stick with your people, like family, and ask God to show you how you can encourage one another when you meet together.  I assure you, the opportunities are endless.  And if you are worried about being cared for yourself, I offer you Paul's words to the Philippians designed by this source:

November 26, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 26}: Giving

Since it is a holiday, I'll be brief!  I hope you have all had great days with your family and/or friends.  We had a deep conversation about different types of toilet paper over our delicious meal.  Bet you're sad to have missed out on that.  Let me know if you need any recommendations.

In thinking about encouraging one another and how the five love languages can give us ideas, we find gift giving and acts of service on the list.  The two are different, but similar.  Giving someone a gift, at least from my perspective, is not that much different from doing something for them.  That is, after all, a gift of help to them. Yesterday I talked about the helping part, so today it's GIVING.

How perfect that this post falls on ThanksGIVING!  Cool, right?  I didn't even plan that.  We are spending today giving thanks to God for all His provision, protection, and love for us.  And we can also think about ways we can give to others to encourage them.

Obviously a well-timed and carefully chosen present can encourage another.  Love is communicated in the giving.  There are other ways to encourage by giving, as well.  Here are a few that come to mind:

Food  Taking a meal to a grieving family, one who has just welcomed a new child, or is in transition can offer great encouragement and also builds relationships.  It is incredible what a gift food can be!  A friend of mine even brought me a fantastic snack bag at the hospital after our third was born.  I have copied her gesture on several occasions.  I mean, who doesn't want a Snickers when they're nourishing another human! 
A Hug or a Hand Hold These are free and come to us with varying degrees of ease, but what a gift a hug can be.  In some discouraging and sad seasons of life a hug offers both physical upholding as well as soul up-lifting.  If you feel the urge to give someone a hug who sure seems to need it, go for it.  Or ask if it's okay and then hug away if they say yes.  We're not a touchy culture, but sometimes we need to break through that to offer encouragement. 
Mission Support  A final thought that I had on the "giving" encouragement front was monetary support to missionaries or people going on short-term mission trips.  This can be an immense encouragement to those headed out to our on the front lines of ministry in challenging places on the globe.  When offered the opportunity, give as you are able, and pray.  You will certainly be an encouragement to the missionary with your generousity.

I am sure you can think of other ways that by giving you can encourage one another.  These are the few that came to mind as I was considering the topic.  I am reminded of a story in 2 Corinthians 8 about the poor churches of Madeconia bursting at the seams to be generous and to share with believers in other places.  They were motivated by God's love for them.  And Paul writes to the Corinthians,

Just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in your love for us - see that you also excel in this grace of giving.  (8:7)

Let's excel in this grace of giving, friends: Giving thanks to God the Father on this Thanksgiving day and giving eagerly of all He has provided for us, in order to encourage one another!

Speaking of GIVING,  don't forget to drop a comment if you want to be included in the giveaway!

November 25, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 25}: Helping

For the intro to this series, click here.

Words are critical to the ministry of encouragement.  Crabb and Allendar offer so much instruction and wisdom on the topic in their book Encouragement: the Unexpected Power of Building Others Up.  If you want to learn more, I recommend grabbing a copy.  If you're local, I'll lend you mine!  Today I'd like to move away from words to the idea of encouraging one another by helping.  Of course, like it says in Proverbs 25:11, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.   I also believe a helping hand at just the right time can offer the same kind of encouragement.

When I consider the ministry of Jesus, so perfectly focused on loving God and loving others, I think of Him not only forgiving sins and preaching repentance and the Kingdom, but also touching the untouchable, attending wedding feasts, healing diseases, opening the eyes of the blind, and so on.  He ministered not only in word, but in deed.  His deeds, affection, company, and consistency attested to the truth of the message that came from His lips.

Our deeds, motivated by love and done with intention, can spur another on toward love and good deeds and encourage.  Consider yesterday's list of discouraging situations.  In all of those things, people are in need not only of words of encouragement, but also practical assistance.  You might be the one who can offer encouragement by your helping hands: giving a ride, cleaning a toilet, running some errands, watching small children, keeping someone company, move a heavy piece of furniture, etc.

On this holiday weekend you may have a little extra time to lend a helping hand to someone in need.   Ask the Lord to show you places you might minister encouragement to another with your own two hands.  You may also need some help.  Let someone else encourage you by asking for assistance!

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:15-17

November 24, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 24}: Prayer & the Giveaway

This is the last week of a month-long series.  Read the intro here.

I am in the middle of sharing with you some ways you can encourage one another.  We've hit on getting together and getting in touch.  Today we'll talk about prayer.  

Early on in the series, I took a day to share a list of discouraging circumstances in which people you know might find themselves.  Here it is again:

  • Grieving a loss of a loved one
  • Starting/trying something new
  • Unemployment or other financial trial
  • Moving
  • Having a new baby or an adoption
  • Challenges with kids during different stages
  • Caring for aging parents
  • Marriage troubles
  • When a spouse is deployed
  • Any kind of unexpected change in circumstances

At times like this in our lives, we need the encouragement of others to keep going, don't we?  As I mentioned in that post, having a list like this in mind can be a trigger for us to catch encouragement opportunities.  Some of the things on this list you have lived, so you're uniquely poised to offer encouragement and hope to an individual enduring the same.  One of the very best, though seemingly least "productive", things we can offer to encourage another is prayer.

Remember our definition of Christian encouragement?

the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope that is grounded in Christ and points them to Him

What better thing to point someone to the Lord than prayer?!  Here are some tips.

Pray Right Away
One of my friends is in the uncommon practice of praying for people right at the moment.  If you are talking with her and you mention needing prayer, she quickly says, "Okay, let's do that right now."  Or even if you don't specifically mention needing prayer, she notices prayer is needed and offers.  I remember hearing on the radio once: Prayer should be our first option, not our last opportunity.  My friend models this so well and it is most definitely an encouragement!

Continue Praying
For the majority of people, because we are spiritual beings, created in God's image, appreciate being prayed for.  One of my friends said she has only been turned down once when offering to pray for someone!  ONCE!!  That's incredible.  Praying for one another changes lives.  It changes ours, as we entrust struggles, trials, and hardships to the Lord.  And it changes the lives of the prayed for, as they see God work in their circumstances.  God gets all the glory for working in the "impossible".  
I know we are all forgetful.  So when you are in a situation where you want to remember to pray or you tell someone you will pray for them, WRITE IT DOWN!  For me, the back of my hand is my go-to spot, till I can jot it down some where else.  Keep a prayer list, hang a note somewhere you'll be reminded to pray regularly, or something like that to help you be faithful to continue in prayer. 
A habit I would like to get into is praying for people who "randomly" come to mind, rather than simply wondering about how curious it was to think of them at that moment.  Again, encouragement involves habit.  If I prayed for them, I could even let them know I am doing that when I get in touch! 
Finally, no matter how regular or irregular you are, let the person know you are praying for them.  How good it is for our spirits and our faith to know that another is coming before the Lord on our behalf!

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people.  Ephesians 6:18

*     *     *

Giveaway time!!

To celebrate the end of the series, I have a gift collection I'd like to give away: a small journal, note cards (you know, so you can encourage some folks with them), pens, and chocolate (because chocolate)!  It gives me great pleasure to send off a little gift to a reader.  I am humbled that you all take the time to be here and learn with me.

"Heather, how do I enter?"

Glad you asked.  We're going to keep this one super simple.  Leave an "I'm in" comment, or something like that on a post between today and Sunday, and I'll drop your name in the hat.  I'll announce the winner on Monday, November 30 in the final post of the series.

November 23, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 23}: Get in Touch

This is the final week of a month-long series.  Start here to find out what it is all about.

I think we're in the fun part of this series.  How about you?  The part where ideas are shared and you can try out the "encourage one another" thing in a variety of ways.  On Saturday I shared about the importance of getting together and spending time with people to encourage them.  Today's topic is similar, but focused more on communicating with the "another" you are trying to encourage, rather than being physically present with them.  You can encourage one another by getting in touch!

In our super slick modern age, there are so many ways we can be in touch.  Messages are constantly flying over the airwaves and through miles of wire, but I wonder what percentage of them are intentionally sent to encourage?  A message sent in love, with words carefully chosen to build up the other person and point them to Christ, will stand out and light a fire in a soul.  Or a phone call made with the purpose of listening, while asking a few direct questions, can change the course of someone's day, or life, to God's glory.

Our means of communication these days include phone calls, text messages, emails, and (my favorite) handwritten letters.  Any of these means of communication can convey to the receiver, Hey, I was thinking of YOU, yes you.  I want to know how YOU are doing.  I want to know how I can  pray for you and hear about what's going on in your life. YOU matter in this crazy world and God loves you and will help you, guide you, teach you, and sustain you.  And I love YOU, you're important to me, too.

It does not have to complicated to communicate that much.  For example, on a beautiful evening recently one of my local friends  sent me a text that simply said, SUNSET.  Can't get much briefer than one word, can you?  But what was communicated in that was, I know you and our mutual affection for gorgeous sunsets and God's beautiful creation.  I thought of YOU while I was admiring the sunset and wanted to make sure you did not miss it.  Yep, I got all that from one word!  What was super fun, to me, was that I had pointed out the beauty of the sunset to the kids not moments before that text beeped its way into my phone.  We were about an hour from home, admiring the same beauty as my friend!

Personally, I believe that snail mail and phone calls are particularly meaningful in this day and age of quick messages and rapid making of plans.  You can go a little deeper and/or hear tones in a way you might miss from a hastily typed message.  They also demand a setting aside of time that is different and intentional.  But as you can see from my story, a simple text can also communicate love and care, too!

Today choose one of these means of getting in touch and do so.  Ask the Lord to bring someone to mind that He can use you to encourage today.  Then plan to do so in the next day or so.  How much power the Lord has given us to spur one another on toward love and good deeds ... encouraging one another -- and all the more as we see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10: 24 -25)  His love for us, remember, is our reason to lift one another up.  His Spirit in us is our strength and guide for living out His love in the world.

November 21, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 21}: Get Together

Click here to learn what this series is all about.

This is the day, friends!  We're in to the "how" of encouragement.  For the rest of the series I will offer practical ideas for encouraging others.  Our last day on the topic will be Monday, November 30.  There will be a giveaway and everything!  Till then we'll march through a list of ways we can encourage one another.

Our neighbor's front porch, a widow who invited us on our first Halloween here to cove visit any time.

As Crabb and Allender say, words that encourage are motivated by love and directed at fear.  And much of our ability to really encourage another person will depend on the quality of our words spoken to them.  But there are also many other ways we can encourage that surround and support the truth of the words that will come out of our mouths or fingers, if the words are being written.

When I think about encouraging others and wanting it to be useful, genuine encouragement, my mind wanders to Gary D. Champman's thoughts about the five love languages.  In his book, he suggests that there are five broad categories of how people feel the most loved and express love to others: gift giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time.  You'll have to read the book - it's a quick read - to get the full picture, but these categories helped me to think about various ways we can encourage one another.  We'll being today with quality time.

When I did an informal survey on Facebook about what encourages people, several mentioned the importance of people spending time with them.  We certainly all feel unloved if no one wants to hang out with us!  And, I venture to guess, that most of us are encouraged when someone wants to use some of their limited time to be with us.  We can sincerely encourage another person by having and/or making time to be with them.  

This takes effort, fitting under the Availability for Ministry category and making margins in one's life.  Do you know people in your sphere of influence who could us a visit or with whom  you need to make a coffee date?  Perhaps there is a widow down the street.  Maybe you need to invite an acquaintance over to get to know them better.  Are there other folks in your life who desperately need the encouragement of quality time, devoted to them and their well-being, to lift them up?

I am sure we all know at least one.

Do not be concerned about what is outside your ability or sphere of influence.  Think today about making space to get together with whomever God brings to mind when you ask Him to whom you can be an encouragement.  Consider what questions you can ask to know them better and what words you might use to encourage them when you are together.  The goal is not to be a perfect encourager, but to be a faithful one, who seizes the opportunities the Lord places in your way!

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  I Thessalonians 5:9-11