November 30, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 30!!}: Marathon Mentality

And just like that, Advent has begun and we arrive at the end of another Life in the Valley November series.  I hope you have had as much fun as I have watching God give us things to ponder and to try this month.  Every year I am surprised by how He works during the November series, providing me with content each day and blessing me with feedback from you kind readers.  I credit my friend Kit for getting me into this back in 2011; she wrote a great series about Loving the Church, if you're looking for another series to read.  It's excellent.  Also, hat makes this the 5th Annual November Series - throw the confetti!

Image Credit

Now, get this!  My New Testament reading was this morning was Hebrews 10.  So cool!  After spending a month thinking mostly about verses nineteen to twenty-five, it was great to give the whole chapter a read again this morning.  Here are some incredible things the author says about Christ and the efficacy of His ONE sacrifice for us:

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. ... And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  (3-4)
because by that one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  (10)
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (18)

Under the Old Covenant, once a year a priest would go in to offer sacrifices of atonement for himself and the people.  All that bloodshed was a shadow of things to come, namely Christ!  And finally, God fulfilled His promise to set us free by the blood of His Son.

You know that is what Christmas is all about right?

Not as sentimental a season when you put it that way!  But that truth is the very fuel of our drive to encourage others.  IF YOU ARE IN CHRIST - have accepted His sacrifice as the atonement for your sin - YOU ARE FREE!  No longer do you do good to make up for all the bad; Christ took care of that in the only way it could be fixed.  Rather, in the joy of your salvation you can consider others, spur others on toward love and good deeds, meet together, and encourage one another.  Because not only did Christ come to die, but He rose again, and He is coming again to judge and rule forever.

I urge you to celebrate your freedom in Christ by encouraging others this Christmas season, and beyond!  The Lord has a lot of work to do in our hearts to transform us into people with an Attitude, Availability, and Attention to minister to others, but He can and He will.

Before telling you who won the giveaway, I'll give you one more Crabb and Allender quote for the road.  They are specifically talking about developing a vicious of becoming an encouraging community in churches, but it applies to individual life as well.

The development of encouragement in the body may be a slow and barely visible process.  But faithfulness in well-doing, even when fatigue sets in will be rewarded.  The Christian life is not a short sprint on a fast track; it is a marathon race over rough terrain. An initial burst of speed ("Let's have an encouragement seminar!") is less important to success than a steady, sustained pace.  p135

Look to the manger, the cross, the empty tomb, and the promise He will come again, and press on in faith.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.  Hebrews 10:23

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Now, drum roll please.  The winner is...

Congratulations!  I'll get your little treat to you soon.

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

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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

November 20, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 20}: Motivation and Direction

Welcome!  You can find the series introduction here.

Yesterday I quoted Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender who say that encouraging words are motivated by love and directed at the hearer's fear.  Sitting with the Lord this morning, I asked Him what direction to go with today's post.  That quote came to mind, so I will flesh it out.

What does it mean for us to speak words that are motivated by love and directed at fear?  Well, first of all, it does not mean that every conversation we have needs to be deeply theological or oozing with religion.  But as I have mentioned a dozen times, it does mean we need to give thought to what we say.  (Which can be a real challenge for someone like me or often processes her thoughts by saying them out loud!)  Ephesians 4:29 comes to mind:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the importance of quality listening, listening that goes beyond the words being said to get to the bottom of how the other person is really feeling.  For example, there are very different ways that someone might say, "Fine," when you ask them how they are doing.  Depending on the tone and body language, you will have to decide whether to take them at their word or if it's time to ask another question.  In fact, simply noticing that someone is having a tough time can be a source of encouragement to them!

Considering this scenario, we could have various motivations for going deeper with someone.  Our desire can be purely to lift their spirits and point them to Christ because of how much we have been loved by the Lord.  That is what I'd call being motivated by love.  There are other motivations, however, that we will have to be careful to keep in check, like wanting to get some juicy gossip or longing to be seen as a nice person.  Impure motivation abounds, but the Lord can transform our hearts to be motivated by love for others, instilling in us a desire to lead them into hope, life, joy, and peace, just as we have know those things in Christ.

Now, how about the directed at fear part.  Crabb and Allender go into this a lot in their book, and with simple eloquence.  (Again, I recommend their book.)  They argue that most of the time we interact with one another from behind layers, hiding our fears, doubts, and real selves behind them.  True encouragement cannot happen without layers being stripped away.  Self-examination by relating with the Lord, helps us to take off our own.  Developing encouragement skills and listening to the Holy Spirit enable us to get past those of others, so we can speak words of encouragement directly at their fears: am I lovable, has God abandoned me, will my needs be provided for, am a good enough whatever I am trying to be, etc.

You can begin today by asking God to purify your motives.  Ask Him to increase your awe and wonder at how much He loves you, especially given how little you deserve it.  Ask Him to fill you up with that kind of love for others, even the ones who seem so unlovable or demanding.  Then also ask Him for wisdom, to know your own fears and to see the fears of others, in order that you might speak words of encouragement into their lives.

Finally, keep reading your Bible!  God's Word is full of encouragement.  The more you fill yourself up on it, the more you have to pour out at critical moments - even if you have to look a verse up using keywords on Biblegateway!

November 19, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 19}: Attention for Ministry Opportunity

Learn more about this series here.

Over the last two days I've been offering a framework for how we can grow to be people who encourage one another, using words that being with A: Attitude and Availability to minister.  Today we find ourselves at the final A, Attention.  In order to encourage one another, we have to pay attention for opportunities to encourage.  In the busyness of life and the hustle and bustle of even the most mundane chores, it is easy to miss the cues that indicate that a person before us or on on mind needs to be encouraged: a child, our spouse, a friend, a neighbor, maybe even the mailman!

Sally Clarkson, a woman who has spoken much encouragement into my life,
through books and times together, not matter how brief!

Being the type who likes structure, I have two points for you on Attention, just as I did with Attitude and Availability.  So orderly, right?!  Here it goes; the first one may spark a little deja vu, since I'm starting the same as yesterday.

Listen to the Spirit:  The Spirit is God with us all the time.  Tuning the ears of our hearts to hear when He is leading will help us to avoid missing out on opportunities to minister.  The Spirit's still small voice or figurative kick in the shins can get our attention.  And like I said yesterday, the more often we take action on those cues, the easier it is to both hear and obey the next time.  We can beging by praying for a sensitivity to the Spirit's movement:  Lord, today make me aware.  By your Spirit, make me pay attention, since I am not in the habit.  And let grow to be one who is always on the lookout for ministry opportunities that come my way. 

Has the Lord been placing on your heart the idea of starting a new relationship, deepening and older one, or getting a new activity going.  Now might be the time to take action!  Encouragement is needed all around, let's pay attention to the Spirit's leading so we don't miss opportunities. 

Listen to What People are Really Saying:  This is the real nitty gritty of encouragement.  A LOT of encouragement has to do with words, what we say.  Crabb and Allender argue that encouraging words are motivated by love and directed at the hearer's fear.  We can learn a lot about another person by asking good questions and probing with caring, (skills you can learn more about in the the book Encouragement: the Unexpected Power of Building Others Up).  As we listen carefully with attention to what someone is saying when we are speaking with them, letting their mood and the body language speak to us even more than the words, we will find inroads for encouraging them. 
Crabb and Allender we can encourage someone with "the careful selection of words that are intended to influence another person meaningfully toward increased godliness."  Obviously, we need the Spirit and to develop some skills to do this well, but starting today we can "own our influence," as Sally Clarkson says, and take a leap to offer words to another for the express purpose of encouragement.  Please note that encouragement is not solving another's problems; it is pushing them into God's arms, the One who can change their life!

This is your invitation to get started!  Pay attention this very day and week for opportunities to minster encouragement to another.  Maybe it will feel a little bumbling at first, but if your are motivated by love and your words directed at the other's fears, your efforts will be appreciated, or more.  I look forward to hearing your stories!

November 18, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 18): Availability for Ministry

You can find the intro to this series here.

Yesterday I shared the first of three 'A' words with you in the effort to give us a framework for thinking about growing as an encourager.  We can begin to grow our Attitude of Ministry by regularly spending time with Jesus and practicing considering others intentionally.  Today we move on to Availability to Minister.  For, as obvious as it may seem, it is quite difficult to encourage one another if we never have a free minute to do so.

Little folks playing in the sandbox during playgroup!

Two points about Availability to Minister:
Listen to the Holy Spirit when He nudges.  We need to be available to the Spirit as He directs our path.  By opening our ears and hearts to Him, and willingly letting Him interrupt our "previously scheduled program", we make our selves available to minister to others.  Just like intentionally considering others, this takes practice.  The more we listen, the more we obey, the more we hear and the more likely we are to choose ministry in the future. 
For example, I have developed the habit (most of the time) of getting in touch as soon as possible with anyone who comes to mind.  More often than not, that is the nudge of the Spirit telling me that that individual needs encouragement.  Or perhaps you're in the middle of the conversation and "something" tells you you need to take the conversation deeper, doing just that is being available to minister encouragement to the person in front of you.  It can feel awkward at first, but the rewards and growth are well worth persevering. 
Live with a little margin.  I know some of you are laughing at this point, but I will ask nonetheless:  Is your life packed out?  I know, especially for my friends with demanding little people in in their lives, that the answer is always, Yes, life is totally packed out!  Of course it is.  But is it flexible?  Do you have wiggle room to be available to minister or are all your activities and responsibilities so back to back that you can only think about you and yours?  We have to have time to make the time to encourage one another.
Like yours, our family has more than enough going on in our lives, even while being intentional about not over-committing.  But I have tried to build time for extra interactions with others - to get to know them and hopefully be an encouragement to them - into my routine.  In the spring, finally responding to the Spirit's nudging (go figure!), we started a weekly playgroup at our house. In community we encrouage one another in words and by enjoying good company.  Opportunities to encourage come right in my door every Monday morning.  That margin for playgroup, planning our school weeks around it, not only makes me vacuum my floors, it also makes me available to minister in a natural context, with coffee!  I wonder how the Lord will show you where you can make margin for ministry?!

Well, there you have it, Heather's top two thoughts on how to be AVAILABLE to encrouage one another: listen when the Spirit nudges (i.e. be available to the Lord) and live with some margin (i.e. be available for others).  Both of these require being intentional; are you picking up on that as a major theme in growing to be an encourager?  I hope so, 'cause I'm not trying to hide it!

Go forth and be intentionally encouraging today!  I'll hit you with A-word number three tomorrow.

November 17, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 17}: Attitude of Ministry

You've arrived about halfway through this month's series.
Click here to read the introduction.

From the Hebrews passage (10:19-25), I determined encouraging one another requires two things: meeting together and intentionality in those meetings.  The author starts verse twenty-four by saying, And let us consider.  To encourage one another, we have to consider others.  Considering others will transform our interactions with them and allow us to spur them on toward love and good deeds, encouraging them!

A college student ministering to us and our little one at a church picnic.

So today, I'm going to begin to give you a framework for growing into an encourager.  We'll spend three days on this and each day I'll give you and 'A' word, to help you remember!  I am not an expert on this topic, but I love encouraging others and learned a lot from reading Encouragement: The Key to Caring by Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender.  Most of what I've been sharing with you comes directly from a talk I gave during the A Mom's Heart in Illinois conference on November 7th.

Crabb and Allender say, Encouragement is the fruit of a self-examined heart and a compassionate discerning sensitivity to the needs of others.

Read that again.  What they're saying is that becoming one who encourages is a combination of attitude and skills.  In fact Attitude is the first of the three 'A' words.  To become an encourager, we need to develop an attitude of ministry.

Here are two means by which we can cultivate an Attitude of Ministry:
  1. To become and encourager, one must walk with Jesus.  Daily spending time in prayer and reading God's Word keeps us in our place.  We are reminded how much we need the Lord and how much He has done for us, particularly in giving us what we did not deserve: mercy.  Like Crabb and Allender suggest, encouragement is the fruit of a self-examined heart.  We cannot have such without regularly relating with our Savior and Lord.  In addition to self-examination, studying Christ also gives us a model for ministry!
  2. To become an encourager, one must intentionally consider others.  It takes practice!  Developing an attitude of ministry will not happen for any of us overnight or by magic.  We begin by cultivating a posture that considers others: thinking ahead about upcoming interactions, praying about how we can meet others' needs and/or spur them on, making choices to engage when the Spirit nudges rather than sticking to small talk.
Fortunately as the Lord works in our hearts in our relationship with Him, we will begin to consider others as an outpouring of His work in our lives.  A self-examined heart leads to a greater compassion for others, which will lead to encouragement.  Throw in a handful of practical skills and you'll be  spewing encouragement all over the place, to the praise of His glory.

See you tomorrow for 'A' word number two of the trio!

November 16, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 16}: You Know More Than You Think

To learn what this series is all about, start here.

Hurray!  It's time to get into the "how" of encouraging one another!  Over the next three days I will present to you a framework for becoming an encourager.  For today, however, I'd like you to consider how much you already know about encouraging others.  Stop for a moment and think about or write down what encourages you.

I mean it, take a moment to pause and think about that.  Could be people's presence, words, advice, prayers, etc.  What really encourages you and gives you the push you need to be brave and keep going?

Alright, now I have a challenge question for you:

Are you making an effort to (at least)
encourage others the way YOU feel encouraged?


Sometimes we get lost in our own navel gazing.  We feel desperate for someone to come alongside us and lift us up, so we start to wallow.  In the midst of our self-pity party, we miss the call to draw near to God and consider others.  We miss out on letting the Lord lift us up, and we neglect our responsibility to encourage one another.  I know; I've been there, too.

When we moved to our town a little over two years ago, I did not have many friends.  We had a great church to attend, but I was getting into one of those "no body cares about us or wants to know us" slumps.  My husband was very busy with his new job, and while I have testimony of how incredibly God sustained us through that first semester, I still got lonely sometimes.  I desperately wanted people to invite us over for lunch or dinner or something, but that was not happening.  Then I was reminded of something Sally Clarkson often has said: Everywhere they moved, she always had to start something to create the fellowship she longed for.  She almost always had to make the first move to build relationships. 
Sunday mornings seemed like such a terrible time to try to get to know people.  So I spoke with a friend at church who had consistently taken very good care of us, and she helped me plan a Women's Tea at our house.  I asked the church secretary to put a note in the bulletin.  I stood up during announcements in the service and said, "Hey, I'm a stranger to most of you, but I need some friends.  Please come over so we can get to know each other."
Forty women came that Saturday!!  We'll be having our third annual women's tea in a couple of weeks.

Wallowing feels good for a time.  I love to be a martyr, friends.  Not proud of that, but it's true.  Choosing God's way, however, sets us free!  As a bonus, often He uses our taking the time to encourage another to encourage us, too.  I have the testimony of forty women coming to that first tea to prove it.

No matter your situation, and perhaps especially considering your situation right now, think back to that first question about what really encourages you.  That list shows how much you already know about encouragement!  Would you be brave today and make a point to do one of those encouraging things for someone else?  Let God use you, where you are right now, to encourage another in his/her walk with the Lord.  I look forward to hearing about it sometime!

November 14, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 14}: Let's Review!

Check out what the series is all about here.

Tomorrow puts us half way through the month, so let's use today for a review of what has been going on in this Encouragement series.  The focus text of the series is Hebrews 10:19-25.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 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.

So far, this is what we have covered:
  • What is encouragement?  I defined it as the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope that is grounded in Christ and points them to Him
  • All can encourage  No matter who you are or what your situation, as a believer you are called to encourage others
  • What if I need encouragement?  Even as we commit to encourage others, we will experience times when we need to be encouraged.  In these lonely times we move from simply knowing about God to meeting Him and having our needs met in Him.  He loves each one of us.
  • Discouraging circumstances This post provided some ideas for times that others particularly need encouragement, to get you on the look out for encouragement opportunities.
  • Why encourage?  We encourage one another because of what Christ has done for us as our Savior and High Priest.  We are free to consider others!
  • More reason to encourage  Another reason to encourage is Jesus' second coming and the increase of trials that will come; we need encouragement to keep the faith in this harsh world.
  • Encouragement Fuel  Knowing the Word is a great way to be prepared to encourage at any time; Love God Greatly is a wonderful resource to learn Bible Study.
  • Encouragement requirements  In order to encourage one another we need to be meeting together and intentional in our interactions with one another.
  • Who shall we encourage  As believers we should always be ready to encourage others, but especially those within the body of believers.
  • When and where to encourage  Whenever and wherever we are we should encourage others, i.e. we need to develop and encouragement habit.  The Father and the Spirit are our companions in the ministry.

That is where we have been!  On Monday we will begin talking about HOW: how do we develop and encouragement mindset; how do we set up our lives to have space to encourage; how, practically, do we encourage in the day-to-day.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and we'll move on next week!

Photo Credit

November 13, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 13}: When and Where?

Check out what this series is all about here.

Yesterday, while discussing the "who" of encouragement, I asked this convicting question:

How often do you head into Sunday morning worship or Sunday school or  Bible study or small group thinking about how you can encourage other believers gathering there?

The question convicts because we're not always thinking about ministering, are we?  With all of the demands and burdens of life, most of the time we're hoping, consciously or not, that someone will notice and care for us.  Which leads well into the "when and where" of encouragement.  When and where should we be encouraging others?

The short answer: whenever and wherever you meet together!

Whenever and wherever we meet, especially with fellow believers, we can seize the opportunity to encourage one another.  Whether we find ourselves in a large group or are hanging out with one friend over coffee, we need to develop an encouragement habit - that would be having an attitude of ministry, all the time.  Does that remind you of anyone you know?  Sunday School answer time, right here.  Yep.  Jesus!

He said to his disciples, recorded in Matthew 20:26-28,

"Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

And Paul says about Him in Philippians 2:5-8, inviting us to copy Him,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Our Lord lived the ministry of encouragement and showed us the way.  He relied on the Holy Spirit to fill Him up and He spoke regularly with the Father.  As a result, He considered others all the time.  When we died on the cross, He gave us always-access to the Father through faith, and when we ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to fill us.  We can rely on the Spirit and we can speak regularly with the Father, becoming people who look like Christ in the world: considering others and encouraging one another - whenever and wherever opportunity arises.

We're well on our way to the "hows" of doing this, so stick around for more!
I am so thankful you spend time here with me.

November 12, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 12}: Who Shall We Encourage?

For the series starter, click here.

Moving right along in our conversation about encouraging one another, we come to the question of who, or is it whom?  I dunno, but hope you understand me!  Here we are: To whom shall we give encouragement?  Our Hebrews passage speaks directly to believers and is telling them to encourage one another, especially in the body of believers.

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.

Yet how little we see this.  Or to bring it home: How little we practice it ourselves!  Here's a challenge question to ask yourself:  How often do you head into Sunday morning worship or Sunday school or  Bible study or small group thinking about how you can encourage other believers gathering there?

Ouch.  Right?

But there in Hebrews 10 it says we should be encouraging one another when we're meeting together, trying to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  So when it comes to the question of who/whom, the Bible is talking about fellow believers.  And really, if we cannot encourage one another within the fold, when we have Christ in common already, we can be sure it will be very challenging to encourage those outside the Body

Which brings me to this point: we are to encourage those outside the body of believers, too.  The lips of the believer should always be ready to speak words of life.  We can, even in conversations with those who are not Christians, help people along to know Him or at least think about He might factor into their life.  Remember how we defined encouragement?

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

Can you see how critical it is, then, to be doing this with fellow believers.  We don't need to be shy about it.  Christ is our Lord and He's coming again!  Christ is our Savior and fear no longer needs to dominate in our relationships.  We've been set free to be real and offer real encouragement.

Who shall we encourage?
Everyone, but especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!

November 11, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 11}: Encouragement Requirements

Let's hone in, today, on the verses from Hebrews 10 that include the phrase "encouraging one another."

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 10:24-25

This week we'll do a quick run through the what, who, where, and when of encouraging one another.  Then spend the rest of the series on the how-tos of encouragement.  I'm so thrilled to share with you from the talk I gave on Saturday!  I learned so much through the preparation process and love dragging you blog readers into it.

You will notice in the verses above that there is a thread connecting spurring one another on in love and good deeds, meeting together, and encouraging one another.  Thus, I conclude that being an encouragement requires two things: engaging with people  and intentionality.

Hermits are not known for their ability to encourage others, right?  To encourage one another we have to be with one another!  Not all the time, of course, but regularly enough to know what is going on in each others' lives and have time to talk.  To encourage one another, we must meet together.

Further, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds requires that we are intentional when we meet together.  In their book, Drs. Crabb and Allender say, The final goal of encouragement is to move people along in their walk with Christ.  Interacting in this way goes beyond the normal surface-level conversations we have, inviting us to go deeper and, lovingly, push one another along in the faith. Love and good deeds find their origin in ever-growing relationship with Jesus. To encourage one another, we must be intentional in our interactions.

In order to encourage one another we need to be in the habit of getting together and, during those times, intentional about spurring one another on toward love and good deeds.  I am confident that as you develop these habits, they will become second nature.  The Lord has His way of transforming our character as we strive to be obedient to His Word!  At the beginning, we will have to remind ourselves to consider others when going into gatherings with fellow believers, no matter how desperately we need to be ministered to ourselves.  With time, however, we will grow to be natural encouragers who put others first because God has been faithful to change us through our practice.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised if faithful.
Hebrews 10:23

November 10, 2015

30 Days of Encouragement {Day 10}: Encouragement Fuel

I was going to get into more exposition of the Hebrews passage today, but I feel prompted by the Spirit to share something different.  At the beginning of the series we defined encouragement as the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope that is grounded in Christ and points them to Him.  For such encouragement to take place, the encourager needs to have a store to draw from.  That fuel will come primarily from God's Word.

We will only have words to share to encourage one another to the extent that we are fueling up on the Scriptures!  As we acquaint ourselves with the God of the Bible and His message, His love, His concerns, His guidance, and His abundance, we will have more and more to pour out into the lives of others.

To that end, I want to share a website with you Love God Greatly.  They lead regular, year round, six week Bible studies on books of the Bible or topics, providing free Bible study materials, a few blog posts a week, encouraging video clips to go along with them, and weekly challenges.  I participated in a couple last year and they were great!  You will learn how to study Scripture as well as the Scriptures themselves.  My friend, Pam, gave testimony at the conference this past weekend to how effective and live-changing this method of study has been in her life, and she's been a Christian for a good long time!  Cool, huh?

I believe the Lord wants me to share this with you today because a new series started yesterday and it is on The Names of God.  THIS IS A PERFECT WAY TO FUEL UP TO BE READY TO ENCOURAGE.  We cannot understand what everyone is gong through, but we can come along side and lead them to the Lord and let Him care for their deepest needs.  Knowing God's many names, and studying His ways, equips us to minister to others - and our lives will be transformed along the way, too.  I have a hunch!

If you click on the word BLOG at the top of the Love God Greatly website you can get to a page with all the recent blog posts.  Or if you want a quick link, the Introduction Post is here.  The first post, from yesterday, is here, which includes all the Bible study materials at the bottom.  Also, there are many translations of the studies you can find here; perhaps you can think of a friend to invite.

I was not planning on doing it, but now that I'm typing this, I might jump on board, too.  Let me know if you decide to!