Click here to go to the introduction post for this month's series.
Before continuing in the series, I want to take a moment to address something that's bound to come up: what if I am the one in need of encouragement? Thankfully, Larry Crabb and Dan Allender realized this question would arise and they dedicated a chapter of their book to it! Because, you see, as we commit to ministering to others, we're going to realize how much (perhaps more than before) we really wish someone would dedicate themselves to ministering to us.
Now, I'm a novice encourager, but as I have responded to God's call to "consider others," I notice pangs of longing now and then. Every day I check the mailbox to see if maybe someone has sent me a note to say, Hey, I notice you, love you, and pray for you. Press on in the faith. Don't grow weary! Eagerly, every day, I open the mailbox, folks. No joke.
Sometimes I get a text, email, or letter from a friend and, boy, does that lift my spirits and strengthen my resolve to minister, no matter what. I have super friends and family! But more often than not, (and rightly so), other people's lives are not revolving around ministering to me. My heart needs to turn not to another human, but to my Creator.
Crabb and Allender point out that as we commit to developing a life-style of ministry, we will experience periods of intense loneliness. Such times are not hopeless, however, because it is in those places that we meet God. Times of desperation are the times that propel us from knowing about God to really knowing Him. He comes and supports and sustains us so we can keep ministering, no matter the circumstances. Our dependency must be on no one else but Him. Consider this:
The character of an encourager must be strong. It must be molded and hardened in the fires of loneliness when no one but God is there. And loneliness - that surprising opportunity to know God - comes as we so thoroughly commit ourselves to ministering to others that we depend on God alone to minister to us. His ministry draws us into His very presence so that we can speak to others from holy ground. Then our words have power for good. Encouragement: the Key to Caring p. 60
God is kind, gracious and good. He calls us to ministry beyond ourselves, but also supplies our need beyond what we can imagine, in Himself.
Through your own hardship and need, will you trust God to meet you and continue to minister? Christ died, rose from the dead, and will come again. God's promises have been fulfilled, over and over. His Spirit dwells in you to lead you and sustain you in ministry to others. Saying God will be your help if you commit to the ministry of encouragement is not a trite Sunday School answer.
Again, let me say that God is kind, gracious, and good. Not only will you meet Him, He will also send people - when you least expect it - to say or do things that will build you up and strengthen you to keep on keeping on. I have so many stories that testify to this truth. He notices you; you are loved! Let's entrust ourselves to God and keep at this calling to encourage one another.*
*You may find yourselves in a situation that is far beyond normal loneliness that comes with a commitment to ministry. If you are depressed, do not hesitate to seek help. Your pastor, a close friend, or a professional Christian counselor are great places to start.