We are commanded, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). But what does it mean to practically look out for the interests of others?
It’s easy to think, “I have to stay alert so that I’m aware of any needs that might arise,” and we immediately go to material, temporal needs. And it is true, we should be alert to one another’s temporal concerns. But do we know that every single person in our church is in danger every single day, spiritually speaking?
“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 NASB
This verse shows us both the danger, and the solution:
There’s a spiritual lion ALWAYS LURKING at the door, crouching at the door, and its desire is for you and for me — its name is discouragement. The Holy Spirit calls it an EVIL HEART that can crop up in any one of the brethren.
It is good if I have seen that danger for myself. I must. But have I allowed the Lord to so mold my heart with His love that I am aware of this danger, this lion, that lurks in the shadows of every dear brother and sister’s heart? And am I committed to the most precious ministry the Lord has entrusted to me for this daily ambush?
Defeating the Lion
When we think of an evil, unbelieving heart, what ministry comes to mind as the one that the Lord has appointed to combat it? We can think of an anointed teacher, or perhaps of praise, etc.
But look at what God’s Word says it is: it’s the ministry of encouragement. Are you ready to sign up for the “encouragement team”?
I fear that I value encouragement far too little. Is it as exciting as sharing on Sunday morning? Does it receive as much attention in my own preparation and prayers?
And what if no one ever knows? It’s so easy to be drawn to and place value upon the ministries that others see. But the ministry of encouragement is often private. Who is the person I actually have the opportunity to encourage every single day? My spouse!
I remember a few years back, one brother said in a private meeting, “I want to be my wife’s biggest encourager.” That floored me!
I thought I loved my wife, but I had never thought like that. I realized then that I had wrongly assumed it was someone else’s job! But the Lord convicted me through that brother: ministry starts in my home! And lion slaying begins at home.
Another person I actually have the opportunity to encourage every single day is my kids!
I remember once Brother Zac pointed out how the ratio of the Lord’s favor to His judgment is 365:1 (Isaiah 61:2), and he then said something I hope I never forget: “that should the ratio of encouraging:correcting your children in your home.”
That floored me! I’ve always taken correction so seriously — and I don’t want to ease up one bit on that responsibility — but what challenged my heart is, as seriously as I absolutely know I should take correction, do I take encouragement 365x more seriously? Do I even treat it 2x as seriously? Do I even treat encouragement AS seriously as I treat correction?
What do the answers to these questions demonstrate?!? That I take this ministry so lightly!!! I value the ministry of seeking to encourage others far too lightly.
But it’s THE MINISTRY that the Lord has appointed to drive away the daily danger my family faces.
The Command to “Consider”
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,”
Hebrews 10:24 NASB
We have here a very solemn command, to give attention to the needs of others. Will I be as diligent to seek opportunities to encourage others as I am to prepare for midweek groups, or for a Sunday service?
I want to take this command seriously!
If we really take this seriously, what will be the proof? That we are diligent to forward sermons, verses, WhatsApp messages, etc?
I don’t think so.
“(God) comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
2 Corinthians 1:4 NASB
I think the proof that we take encouraging others seriously is that we treat our own daily trials as the precious means by which the Lord strengthens us, and diligently seek the Lord in our own needs privately. We consider our own circumstances and trials in the light of God’s purpose for His body. This is the only way God can equip us to be encouraging to others.
If I do not seek God diligently in private for my own comfort in my own afflictions, then I will have nothing for my brothers and sisters. If I’m running away from every difficulty, resenting every affliction, and grumbling at every inconvenience, then the Lord will never entrust the precious ministry of encouragement to me. When it comes time to “consider how to stimulate one another,” I’ll drop the bucket in the well and find the well is empty.
The ONLY WAY the Lord can fill the well to bless others through my life is as I take up the cross privately, if I humble myself under His mighty hand in the circumstances He has appointed, and if I seek Him for the strength and power He longs to give me.
No Circumstance Beyond God’s Power
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;”
2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB
I believe that many of us may be missing our ministries — especially the ministry of encouragement — because we are blaming some circumstance. “If only xyz weren’t this way, I’d be able to minister to others.”
Dear brother, sister, with an attitude like that, we will never minister life to others. As we heard the quote recently, “had any other condition been better for you than the one you are in today, divine love would have placed you there.”
The present difficulties we are facing aren’t keeping us from a ministry; they are God’s appointed means of equipping us for ministry. I thought of the example of John Wesley, how his wife was so difficult to him, and seemingly hindered him. But she didn’t at all!
When we learn of the difficulties he faced at home, we can think, “Wow! He did all that he did in his life despite such a rotten home life? Imagine what he could have done with peace! With a supportive help-meet!”
But that’s wrong. The correct way to see that situation is, “Wow, Lord! I bet the enemy thought he won when he influenced John Wesley’s wife to be so difficult. Little did he know that he was equipping John Wesley to be more fruitful, more understanding, more compassionate, more long suffering....”
John Wesley didn’t have a ministry despite of his wife; he had a ministry in part because of his willingness to humble himself in that circumstance which God had appointed, and diligently seeking God for comfort in it.
And it’s the same with all of us: we have to stop looking at that circumstance or hindrance or annoyance or disappointment as the thing which holds us back.
It’s the thing that’s meant to drive us to the throne of grace, to find HELP and STRENGTH, that our wells might be full for other thirsty ones.
Every day requires this well-filling and well-emptying. That is in fact the definition of a RIVER (the very promise of our Lord Jesus, “rivers of living water flowing from your innermost being”): a river is always being filled and always being emptied.
The filling of our wells and rivers is found as we go to God in our afflictions for the comfort He longs to give, and the emptying of our wells and rivers is found as we are diligent to consider how to stimulate one another, so that none will be devoured by the lion of discouragement.