“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 NASB
I've been challenged seeing how much the Bible emphasizes the fact that it's not harshness, it's not the law, it's not threats of punishment which bring a person to repentance, deliver them from sin and make them more like Jesus. It's God's kindness, His mercy and love, His gentleness which keep a person walking in the fear of the Lord. It's His encouragement that keeps me from becoming hard-hearted with sin (Heb 3:13).
I remember times when I would see screaming little kids at the store throwing tantrums, and I would be tempted to think, "What that boy needs is a belt on his bottom."
Although I don't de-value the Bible's exhortations to discipline children (Prov 22:15), I see now that's not our Father's main and preferred method with us, to make us like Jesus.
The Lord is very slow to anger, and doesn't deal with us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:8-10). To recognize the Lord is that way with me has made me want to be the same toward others, to be easy on them, and repay them not with harshness but with kind and gentle words in return.
As a church we've been very familiar with Hebrews 3:13 in this regard (that encouragement keeps a person's heart from getting hard with sin), and I was blessed to see Job (who wrote before any Scripture existed on the whole face of the earth) say the same thing, regarding what keeps people in the fear of God and from sin:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.” Job 6:14 NASB
The despairing can be preserved, walking in the fear of God, if they have kindness and encouragement from a brother or sister in Jesus at the right time.
Encouragement is the best gift we can give someone else. Consider these 5 brief points about encouragement:
1. Encouragement is free to give
Many people search stores, shop online and spend money to try and show their love to others with material things. Encouragement (which is a much better gift that lasts for eternity) is totally free, and it's a lot more valuable! It can pass on an ETERNAL treasure to someone, which they keep forever... and it doesn't cost us a dime.
“Don't hold back when you have it in your power to give" - Prov 3:27
Matthew 6:19-20 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven"
2. You don't have to be a preacher
It's helped me to remember that it doesn’t require a complicated, or spectacular new word or prepared sermon or even a lesson from the Bible to encourage someone. What I took from the message we heard from Brother Sandeep on Sunday was, that even our physical presence (being there) can encourage someone and comfort them. Jesus said that God is Spirit, but we can be showing God’s love “in the flesh”, like it says that Jesus was God's Word made flesh (John 1:14). We may not know what to say, but at the minimum, can I just start by BEING THERE with someone? Anyone can do that. The Lord has given us two ears and one mouth, and I believe He wants to show, that to be present and simply listen is the first priority. To listen with sympathy and compassion is one of the greatest acts of love. "Be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19).
One thing that’s come back to my mind a lot recently was that when Paul was despairing, he said that God comforted him by the “coming” of Titus, not the “words of Titus”. (2 Cor 7:6)
That’s very freeing to see that even when we don’t have the right words, the Lord can still use us, if we’re just available. As someone has said, "80% of life is just showing up."
3. Encouragement can keep on giving for years, even after we’re gone
I remember people who took time with me that helped to lift me up at very critical times. I remember a time where someone shared a simple word of encouragement with me when I was a child, and those words have stuck with me for almost 30 years now! A word of encouragement we give today can keep on giving for a person's whole life!
A dear Sister my wife and I know passed away some time ago, and we recently found a couple of cards and notes she had written to us over the years. They were FRESH encouragements for us that touched our hearts, lifted us up, and challenged us seeing that that's what she left behind. She's resting from her labors here, but her deeds are still here doing God's work in the path that she left:
Revelation 14:13 "And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them."
4. Encouragement can be done in everyday, personal conversations
The Bible teaches us that every one of us should encourage (1 Corinthians 14:39 "my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy"), and we should each desire that gift. But most people are not standing in front of dozens or hundreds of people regularly to speak to them. Most individuals in the church speak to one or two people at a time. To me, this tells me that since the Lord uses every person in the church, MOST of the church is built up regularly not just from what is heard on Sundays, but from what they hear everyday - from the one on one conversations with a brother or sister in the church, from their spouse, children from their parents, etc.
Some of the most powerful things to challenge and encourage a person press on to Jesus are simple prophetic words in one on one conversation. I've been the recipient of some life changing words, that have radically brought me closer to Jesus. And many of them have not been in sermons, but one on one conversations. Don't despise the one-on-one conversations you have, writing them off as just valueless "catch up" sessions. We don't need to be speaking to thousands of people at a time to build the church in the most powerful ways.
Proverbs 25:11 "Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances."
5. An enouragement doesn't have to be long or fancy
I've been blessed so many times by someone sharing a verse and saying 4 simple words, ‘This verse blessed me’. To pass along a verse, and how it changed a life is one of the greatest encouragements. It reminds me of the blind man that Jesus healed. He told people "I don't know whether Jesus is a sinner, but I'm blind and now I see" (John 9:25). Today, unlike the blind man, we clearly know that Jesus was totally sinless. But like the blind man, there's still a lot we don't know - a lot of answers we don't have. But we can still share the testimony of power that God helped us with in so many situations where "I was blind, and now I see. I was lost and then God found me when He spoke this to my heart. I was despairing and then He lifted me."
Remember this: Most of prophecy is simply sharing of some problem I had, and how God helped me through it.
The word of power doesn't come from study only, but life with God. The blind man's testimony of "I was blind, now I see" was a million times more powerful (and also a million times more simple!) than him trying to explain Bible doctrines to the Pharisees.
With these in mind, I look back on my life with wonder that I haven’t poured into other people more with this free, easy, and simple gift which I can give to others - encouragement. But by God's grace I'm challenged to do better in 2021, especially at home with family during all this extra time we are having this season.