a publication of Life Action Ministries
Donâ€™t Stand Alone get rooted in relationship
Spring 2010 Volume 41, Issue 1 www.LifeAction.org/revive
CONTENTS COLUMNS 3
Spirit of Revival
It’s Time to Encourage by Byron Paulus
Go-It-Alone Faith by Del Fehsenfeld
13 From the Heart
30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
31 Next Step
The Source of Encouagement by Daniel W. Jarvis
Reader feedback and more
16 Viewpoint Interview with Bill Elliff
21 Looking Back
The Small Group
22 Hard Questions
Is Encouragement Always Positive?
24 Real World
A middle-aged mom has stopped feeling
passion for Christ or for holiness
10 Don’t Stand Alone
Tools to help you go deeper
28 Making It Personal
Apply the principles discussed in this issue
14 Hard Pressed but Not Crushed Dan Jarvis
18 Mentored by a Milker of Cows Dr. Walt Larimore
Executive Director: Byron Paulus Senior Editor: Del Fehsenfeld III Managing Editor: Daniel W. Jarvis Assistant Editor: Kim Gwin Creative Directors: Aaron Paulus, Tim Ritter Senior Graphic Designer: Thomas A. Jones Production: Wayne Lake Photographers: Nathan Roth, Joy Lehman Volume 41, Issue 1 Copyright © 2010 by Life Action Ministries. All rights reserved.
Revive magazine is published quarterly as God provides and made available at no cost to those who express a genuine burden for revival. It is financially supported by the gifts of God’s people as they respond to the promptings of His Spirit. Its mission is to ignite movements of revival and authentic Christianity. Life Action does not necessarily endorse the entire philosophy and ministry of all its contributing writers. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or pay our authors for content. We grant permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be photocopied for use in a local church or group setting, provided copies are unchanged, are distributed free, and indicate Life Action Ministries as the source. Many Revive articles are also available online. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. We do not share subscriber information with other organizations. To purchase additional copies of this issue, to be placed on our free mailing list, or to contact the editors with feedback or questions: Life Action Ministries • P.O. Box 31 • Buchanan, MI 49107 • 269-697-8600 • info@LifeAction.org • www.LifeAction.org/revive
SPIRIT OF REVIVAL
It’s Time to Encourage
It’s 5:00 in the morning. Bill and Greg connect by phone and spend the next 45 minutes sharing and praying together. They do this every morning . . . and have for the last 16 years. As influential lawyers, these gentlemen have a few alibis to justify quitting—busy schedules, client demands, civic responsibilities. Yet they refuse to cancel their “together time” with God. I wanted to know more. Sitting at a board room table, they shared how it all began with a 30-day challenge at the end of a Life Action summit. Although both were members of the same church, they had never formally met. During the summit meetings, God’s grace radically softened their hearts. Their love for the Lord and desire to fully obey Him was dramatically renewed. They both wanted this fresh passion to accelerate. On the final night of the summit, the people were invited to find someone at the service with whom they could meet for the next 30 days to proactively engage in the process of spiritual maturity. Bill and Greg met each other that night and decided to try it. That was in 1994, and they never stopped meeting. It’s 6:30 in the morning. My friend Dave called to see if we were “still on” for our regularly scheduled meeting. Dave is a successful ophthalmologist and one of the busiest men I know. But we made a commitment many years ago to regularly ask each other three simple questions: How is your money? How are your morals? How is your marriage? Since materialism and sexual immorality are two false gods of our age, we want a solid defense against these assaults from the Enemy. We try to meet weekly, and though we sometimes miss, we both realize that our connection is an indispensable component of fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose for our lives. We need each other. It’s 9:00 in the morning. The most significant revival in history was birthed as the Spirit was poured
out on Peter and the disciples at Pentecost. The “birthing room” (upper room) contained a close-knit contingent of men and women from various walks of life who were waiting “together” (Acts 2:1) for power—not ordinary power, but supernatural power—the kind needed for both personal renewal and fruitful ministry. In the days to come, the movement would be intensified, accelerated, and multiplied as the disciples continued to gather from house to house, devoting themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Is it your time? God still pours out His Spirit today in the context of community. In fact, after almost 40 years of teaching revival principles across America as a ministry, encouragement and accountability stand out to us as critical factors to lasting change in individuals, families, and churches. That’s why I believe the next great movement of God in revival will come as believers learn to encourage each other in prayer, faith, and obedience. As you read this issue of Revive on encouragement, my prayer is not only that you would be encouraged, but that you would take on the challenge of becoming an encourager. A revival of encouragement will pave the way for the sweeping spiritual revival needed in America’s churches. n
I believe the next great movement of God in revival will come as believers learn to encourage each other.
Byron Paulus Executive Director
.com Resource To read more from Byron Paulus, connect to his blog at LifeAction.org/blog.
INTERACT “Thank you for caring enough about me to send me Revive magazine. Being a new Christian and being in jail is difficult. Unfortunately there is little to no spiritual support at this prison. I depend on the Bible and magazines like yours to see me through this very difficult journey.” (James, Massachusetts)
“One Another” Commands
The New Testament reinforces the importance of how we treat one another by giving us more than 60 verses that illustrate how to practice Christian encouragement. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
Carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
Love one another (John 13:34)
Be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32)
Be joined to one another (Rom. 12:5)
Forgive one other (Eph. 4:32)
Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
Bear with one another (Col. 3:13)
Rejoice with one another (Rom. 12:15)
Teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
Weep with one another (Rom. 12:15)
Encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
Build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11)
Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
Spur one another on (Heb. 10:24)
Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
Greet one another (Rom. 16:16)
Minister gifts to one another (1 Pet. 4:10)
Agree with one another (1 Cor. 1:10)
Be humble toward one another (1 Pet. 5:5)
Wait for one another (1 Cor. 11:33)
Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
Show concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
Fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
Do you have comments or questions about this issue of Revive? Has God changed your life as a result of the truth presented? We enjoy publishing questions, responses, encouraging stories, and even critiques from our readers. Send us your thoughts. Write to Revive Editor, Life Action Ministries, P.O. Box 31, Buchanan, MI 49107, or e-mail us at revive@LifeAction.org. (We do edit letters for length and clarity. Please include your city and state.) If you missed our last issue of Revive magazine, you can purchase a back copy from our online store or freely print off the articles from our website at your convenience. Just log on to www.LifeAction.org/Revive or call 800-321-1538.
or years my wife and I have facilitated small groups for young singles, and the pecking order of their priorities is clear—achieving financial independence and private living quarters are at the top. Add a marital prospect into the mix, and you’ve just scored bonus points! This is more than the social posturing of twentysomethings. It reflects the deeply rooted individualism of American culture. Growing up well generally means becoming autonomous by establishing a career, securing your own place of residence, getting married, and having 1.8 kids—no help needed, thank you very much. But this definition of maturity, combined with the unprecedented affluence and mobility that supports it, has come with a high emotional price tag. We have reaped the reward for our hard-earned success: functional isolation. No longer “dependent” on anyone, we now bear the stress of life’s decisions, temptations, and problems virtually alone. Before entering the ministry, I worked as a mental health counselor. While I firmly believe that there is a time and place for professional counseling, the whole context of therapy struck me as tragic. Here were precious people being forced to pay large sums of money to talk to a total stranger about the most intimate secrets of their lives. I was glad they had come, proud of their courage to seek help, and thrilled to extend what care and guidance I could. But in so many cases I found myself wondering, Why are they unwilling or unable to share their struggles with friends or family? Are they legitimately afraid of rejection? Or are they simply embarrassed, strictly following a social code that tells them that personal problems should be solved “personally,” that it is weak or overbearing to push your problems on others—at least without paying a fee? Fifteen years later, I am more convinced than ever
that most people hide their real struggles, even from those closest to them, because they believe the lies of radical individualism. The problem is often compounded in religious circles, where higher moral expectations simply raise the stakes of admitting failure. A friend of mine calls the result a “go it alone” Christianity that has taught us to believe: I can handle it—I just need to get serious and try harder. • It’s weak to burden others with my needs. • Accountability is a “crutch” for those who lack internal strength. • I’m the only one who struggles. • Someone else should be vulner- able first! •
Most people hide their struggles,
These lies (and others like them) are so ingrained that they are automatic and often subconscious. But they all share one thing in common: They are antithetical to both Christian identity and progress. Here’s a shock to the system: There is no such thing as a “private life” in the way of Jesus. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Jesus always comes to us with a family.” We need invasive relationships characterized by humility, honesty, accountability, and mutual submission in order to thrive as disciples. Of course, invasive relationships don’t happen automatically in our individualistic culture. The prayer, input, and accountability of others must be intentionally sought and relentlessly pursued. But the Jesus way of life depends on it. It’s time to trade the myth of “go it alone” Christianity for connected life in the family of God. n
even from those closest to them.
Del Fehsenfeld III Senior Editor
n the heart of Charleston, South Carolina, stands an old church building. Bright
stained glass offsets the solemnity of heavy red brick. Inside, pictures of Jesus and other biblical figures etched in glass filter the light of the worship place. But times have changed. Church of the Redeemer has been transformed into the Mesa Grill. In the glass case that once announced activities and the weekly sermon, there now hangs today’s menu. Where hardwood pews once filled the worship space, upholstered booths sit among potted plants. Nachos have replaced communion bread. None of the patrons seem particularly aware of the incongruity of the place. What’s happened to Church of the Redeemer can be compared to what’s happened to fellowship in the church—we’ve kept the term but lost the practice. For many Christians today, the practice of fellowship is a lost biblical category.
Misunderstood In its neglect, Christians have redefined fellowship to mean any warm human interchange— especially when we make connection with someone and discover that we have common interests, experiences, or viewpoints. I enjoy the outdoors. Hiking, canoeing, and fishing are among my favorite leisure activities. When I meet someone who knows the joys of the Rose River Trail in Shenandoah National Park, or has canoed the rapids of the lower Youghiogheny River, or thrills at the first yank of the line signaling the strike of a smallmouth bass, our conversation is inevitably animated and friendly. But it is not fellowship. If I spend time with a brother in Christ playing volleyball, talking about shared political views, or following the ups and downs of an NFL franchise, we may have a wonderful time and deepen our friendship. But in none of those things will we have had fellowship. Let me press the point further. Fellowship is not (at least not necessarily) going to a Bible study with someone, or sharing doctrinal commitments, or attending a Christian men’s rally where emotions run deep and passions are high. Fellowship is not found in a “group therapy” session where participants reveal their darkest thoughts—even if everyone in the group is a Christian and brings a Bible. In fact, two Christians can be married to one another and still not experience fellowship. I have heard Christians complain that their relationships seem superficial and they don’t know why. What they often fail to see is that, while all Christians have relationships, not all relationships include fellowship. In fellowship God offers us a precious but neglected gift—relationship at its deepest level, available only to people joined to Jesus Christ. If that is true, why wouldn’t we want to define, pursue, and experience it?
Rediscovered The word fellowship, as it is found in the English Bible, is a translation of the Greek word koinonia. Saying the word aloud brings to mind our word community, and so it should, for at its root fellowship and community are about what we have in common. But there’s more to it than that: “fellowship” is not the only way to translate koinonia. Here the Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures can help. It translates koinonia as “fellowship,” but also as “participation” and “sharing.” (In the following verses, the words that translate koinonia are italicized for emphasis).
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy . . . (Philippians 2:1). And I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ (Philemon 6).
What is fellowship as defined in the New Testament? Just this: participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common on the deepest possible level of human relationship—our experience of God himself. Participating together . . . life and truth . . . sharing in common . . . human relationship . . . experience of God—these phrases capture the essence of the unique Christian experience of fellowship. Some, upon hearing this, might be tempted to get off the bus that takes them to fellowship. Relationships, even between believers, come packaged with problems. To pursue relationships is to open ourselves to hurt, misunderstanding, and inconvenience, for our relationships are inevitably influenced by sin. Others may think that fellowship with God is all they need. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach that God and his Word are sufficient for all our needs pertaining to life and godliness? Yes, it does. But the error comes in limiting the means God uses to help us apply truth to our lives. Only the Spirit can illuminate Scripture to our minds and give us the power to obey it. Yet the Spirit often chooses to employ other people as a means of communicating his truth to our ears and heart. He will of course use teachers of the Word through sermons, books, and recordings—but he will also use the ordinary guy in your small group! And there’s the rub. We can ignore teachers, close books, and turn off recordings. When we do pay attention, we can conveniently misapply teachings. But the people closest to us, if they’re doing their job in fellowship, are not likely to let us ignore God’s urgings so easily. We’re like the Israelites trudging through the wilderness, like the disciples huddled in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension, like the pilgrims on the Mayflower. The negative view is that we’re stuck with one another—confined by a desert, a hostile Jerusalem, or a stormy sea. But “stuck” is not the biblical attitude. Rather, we belong to one another and are called to help one another along on the journey. God has chosen fellowship to be a primary channel of life in his body.
Practiced Ever heard the phrase “a means of grace”? In theology, it refers to things we can do—such as pray or meditate on Scripture—to put ourselves in a position to receive something from God. Fellowship is a means of grace, too. It’s a way of getting to a place where God will meet us. So, what are the means of fellowship?
Worship God together. Worship is a means of experiencing fellowship with God through meditating on and declaring truth about him, giving thanks to him, and receiving a sense of his presence.
Pray for one another. Praying together, especially regarding the things that burden us and how God is at work in our lives, is about as close as we can get to experiencing someone else’s fellowship with God and knowing the qualities of their relationship with the Lord.
Utilize our spiritual gifts to help others grow in God. If fellowship is participating together in the Spirit, what more obvious participation can there be than to serve one another by using our spiritual gifts?
Carry one another’s burdens. We all have burdens, and we have a responsibility to communicate them— not just the challenges of losing a job or enduring an illness, but the inner conflicts as well. We also need to communicate the burdens of our fears, which are often embarrassing but can rule our souls. What a tragedy when the burdens of Christians weigh them down because they neglect to receive help through fellowship!
Share about our spiritual experiences. Since she was in high school, my wife has kept a journal of her times alone seeking God. It’s not unusual for her to read to me from it, and I share the same sorts of things with her. It often takes just five minutes, but it’s rich fellowship just the same.
Confess our sins to one another. This obvious source of help in conquering sin is often neglected because of our foolish pride. “Therefore confess your sins to one another,” James writes, “and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Correct one another. Paul writes that when we see a brother caught in a sin, we should point it out to him to help promote his restoration (Gal. 6:1). As uncomfortable as this is, it is fellowship. And if we are at first unsuccessful in winning the errant brother, Jesus teaches us to widen the circle of fellowship to ensure that the correction is accurate and the brother receives every chance to be won (Mt. 18:15ff).
Serve one another. Effective serving requires knowing another’s needs. Discovering these needs is often the product of fellowship. Imagine that a couple in your group reveals that they are experiencing unusual conflict due to neglect of their marriage. Fellowship may mean taking their children for a weekend so the parents can get away and work on righting the wrongs of their relationship. Doing any of these things will not automatically produce fellowship. True fellowship is a work of the Spirit by grace. But these “means of fellowship” put us in a place where fellowship becomes possible. When we fail to practice them, we forfeit the opportunity to draw on the grace that could be ours in our relationships with each other. n Used by permission. Excerpt from Why Small Groups? © 1996 Sovereign Grace Ministries, SovereignGraceMinistries.org. John Loftness is the senior pastor of Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland, and a leader in the Sovereign Grace family of ministries.
Aids to fellowship Ask questions. Get beyond the superficial “How ya doin’?” Most of us desire to share our trials, burdens, successes, and interests with others—all we lack is a brother or sister with a willing ear.
Volunteer information. Fellowship flows when we volunteer information about our internal state to others. The purpose is to gain their honest evaluation of how we are dealing with issues and how we can change.
Be creative. Hospitality is a biblical practice that fosters fellowship. But any contact between Christians—especially those in your own church, and most especially those in your small group— is also an opportunity for fellowship.
remind the folks in my congregation
that on any given Sunday, they could stay home and hear better preaching and more professional music on the television or through the Internet. The thing they would miss, of course, is spiritual interaction with other people—fellowship, encouragement, friendship, prayer. They would also miss critical motivators for their spiritual growth. And without a chance to practice the “one another” commands of Scripture, they would seriously jeopardize their spiritual health. [See p. 4 for a partial list of “one another” commands.] The purpose of assembling together is not just to hear from the Word or enter into worship; it is to encourage each other. Hebrews 10:2425 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” To obey this command, you have to take the step of intentionally interacting with other Christians regularly.
Of course, it is possible to attend church and never have to interact with other believers. Some Christians treat church as nothing more than a Sunday show. Others flee their own fellowship to “hide out” in the anonymity of a different congregation, or to sample the smorgasbord of programs that area churches have to offer. But by their mobility and irregularity, these believers really rob themselves of the primary context for developing deep, committed relationships with other Christians. What a dangerous course of action! Hebrews 3:12-13 warns of the dire consequences associated with those who neglect personal encouragement and spiritual friendship. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Don’t Stand Alone This text clearly teaches that if we neglect either giving or receiving encouragement from one another daily, we risk our hearts being hardened by sin. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. The macho image of the gun-slinging cowboy winning the duel and then riding off into the sunset by himself may capture our fantasies of self-sufficiency, but it’s a disastrous strategy when it comes to defeating real-life temptations and the wiles of the devil. No one wins the battle against sin and deception alone.
Gregg Simmons 10 LifeAction.org/revive
My guess is that you probably agree with me that such encouragement is needed. Why, then, is biblical encouragement so neglected, to the point that many of us aren’t even sure how to practice it?
Five Applications of Hebrews 10:24-25
1. We’re afraid of getting burned. Maybe we’ve been transparent with a friend or pastor before, and they betrayed our trust. Or maybe we are just unwilling to take the risk of exposing our real selves—our hurts, weaknesses, sins, and failures. Pride and fear cause us to withdraw from real relationships.
Meet together in small groups.
2. Technology has replaced personal contact. E-mailing, texting, and social networking are wonderful ways to keep in touch. But I think they have created a barrier to deeper communication, causing us to become uncomfortable with face-to-face encounters. We deceive ourselves if we believe we can maintain vital relationships through a screen! We lose the personal touch and eye contact that Jesus modeled in His earthly relationships. Our encouragement of one another becomes sterile, if we attempt it at all. Truly personal moments feel awkward. 3. Busyness has crowded out intimacy. For many of us, honest relationships take too much work and too much time. Perhaps we don’t recognize or value the benefits we will reap as we invest in spiritual friendships. Hurry is one of the biggest obstacles to intimacy. Close relationships won’t just happen—they must be prioritized. 4. We feel unqualified. I happen to have the gift of spiritual exhortation. For me, this sort of thing comes naturally. But there is also a gift of evangelism, and though I don’t have that gift, I am still called to witness. In the same sense, you may be out of your comfort zone to offer words of affirmation or to hold someone accountable. But you’re still responsible to encourage others. You can’t fulfill the spirit of Hebrews 10 or the “one another” commands without taking the initiative to pursue real, honest, personal relationships. We need a clear understanding of why encouragement is fundamental to the Christian life. Without it, I fear that more and more Christians will succumb to the cultural trends pushing millions to withdraw from regular participation in a body of believers. It takes energy and perseverance to commit to a body of believers and then keep on gathering with them through the tough times. It requires humility to risk sharing our real needs in order to ask for prayer and accountability. But biblical encouragement is not just a nice idea —it’s an absolute necessity. The writer of Hebrews leaves us with a major motivation to take this exhortation to heart: “the Day” of Christ’s return is approaching. Eternity is real, time is short, and the spiritual battle is fierce. To win, we need each other. Every day. n Gregg Simmons is the senior pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas.
.com Resource Listen to a message by our founder, Del Fehsenfeld Jr., entitled “Spiritual Pals.” Find it at LifeAction.org/relationship.
We are commanded to meet together for mutual encouragement and exhortation, not merely to sneak into a big church service and sneak out again. This is why I believe so strongly in a ministry of small groups within the church.
Avoid the habit of not meeting. Not meeting with other Christians can become habitual. If you are in the habit of only coming to more or less anonymous, bigger meetings of the church where there doesn’t have to be much personal interaction or accountability, resolve to break that habit this year.
Increase the frequency and seriousness of your meeting. Stresses and troubles and dangers are going to increase as history comes to a close. There will be greater satanic activity, greater evil, greater threats to your faith and love. That’s why we need to take this warning very seriously.
Empower others to love. Our goal for meeting should be to leave with more power, resources, motivation, and wisdom to love. And the word consider suggests that we arrive on the lookout for how we can specifically help other people get power to love.
Strengthen faith in the promises of God. Love grows on the taproot of belief in the promises of God. In every small group, we should endeavor to build the hope of others. Adapted from John Piper’s sermon “Battling Unbelief Together,” September 18, 1988. www.DesiringGod.org
Meet Pastor Scott He has the same challenges other pastors do . . . How can I relieve the stress of ministry on my family? What can be done to stop or slow the moral decay in our church and community? What can be done for our church families that are falling apart? How can I develop a culture of intentional unity in our church? How can I increase giving in our church? How can I deepen staff relationships?
Pastor Scott still thinks about all these things, just not as much. Thatâ€™s because he scheduled a Life Action summit in his church, and their gospel-driven message resulted in reconciled relationships, healed marriages, increased giving and volunteering, a spirit of love and unity, moral purity, forgiveness, and Spirit-filled evangelism.
To read Pastor Scottâ€™s testimony or to learn more about Life Action summits, visit www.LifeAction.org/summit or call 800-321-1538.
FROM THE HEART 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge
roverbs 31:12 says the virtuous wife does her husband “good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” Certainly one way to do this is through words of encouragement. Over the years, I’ve often issued the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge to wives. Here’s how it works:
1. For the next 30 days, commit to say nothing negative about your husband—not to him, and not to anyone else about him. 2. Every day for the next 30 days, tell your husband something that you appreciate about him; then tell someone else about it. The countless responses we’ve received from women who have taken this challenge illustrate the power of affirmation and encouragement: • We’ve been married for 43 years, and our marriage was dormant. I didn’t think anything could revive it. I was wrong. This challenge has made a huge improvement in our relationship. • This hasn’t been easy going for me. There’s a lot of hurt and anger and resentment toward my husband to overcome. But you have encouraged me to remember why I fell in love with this guy, what was so special about him. You’ve given me hope for my marriage. I may not be able to change my husband, but I can change my heart and my attitude toward him with God’s help. My husband is talking to me more—really talking from his heart. We still have a long way to go, but it is working. Every day gets a little easier, and some of that anger and resentment is fading away. I married a great man. I have just forgotten to nurture him in the day-to-day busyness of our lives. I love my husband.
• I am realizing that by me being so negative, I was the main source of the tension and stress in the house. Now that I am encouraging and expressing love, my husband has expressed, verbally and by his actions, how in love with me he is. Thank you for creating this challenge. It is a struggle sometimes, but worth the fight. • I never thought in a million years that such simple words could have such a profound effect on our relationship. • I began the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge, and within two weeks, my husband was making comments such as “Something’s changed.” “You’re more interested in me.” “Something’s gotten into you.” “You never told me that.” “Thank you for saying all those nice things.” I have had a true change of heart toward my husband. He feels it, sees it, and loves it. • At first, the thought of saying only positive things about my husband made my skin crawl! I thought, how sad for me to feel more comfortable bashing my husband to people than lifting him up. About halfway through, my husband said to me, “I have really fallen in love with you. I mean, I loved you before, but I really love you now!” I was blown away! • Everyone who is married should read this challenge and live by it—not just for 30 days, but every day. The rewards are endless.
Water the soil of his heart with words of affirmation.
What will your story be? The 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge will change you as you see your husband through grateful eyes. It may even change your husband as you water the soil of his heart with words of affirmation, appreciation, and admiration. n
Nancy Leigh DeMoss Revive Our Hearts radio host
.com Resource Adapted from Nancy’s radio broadcast on October 22, 2008. To take the challenge, go to ReviveOurHearts.com/challenge and sign up to receive a daily e-mail reminder for 30 days, each highlighting a practical way to encourage your husband.
“You know better than to ask me that, Dan.”
That’s the wry reply I’ve gotten on several occasions when I’ve asked Jeff, “Hey, how’s it going?” On his better days, he might retort with a smile, “Terrible. Thanks for bringing it up.” Jeff is one of the kindest, hardest-working guys I know. He loves God, and his commitment to Christ shows in his strong character and selfless service of others. But the last few years have held one dizzying discouragement after the next. Family relationships have crumbled despite his tireless efforts to salvage them. His job was downsized—and so were his hopes, after a promised job in another field evaporated following months of training. Then he broke his foot and spent weeks on crutches. Recently, his truck broke down. Again. But with every reason to quit, Jeff’s faith somehow remains intact. His heart to serve God beats strong and steady. And while I’d attribute the lion’s share of his resilience to the grace of God and the determination of this faithful man, he’s told me more than once that he couldn’t have made it without the encouragement of other believers at our church. Most of us know someone like Jeff—people who are in difficult circumstances and facing chronic discouragement. So I thought I’d ask him what has helped the most (and the least) over the past few years, in hopes that his experiences would help the rest of us know how to better LOVE the hurting people in our own lives.
HARD PRESSED, BUT NOT CRUSHED Dan Jarvis 14 LifeAction.org/revive
Listen. Jeff said he knows it’s unlikely that you or I
would have the “right words” that could solve his problems. But a listening ear is far more thirst-quenching to a suffering soul than a whole flood of sound advice. An encourager may need to just let someone vent—even yell or ask God “Why?”—and it’s still okay not to have an answer for them.
Open up. It’s been critical for Jeff to know that he isn’t
alone in his trials. But this has required some to be willing to take the initiative to open up their own lives and help carry his burdens. It requires energy and time and sometimes tears. But Scripture is clear. As part of the body of Christ, no believer should suffer alone, because when one part of the body is in pain, the rest of the body is affected (1 Cor. 12:26). For Christians, anguish is a community experience.
Validate pain. To Jeff, one of the most comforting
responses is when a person is honest and present. “I don’t know why this is happening to you. I don’t know what the answers are, but I’m here for you.” Reminders of scriptural promises or personal stories of the love and faithfulness of God in the midst of pain both identify with his suffering and strengthen his faith.
Express care. Finally, Jeff cherishes the many practical expressions of kindness he has received. He is especially grateful for the encouraging notes and cards, some even expressing how his example of patience in suffering has helped others. “When I learn that my trials have uplifted someone else, or that my life has encouraged them to keep holding on during their own difficulty, it doesn’t make me feel any better, but it does give me a sense of purpose in what is happening.”
For my own part, I’ve learned to be more sensitive to the pain that many people carry on a daily basis. My friendship with Jeff has taught me that I am “pre-programmed” to ask everyone I meet, “How are you?” without even thinking about my question. Instead, I now say, “Jeff, it’s great to see you. What do you have going on today?” Jeff’s journey through rough waters hasn’t ended; so ours as a church hasn’t either. But along the way, we’re learning together what it looks like to “weep with those who weep,” to come alongside dear friends like Jeff regardless of what life has in store . . . for all of us. n Dan Jarvis is the lead pastor at Weymouth Church in Medina, Ohio, as well as the managing editor of Revive magazine.
For Those Who Grieve Grief is personal, so what helps one person may not help another. Still, there are some things that are important to remember when encouraging grieving friends:
Recognize the time for weeping. Pain comes, and we must make room for it. Anyone who has suffered loss knows that there’s nothing predictable about the flow of emotions. This can be especially true in the early hours, days, or weeks after someone dies, but even months later something can trigger emotions causing grief to resurface with surprising intensity. Grief observes no schedule and is rarely convenient. Beware of being a “fixer.” People mean well when they address someone in grief. They want to help, to make their friend feel better. But sometimes words simply fail. A loving touch, a warm embrace, a cup of cold water often accomplishes more than advice ever could. Share memories. At appropriate times it is fitting and helpful to share with the grieving our memories of their deceased loved one. Whether our memories elicit tears or laughter, it will mean a great deal simply that we remember them. Understand the need to be alone. Grievers sometimes need company and sometimes need to be alone. If we’re uncertain whether our grieving friend wants company or not, it’s best simply to ask. They’ll appreciate our concern and know that we care enough to adapt, as best we can, to their needs. Stay connected. There is usually an outpouring of love and support when a person dies. It can be unnerving to a griever when caregivers begin returning to their own lives. Hopefully a few close friends will stay connected. This doesn’t mean that we always have to be physically present—just being on call if a friend wants to talk or needs help making a decision might be all the reassurance they need. Tim Grissom is the Senior Editor for FamilyLife Publishing in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1999 his wife died at age 41 of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). For more of his thoughts to the grieving, visit his website at www.HurtingForward.com.
Becoming a Community of Encouragers
If you made a Top Ten list of the greatest needs in the church, would encouragement even make the list? Revive spoke with Bill Elliff, lead pastor at The Summit Church in N. Little Rock, Arkansas, to discuss why the ministry of encouragement is vital to believers—and key to the mission of the church.
Bill Elliff Why should encouragement matter to Christians?
of believers is to plug in the hose of encouragement and pour it on.
Bill: The root of the word encourage is “courage.” If I am discouraged, I have lost courage. But Scripture tells us that we have the ability to infuse courage into another believer (Hebrews 10:25) by the grace of God, Word of God, and Spirit of God. That’s our role and responsibility as a community of believers. I was in a fire station recently, and one of the firemen was showing me his fire truck. (I felt like a 12-year-old kid! It was really cool.) He said, “We hook that big hose up to the hydrant, and the water comes out with unbelievable pressure. It infuses the truck with water, and that goes to the fire.” Similarly, believers have the capacity and responsibility to be connected to the hydrant of God’s grace and Word—to be pouring that out all the time on the discouraged people around us. First Thessalonians 5:14 tells us to encourage the fainthearted. That word fainthearted literally means “small-souled.” People come to a moment where their souls can’t handle it—circumstances are just beyond their capacity. Then the community
What keeps us from encouraging each other?
Bill: I think believers have had kind of a flabby theology about need. In general, American Christians are not comfortable with seeing ourselves as needy. But the biblical model for understanding need within the church is clear in Acts 4:32-35. It’s an incredible passage where the believers are selling their things and sharing with each other until—and here’s the statement that grabs my attention— “there were no needy persons among them.” Now, this was a church of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, in Jerusalem. Can you imagine the testimony, when a watching world sees a community of faith where not one single need is going unmet? What a witness to God’s power and love! But notice that this kind of opportunity came because of the existence of need. Our response to need gives us the chance to put our faith into action as we encourage in both word and deed. That’s why it’s time to rethink our theology of need.
How can a church become a community of encouragement?
Bill: Let’s take the whole arena of finances, since there are very legitimate needs right now economically. People are losing their jobs, their homes, and more. When unemployment hit 10% nationally, a friend of mine made this statement: “If nine employed Christians can’t take care of one unemployed Christian, our problems are bigger than financial.” I think he’s right. Our congregation has been wrestling with taking up the challenge to become like the church in Acts 4:32-35—one so giving that there is no more need. We knew of 6–8 families in our church who had lost their jobs, and some others who had suffered reduced income, but we suspected there were probably others. At the close of one Sunday morning message, completely unannounced and after we had already taken our normal offering, we told the people about the needs of these unemployed members. We placed baskets across the front of the auditorium and asked them to give as God prompted them, promising that every dollar would go directly to those affected by the economic downturn. Then we told those who found themselves unemployed or underemployed that we wanted their offering to be a willingness to receive from God and His people. So we asked them to come to the baskets, and rather than putting in money, to put in their name and contact information. We also gave anyone permission to submit the name of a person or family in the congregation that they knew were in this situation.
of receiving 8–10 names of families in need, there were 41 names in the baskets! Needless to say, our elders and deacons had a lot of fun the following week calling those families, assessing the exact need, and delivering every dime of that money to see those needs met. But I’ve got to admit something. It was tempting to worry, “Oh, boy, if we start encouraging the congregation to meet each other’s needs like this, we’re going to lose critical money for our church budget.” But this incredible experience of seeing the abundant release of love, joy, and the power of Christ’s community has made me wonder, “What would happen if churches all across America would take the risk to teach our people a fresh theology of how to respond to the needs of others?” That’s quite a vision of what life in the kingdom could be!
Bill: A lifestyle of encouragement is a powerfully authentic witness to the gospel, particularly for the next generation that is very suspicious of the church. What if when they came they didn’t hear, “You’ve got to give, give, give to us,” but rather they saw us meeting others’ needs, taking care of the poor, helping the community? Our life’s purpose is to communicate the sufficiency of Christ and the power of God’s love and grace. Encouraging others in practical ways, especially when times are toughest, provides us the opportunity to fine tune our faith and give an irrefutable testimony to a watching world. But that will only happen if we resist the temptation to hoard and to self-protect, instead trusting Jesus to mobilize us together to do the opposite. That’s what being a community of encouragement as the body of Christ is about. n
The giving was spontaneous, joyful, and instant. The baskets filled to overflowing. Normally, when we do an announced special offering, we might receive $5,000. But the offering this day was over $22,000! But here was the other surprise. Instead
knew I needed a mentor. I was busy with
my career as a physician—too busy for my family. My priorities were out of whack. I needed someone who would encourage me and keep me on track. So I asked the pastors who came through the hospital, “Who’s the one layperson you know in this area who looks most like Jesus?” When I heard the name Bill Judge multiple times, I said, “This is a guy I’d like to meet.” I called Bill and asked if he would mentor me. I was taken aback when he quietly said he would meet with me once and decide. Early on a Tuesday morning, more than twenty years ago, I shared with Bill about my life and struggles. He responded by saying he wanted to pray about whether we would spend more time together. (I felt like I was waiting for a medical school application or something, to see if I’d be accepted!) What I later learned was that Bill was considering committing himself to me in an unusual way, even getting up an hour before our early morning sessions to pray for me. Although his experiences of raising five daughters and nearly going through bankruptcy before committing his finances and farm to God were rich and extremely valuable to a
young man like me, he wanted to bring more to our relationship than what he had done. Bill wanted to teach me about the Creator, the Father God and His Son Jesus. He wanted me to understand what the blood of Christ and the resurrection meant. He wanted me to be indwelled and overflowing with the Holy Spirit. He wanted me to discover my gifts and to bask in the joy of seeing the Lord produce fruit in my life. So he wanted to pray about it first! When he called back, he said yes . . . with conditions. “The first is that we’ll meet at 5:30 in the morning, usually at Joanie’s Café in downtown Kissimmee, for breakfast. And bring your Bible.” Next, “The first Tuesday of each month, I want you to bring your checkbook and your credit card bill so we can go through them together. The second Tuesday, I want you to bring your schedule, so we can discuss the stewardship of time. “Before our meeting on the third Tuesday of the month, I want the freedom to be able to call your kids, Kate and Scott, so that you and I can talk more meaningfully about what type of dad you are.” (My kids loved those phone calls! Imagine trying to discipline your little boy, and he says, “I’m going to tell Mr. Bill. I’m going to call Mr. Bill.”)
Dr. Walt Larimore
mentored by a milker of cows 18 LifeAction.org/revive
It got worse, because before the fourth Tuesday of each month, he said he’d also like permission to call my wife, Barb. She looked forward to that week, and they often had long discussions about our marriage! “And when there’s a fifth Tuesday,” he said, “I’d like to be able to talk to your staff and your business partner. Will you give me that permission?” I have to tell you, I thought long and hard about those conditions. That’s where the rubber met the road, and it was a tough deal. But I agreed, and we began the mentoring relationship. Someone has said that mentoring is a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a push in the right direction. But for me, mentoring began as a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants! But I’ll never forget that first Tuesday when we were to discuss my finances. I was nervous, because there were some things I wasn’t too proud of. Bill arrived with a little satchel, and he pulled out his checkbook and credit card bill for us to examine. Instead of just requiring me to do it, Bill showed me what it meant to budget, give, and save by sharing honestly about mistakes and victories from his own life. That humility and transparency characterized Bill’s way of working with me. He has never asked me to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. His relationship with God was honest, vibrant, and fresh. And it changed my life. In recent years Barb and I have been on the road more and more, but Bill and I still talk regularly. The accountability continues. There are plenty of New Testament examples of mentoring. Jesus mentored His twelve disciples, and specifically the three. Peter, one of the three, then mentored Barnabas, who in turn mentored Paul. Paul mentored Timothy, and also gave the pastoral
mentoring Basics Here are a few principles for mentoring that Bill brought into our relationship: 1. He took me to God’s Word. We did not have a time together that Bill’s Bible wasn’t there and open. He lived the principles and promises in God’s Word, and he taught me their value. 2. He prayed with me. I don’t remember a time we met without prayer. Even now, I can’t call him on the phone from anywhere in the world that he doesn’t tell me what he’s praying for me—and of course he wants to pray with me over the phone. 3. He lovingly monitored my progress. With every three steps forward, there were usually two back (sometimes more!). Through all my failings, I could always call Bill and find a man who was willing to accept and encourage me no matter what. 4. He protected me. I remember a period when I was wrestling with some movies I’d watch on the road. Instead of judging me, Bill just said, “From now on, when you check in at the hotel, you have the receptionist call me and tell me that he or she has turned those things off.” I’ve witnessed some funny expressions on the faces of receptionists around the country when I checked in! But Bill loved me enough to protect me.
admonition to train other men (2 Tim. 2:2). Men mentoring men and women mentoring women—that’s how the church began and spread. Make no mistake, one-on-one relationships are costly and time consuming. And the difficult work of relationship doesn’t start in a church building. It starts at places like Joanie’s on Tuesday mornings. Early in my relationship with Bill, I asked God to give me one or two men I could pour my life into the way Bill was pouring his into me. The Lord gave me two men, the first people I had ever mentored, to meet with for a year. Eventually those men moved away, and I lost touch with them. Then recently, as I was teaching at Baylor Medical College, about fifty people came up to me as a group.
.com Resource Listen to a message by Dr. Walt Larimore and Bill Judge on the power of mentoring. Find it at LifeAction.org/relationship.
One of them said, “About twenty years ago, you mentored a man for a year. He then started a business, went to seminary, and started a church in our town. He led us to Christ and discipled us. And he sent us here to learn from you and to thank you.” I think that’s what heaven is going to be like if we’ll make the effort, like Bill, to mentor others. You don’t have to be that far down the road. You just have to intentionally get on your knees and say, “Father, would You give me someone I can mentor and pray for and love?” n Dr. Walt Larimore is an award-winning family physician, medical journalist, best-selling author, and educator (www.DrWalt.com). Bill Judge is a retired farmer and businessman who lives with his wife, Jane, in Kissimmee, Florida.
The Lodge is a place for pastors and leaders to take a break from the demands of ministry and find spiritual renewal and physical relaxation. Discover the many retreats at The Lodge by visiting
www.RetreatAtTheLodge.org The Lodge is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
The Small Group The eighteenth century was marked by spiritual revival, both in Britain and the U.S. The Wesley brothers and George Whitefield drew tens of thousands with powerful open-air preaching, resulting in thousands of enthusiastic believers zealous for their newfound faith. Yet this large public revival was sustained by small, private group meetings. John Wesley incorporated the new converts into smaller groups called private societies, classes, or bands that met weekly to discuss the progression of their spiritual lives. They were known as Methodists by their critics, because they were seen to be methodical and intentional in developing their spiritual lives. Wesley had been influenced by the Holy Club, a group of dedicated Oxford students who sought to improve their spiritual lives through specific disciplines. During the period of his involvement from 1729–1735, Wesley still didn’t regard himself as a true believer; but after his conversion in 1738, he would return to the small group idea, transforming it into a gathering where spiritual experience itself would become the main focus. Probably the most comprehensive manual explaining the role of these small groups was written by Welsh preacher and spiritual writer William Williams. His The Experience Meeting gives us insight into some of those early Methodist societies. He made it clear that they were not Bible study groups or preaching meetings, but gatherings dedicated to mutual encouragement in the practice of Christian living. Williams saw such groups as a means of • maintaining spiritual warmth, • strategizing against the devil’s temptations, • encouraging mutual love, • being spiritually and morally accountable, • providing opportunities for bearing one another’s burdens, • testifying to God’s ongoing providential care, and • enabling individual believers to present a united front against Satan.
Methodists had no time for an individualistic, do-ityourself Christianity. Wesley himself noted, “Christianity is essentially a social religion; and to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it” (Methodism and the Common People of the 18th Century, R. F. Wearmouth, 1945, p. 229). He believed that the visible outer life was a clear indicator of the health of the inner spiritual one.
The depth of honesty and vulnerability practiced in the Methodists’ small groups is evident from the questions drawn up for each meeting:
• Do you desire to be told your faults? • Is it your design to be entirely open . . . without exception, without disguise, and without reserve? • What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? What temptations have you met with? • Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
In the small group—with a mixture of spiritual advice, close emotional feelings, and mutual accountability—thousands of Methodist converts maintained the freshness and warmth of their first love. They refused to let their experience congeal into a mere memory of past encounters with God. They sought ongoing spiritual revival. n Bibliography The Experience Meeting, William Williams, Regent College Reprint, 1995. Kevin Adams was born in South Wales and has authored two books and a film on Welsh revival history. He is the senior pastor of East Baptist Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.
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Hard Questions Is Encouragement Always Positive?
All of us face times when people we love are in need of encouragement. But how do we encourage when their wrong choices or sinful behavior are the cause? Dr. Richard Fisher
fter a stern reprimand from my coach,
I cried out, “I could really use some encouragement!” He responded by quoting legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight: “Many have the will to play, but few have the will to prepare.” His words stung, but they helped me improve as a player. Many times since, the words of Proverbs have proven true in my experience: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (27:6). “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue” (28:23). Encouraging words aren’t always “soft and cuddly.” Sometimes the strength we need will only come through tough words calling us to hard work and discipline. The word encourage means “to instill, impart, or call to courage” for the purpose of reaching a goal or completing a task. With “en-courage-ment” comes the confidence and will to stand up, to act, to stay faithful. It gives us continued strength to do what God calls us to do. Encouraging words are the adrenaline of endurance, the building blocks of vision, the daily maintenance of hope. As I look at it, the whole Bible is actually a word of encouragement. Sometimes the words are affirming; other times they are challenging; sometimes they may even be confrontational! (For examples of different types of encouragement, read Psalms 1, 23, 73, and 150.) But whenever I turn to the Bible, I find a source of strength and wisdom from God.
There are at least four kinds of encouragement in God’s Word: nurturing, building, correcting, and protecting. The first two are the comforting forms of encouragement—perhaps those we naturally associate with the word. The other two are the tougher forms, often misunderstood and unused. But both “positive” and “negative” forms are needed. Valued friendship, good leadership, effective parenting, and godly discipleship blend all four types. The apostle Paul modeled how this works in his pastoral letters. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he assumes the role of a coach preparing and developing believers for a real spiritual contest. Notice that he uses both positive and negative encouragement, first urging believers to run hard for the prize of God, but also warning against aimlessness and lack of self-control that can disqualify them from the race. Similarly, in Galatians 6:1-10, Paul instructs believers on how encouragement should be used to combat sin. Here it has a twofold purpose—to spur people on in doing good and to keep them from walking down the wrong road. This passage illustrates what a healthy community looks like in action as we encourage a sinning brother or sister. On the one hand, we are to “restore” them gently and “carry” their burdens. On the other hand, we are to warn with the truth: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. . . . The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” Our call to be encouragers involves not just the
positive but the negative as well. There are times when we must hug, and other times when we must speak the truth— still in love, mind you, but perhaps not what the individual wants to hear in that moment. But this brings up an important question: How do we handle people who refuse all forms of encouragement? Sometimes people refuse to follow God’s Word, and they end up mired in sin, often without realizing their peril. Matthew 18:15-20 and Titus 3:10 address how we must handle such cases, where biblical exhortation is spurned. No matter what the outcome, our ultimate goal must always be restoration through forgiveness, and our ultimate motive must be love. If someone rejects admonishment even after walking through the process of restoration in Matthew 18, that person must then receive a very tough form of encouragement: They must be put out of the church community. Second Corinthians 2:5-11 suggests that our “tough actions” are meant to have a redemptive result, leading one to sorrow and repentance, and a protective result, preserving the purity of
the church. Even in the act of punishment, the goal is to encourage the offender to repent. Hebrews 10:24 challenges us to “spur one another on” to love and good works. Just as a rider uses a spur to “encourage” his horse toward the goal, so encouragement can assist us as we seek to cross our spiritual finish line. Spurring might seem harsh to an untrained horse, but to the seasoned steed, it is a reminder of the rewards of victory. As I recall those who have encouraged me, and review the ways they spurred me on, I am appreciative of both the comforting and the tough words, the hugs and the discipline. I know these all push me forward in my Christian life, so that one day I can hear the words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21). n Dr. Richard Fisher has served as a professor and regional director with Moody Bible Institute.
Three G’s for Confrontation Glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). You can glorify God even in the midst of conflict. One of the best ways to keep this uppermost in your mind is to regularly ask yourself this focusing question: “How can I please and honor the Lord in this situation?” Get the log out of your own eye (Matt. 7:5). Before you confront, ask yourself if you have had a critical, negative, or overly sensitive attitude that has led to unnecessary conflict. You must also deal with any sinful words and actions. An honest friend or advisor can help you evaluate yourself objectively and acknowledge your contribution to a conflict. Gently Restore (Gal. 6:1). Remember to:
Pray for humility and wisdom
Plan your words carefully—how would you want to be confronted?
Choose the right time and place—in person whenever possible
Ask for feedback from the other person, and listen carefully
Recognize your limits—only God can change people (Rom. 12:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26)
If an initial conversation doesn’t resolve a conflict, don’t give up. Ask a spiritually mature friend for advice on how to approach the other person more effectively. If repeated and careful attempts at a private discussion are not fruitful, and if the matter is still too serious to overlook, you should ask one or two other people to meet with you (see Matt. 18:16-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8). Condensed from “The Four G’s” found on www.PeaceMaker.net. You can link to this document at LifeAction.org/FourGs.
Real World Tired of Trying
A middle-aged mom has stopped feeling passion for Christ or for holiness. So many years of defeat and loneliness in her Christian journey have pushed her to the edge of giving up.
The Scenario I’m well aware that I should be holy, that I should seek God above all else, that I should, I should, I should . . . But I’ve gone down that road. I’ve tried really hard to do right and to be right. Yet for all these efforts, I still feel like I’m making little or no headway with my kids—they seem to be on the wrong road. And my husband? He’d rather watch sports and play video games than address the serious issues of our lives. I don’t see a way out of this, and it doesn’t seem like God is going to answer my prayers for change or revival, or even for a little joy. What have I missed here? I’m afraid my heart is getting hard. The things I used to care so much about— confessing my sins, reading my Bible, sharing my faith—I guess I’m tired of having to worry about it. Tired. Maybe that’s a good word to describe this. I’m tired of trying, tired of being good, tired of playing the part.
I have a dear Christian friend whose husband left her for another woman, after more than 40 years of marriage. Understandably, it left her with some soul-searching questions: “Has my life been based on a lie? Is this what I have to show for a lifetime of commitment? Were decades of loving and sacrificing wasted?” I bring this up not to compare your pain with hers. Each is excruciating in its own right. Rather, I want to simply acknowledge that uncontrollable or negative outcomes test our faith more than anything else. You are basically asking the question, “If I continue loving and giving and sacrificing, and I don’t see the outcomes for which I hoped, will it be worth it?” The apostle Peter speaks directly to this issue. He talks about the most beautiful woman in the world—a woman who perseveres through suffering because of her love for Christ (1 Pet. 3:1-6). He says this kind of beauty is never wasted because God sees it and cherishes it. But it is also so powerful that the best hope hard-hearted husbands and kids have for salvation comes through her. What my friend can’t see right now because of her extreme pain is the incredible woman she has become. She is gentle, loving, persevering. She is beautiful. God sees it. Her friends see it. Even strangers have stopped to ask her about it. Her husband may never repent, but “wasted love”? In the way of Jesus, there is no such thing. Del Fehsenfeld was trained as a family counselor and is the Senior Editor for Life Action Ministries.
The Key to Living I don’t want to be trite or “cute” with my counsel, but it seems you have “I” trouble. I hear over and over in your frustration the word “I.” The Christian life isn’t hard—it’s impossible—when I try to live it. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, has taken up residence within us. We have the privilege of allowing the indwelling Christ to empower us and live through us. So the Christian should stop “trying” and let Christ do the living. Right now cry out to God with your need. Tell Him you’re tired. Tell Him you recognize that you’re not very strong. But acknowledge that He is all-powerful and there is nothing He can’t handle. Then watch Him respond to you by giving you both the desire and power (Phil. 2:13) for daily living. Then our impossible life becomes, like a friend of mine says, HIMpossible. This is the key to living the abundant life Christ died to provide. Wilson Green pastored for 21 years in Virginia and Illinois before joining Life Action in 1999. He currently co-leads a Life Action summit team.
Remember Jesus So many of us feel like you do. Alone, guilty, apathetic, frustrated. During a trial like this, it’s easy to think that God has abandoned us. We wonder if it’s because we’ve done something wrong, especially because when we recommit ourselves to “being good,” we quickly find ourselves right back where we started. You see, Christians aren’t meant to spend their lives focusing on what they should do. They’re meant to focus on what Jesus has already done for them. When we think we have already understood everything the gospel has to say to us, our focus will inevitably shift to ourselves and our performance instead of Christ’s perfect life and death in our place. And this shift will do two things: It will rob us of love, the only motive powerful enough to engender true obedience, and it will make us demanding of ourselves and others.
But when we remember what the gospel teaches us, that we are sinful and flawed yet loved and welcomed, our focus will get back to where it should be—on Jesus. Those who live in the light of God’s great love for us in Christ will be impelled to worship God and to serve others because of what He’s already done for them. And then our life will be transformed from what we “should” do to what we love to do. The difference is Jesus. Elyse Fitzpatrick has been a counselor since 1989. She is the author of over a dozen books, including Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety (Harvest House, 2001).
Advice 1. Make a habit of reading and praying through at least
one psalm each day. Allow the passion of the passages to be reflected in your own prayers to your Father.
2. Win your husband over by serving him selflessly.
As difficult as it may seem to serve someone who doesn’t appear to grasp what you are doing, serve anyway. This is precisely what Jesus did for us, and it may be the best way to change your husband’s attitude.
3. Get plugged in to a women’s Bible study or small
group. If you’re going to stay strong, you’ll need the encouragement and friendship of godly women. According to Hebrews 3:12-13, the “hardening” of heart you feel is a direct result of a lack of spiritual, encouraging relationships with other believers.
4. Go on a mission trip. Without exposure to the des-
perate needs of the world, our own issues can feel overwhelming and discouraging. Leaving the norms of daily life to become a servant to others might refresh your passion for Christ and His kingdom. (Take your husband along!) 5. Ask a mature Christian woman to become your mentor. Having someone to share your heart with, and who can guide you forward on your spiritual journey, will keep you motivated to stay faithful. You could ask your pastor for a recommendation.
Resources Seeking Him Workbook (Recently Rereleased) Are you tired of trying to be a good Christian? Are you overloaded and worn out with church activities? Do you sometimes feel like you’re just going through the motions of the Christian life? Do you experience shame or heaviness more than joy and freedom in your Christian life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then perhaps God is calling you to something deeper. Maybe you’re ready to experience personal revival! Price: $15.00 (reg. $19.99) Product #56931
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Prayers for Change Seven Simple Words On a recent Sunday, I was hurrying down the building corridor when I passed an older gentleman and said a brief hello. He stopped and began to earnestly tell me how his very ill four-month-old grandson was in a large children’s hospital, where doctors were unable to diagnose his condition. As he finished sharing, I said simply, “Can I pray for you right now?” It only took a moment to pray, but God’s presence with us was powerful. We parted ways, trusting God to move in this baby’s life.
Can I pray for you right now? These seven simply supernatural words capture the essence of compassionate ministry. Everyone can be attentive and ready to speak them wherever the opportunity arises—whether in the church building, on the street, or in our homes or workplaces. And in this practice of praying for others, we sense God’s heart, we share His love, and we often find ourselves engaged in ministry outside the church service. A young man from our congregation was on his college campus when he stopped to talk to a distraught student and ended up asking, “Can I pray for you right now?” A new mom from our church was pushing her stroller through the neighborhood when she met another new mom. When her neighbor shared some struggles, she asked, “Can I pray for you right now?” Sometimes miracles happen when we pray for others. Other times, we don’t see any change, but we have still shared the love and mercy of Jesus with another person. “Can I pray for you right now?” are words that help us take part in culturally relevant mission as we go about our everyday lives.
Adapted from “Five Core Values: Seven Simple Words” by Dianne Leman.
Making It Encourage One Another: A Key to Continuous Revival The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the archetype of all revivals, was shared and multiplied as the disciples continued to “gather from house to house, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Practicing this time-tested model for relationships is still essential for continuous revival and Christ-centered community. The following exercise will help you assess how well you are doing with giving and receiving encouragement daily.
Do you GIVE Encouragement? Counselor Larry Crabb has defined encouragement as “the kind of expression that helps someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough.” Are you taking opportunities to provide encouragement to those around you?
Minister to One Another (1 Peter 4:10) Check all that apply in the past two weeks. Have you: o written a note of encouragement? o checked on the well-being of a friend, church o shared words of affirmation? o reached out to a newcomer at church? o invited someone to your home?
o taken a meal to someone sick or home bound? o mentored a less mature believer? o prayed with someone? o planned an activity with another family or friend? o given time or money to meet a need? o asked, “How can I help?”
Greet One Another (Romans 16:16)
Exhort One Another (Hebrews 3:13)
T T T T
T T T T
member, or neighbor?
F F F F
When at church, I approach and greet guests. I introduce new acquaintances to my friends. I regularly invite believers to my home. I make an effort to remember people’s names.
F F F F
I am involved in discipling another believer. I motivate people to reach their potential. I confront people going the wrong way. I encourage others to obey biblical truth.
Care for One Another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Pray for One Another (James 5:16)
T T T T
T T T T
F F F F
I visit or call those who are sick or shut in. I share my resources with people in need. I try to find out how people are really doing. I work at being a good listener.
F F F F
I often ask people how I can pray for them. I stop to pray with people as needs arise. I pray regularly with my spouse and children. I often pray privately for those facing struggles.
Do you RECEIVE Encouragement? Jean Vanier wrote, “There is no ideal community. Community is made up of people with all their richness, but also with their weakness and poverty, of people who accept and forgive each other, who are vulnerable with each other. Humility and trust are more at the foundation of community than perfection.”1 Are you willing to receive the ministry of broken people saved by grace?
Receive One Another (Romans 15:7) T T T T
F F F F
I’m just as willing to share my needs as I am to help others with theirs. When someone gives me advice, I’m willing to listen. I don’t “pick and choose” who I’ll learn from—if it’s true, I want to hear it. I include a variety of people (ages, backgrounds, etc.) in my circle of friends.
Restore One Another (Galatians 6:1) If someone pointed out what they thought was a sin in your life, how would you respond?
o o o o
Become offended and express it Dissolve into tears or walk away Point out the obvious sins in their life Thank them for their care and concern
Meet with One Another (Hebrews 10:25) T T T T
F F F F
I gather with other Christians regularly for worship. I regularly attend a small group for fellowship and prayer. I am consistently accountable to someone in my weak areas. I invite others to help me see my blind spots.
Do you FIGHT the “Encouragement Killers”? J. I. Packer has identified three common hindrances to biblical fellowship and encouragement. Do you have any of these symptoms? Self-Sufficiency. This sin announces to God and others that we are adequate in ourselves. Self-sufficient people usually ignore relationships until they hit a crisis and need something. Do the ways you use your time promote or undermine encouragement? In the last two weeks, have you:
o o o o o o
shared a meal with a friend? had a meaningful conversation about Christ? involved yourself with one of your children’s interests? listened to the feelings of your spouse? expressed genuine concern over someone else’s needs? spent more time with people after work than watching television? “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
Bitterness. In this context, bitterness is a sinful reaction to something gone awry. If ignored, it will poison your approach to others. Consider these manifestations of bitterness, and check any that apply to you:
o Unfulfilled expectations: “I’ve opened my life to them, and they didn’t follow up. I thought we would become close friends, but instead they spend all their time with someone else.”
o Offended pride: “Your correction was inaccurate, and I’m insulted that you’d even think I could do such a thing. I’ll never open my life to you again.”
o Jealousy: “Why is he the group leader? Can’t the pastors see that I’m far more qualified?” o Gossip: Telling someone privileged, negative information about another when the recipient is
neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. This breeds mistrust and bitterness. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Secrecy. Some people were raised with the rule, “You don’t talk about your private life with other people.” But there can’t be much fellowship or encouragement if you take this rule into your relationships with other believers! Do you have habits or heart attitudes that keep you from being honest about your needs? T T T T
F F F F
Because of my heritage, I’m naturally stoic and reserved, so I tend to keep to myself. I was an only child, so I’m just not comfortable with talking to others about my problems. I’d be embarrassed if people knew my faults—that’s no one else’s business! Maybe I’ll go along with this fellowship stuff—as long as somebody else goes first! “Confess your sins to each other . . . that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Quoted in John Ortberg’s Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, p. 29.
30 Days of Christ-Focused Friendship Regular accountability from other believers is critically important to spiritual growth. One way to begin this practice in your life is to ask a Christian friend to try a “spiritual encouragement” experiment with you for the next 30 days. Here’s how it works: 1. Pick a friend of the same gender who shares your commitment to follow Jesus. 2. Ask if you can connect daily for the next 30 days, in person or by phone, to talk and pray together about your mutual pursuit of Jesus. 3. Take a few minutes to discuss the blessings, questions, or struggles of the last 24 hours and explore together how God’s Word applies to the situations you are each facing. 4. Plan and share spiritual goals. 5. Pray for each other.
NEXT STEP The Source of Encouragement
love giving advice to people. It’s fun (maybe even a little satisfying to the ego) to be sought after on issues of great import. That’s when I get to stroke my chin, peer over the rims of my glasses, and draw a deep breath to bring forth words of great blessing for a soul in need. Or (more honestly), I can admit that I don’t know what the person is going through, how their problems can be solved, how their hurts can be comforted, or what decisions they should make. I don’t have the answers—but I know Someone who does. My job is to introduce people to Him, to remind people of Him, and to point them to His Word. If someone is looking down, I want to help them look up. God is the source of spiritual encouragement. When counseling friends in need, I often try to link their specific need with an attribute of God that meets that need. For example, • If someone is lonely, they need to grasp the
everywhere-presence of their loving Father. • If someone is afraid, they need to see the strength of the all-powerful Creator who watches over us. • If someone is heading into sin, they need to see the love and sacrifice of Christ afresh, or perhaps note the magnitude of God’s righteousness and judgment. • If someone is deeply in debt and discouraged about money, they need to see God as their Provider, and perhaps consider that God is sufficient for their joy rather than things. Every need that a human being can face is answered in the character of God! I don’t think it’s enough to talk about God’s character, however; we should take things a step further and show people how God has demonstrated His character
in the Bible. To a person alone, see how God comforted David in the Psalms. To a young person facing big choices about the future, notice God’s wisdom flowing through the Proverbs. To someone consumed with worry, read the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, or see the miracles God did to save Israel during the Exodus. Here’s some good news: If we point people to God’s Word for their answers, we don’t have to come up with our own. There’s no pressure to give someone a “solution”—we just need faith that, indeed, God is their Answer. Here are a few benefits to this approach:
1. If you train people to look to God and the Bible for answers, they may not need your advice again. (Bad news for your ego, great news for the person in need!) 2. You can become a better encourager simply by getting to know God better and learning more of His Word. 3. You can demonstrate to people that their first and ultimate need is a relationship with God through Jesus, regardless of their situation.
answer for any discouraged heart must be God.
Is there still a place for practical wisdom and sharing life experiences? Of course. And even for professional help? Sure. But the first answer for any discouraged heart must be God—His love, His truth, His plan. As believers who are commanded to encourage each other daily, this is where we must begin. n
Daniel W. Jarvis Managing Editor
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