Sunday, July 31, 2011

Needing And Being An Encourager In The Church - A Mighty Ministry

From the very beginning of time God had designed that man should not be alone. We have a deep seeded need for friends, a longing to gather together. Alone time is desired occasionally but real loneliness is one of our greatest fears. We can have all the money in the world and yet feel absolutely poor without friends. Or, we can have no money at all yet feel absolutely rich with an abundance of good friends. There is a reason why Jesus birthed the Church; we need each other on this incredible spiritual journey. We especially need each other as we get older.

Youth are a fantastic bunch. They are full of energy, enthusiasm, dreams, ambition, know-it-all-ness. They are like my 8 year old daughter yesterday. Jennifer decided she wanted to go cycling with me when I announced I wanted to go for a picnic. It was going to be quite the distance but I wan't sure how far. It ended up being 57 kilometers and took us four hours. She started off with lots of enthusiasm and energy, biking ahead in great bursts of energy. I kept warning her that she needed to peddle consistently, even and steady because she needed to spread out her energy. Of course she knew better. But her energy and enthusiasm carried her for the first half of the journey.

Our youth are like this, with their own ideas and not always listening to the advice and guidance of wisdom. Often their enthusiasm and energy will carry them quite the distance but in life we can get banged up a lot. We aren't always wise when we are young. We don't always learn how to handle hurt, pain, and suffering. We enjoy the good times when the sun is shining but we struggle through the storms. We don't always hold on to friends as we stubbornly hold on to our independence until one day we arrive at a point feeling all alone, lost and banged up from life. The psalmist wrote:

Listen to my prayer, O God,
   do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
     at the voice of the enemy,
   at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
   and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
   the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
   horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
   I would fly away and be at rest—
I would flee far away
   and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
   far from the tempest and storm.”
 (Psalm 55:1-8)

These are the things we can accumulate from our living life until we get to the point where we want to run away from it all. "Oh God, rescue me from all of this. I'm so tired." We put such an emphasis on youth ministry and we should in order to try to get them some proper mentoring to avoid this problem in the first place, but the larger emphasis needs to be on the older generation, who need the encouragement now; encouragement to go all the way to the end, to finish the race. The ministry of encouragement is quite the ministry when applied to the older generation.

As I said, my eight year old daughter cycled 29 kilometers on pure energy and enthusiasm but it was the journey back that required more from me. Now that her energy and enthusiasm was spent it required some excellent encouragement to get her home:

With every rest stop, "You are an incredibly strong girl. Excellent work. I'm glad you are here with me."

With every hill we encountered, "Come on my girl, you can do this. You are more than strong enough to beat this hill."

At the top of each hill: "Well done Jennifer. I am so proud of you. Excellent work. I knew you could do it."

Every time she started to slow down too much: "Come on my girl. We are almost home. We are almost done. Think of that nice big Mr. Freezie waiting for you."

She did all the work but it needed a lot of good encouragement from her father, a man who was stronger and able to help her along. With my wisdom and experience we took just enough breaks but not too many. With the right words to spur her on she completed the entire 57 kilometers, which is a lot for an eight year old, going further than her older brothers ever cycled before, and she finished with joy, a big smile and (most importantly to a 8 year old little sister) bragging rights. Her enthusiasm carried her out but her companionship encouraged her home.

This is part of the purpose of the Church, that none of us would attempt this journey alone. We need to hear encouraging and kind words as we face the "hills" of life. After the enthusiasm wears off and the energy of youth has left us we need to hear that we are doing well. We often need someone who is stronger, not to lean on because that is God's place, but to tell us when we need to take a break, to remind us to refresh ourselves, to remind us of the goal. Sometimes we need to be reminded that "home" is just around the corner and we only need to complete the journey.

The apostle Paul saw encouragement as a constant ministry in the Body of Christ and wrote of it often, telling people what an encouragement they were to him. In his first letter to the Thessalonicans he told them specifically to encourage each other with words (1 Thess 4:18). He also told them straight out:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

We neglect the older generation but they are the ones who have often suffered through so much of life and have been banged up pretty bad. They are the ones wrestling with unrealized dreams and failed expectations. They are the ones who have sometimes become disillusioned with man's idea of God and are ready to quit the whole thing. They are the ones who have become exhausted from living and just want to be left alone. These are the people, the children of God, the followers of Jesus Christ who need encouragement the most, who need to be cheered home, who need to hear "well done", "I'm proud of you", "almost there", "you can do this".

Today, as we gather to worship, don't assume a person is doing well just because they are over 60 years old, that they don't have fears and struggles they have carried for a long time. Take the time to encourage someone  with your words. Befriend someone and make it your goal to be their encourager, their cheerleader, their travelling buddy and help them keep their eyes on the prize. It is an incredible ministry and you will be the better for it. May our worship today be an expression of thanksgiving for ALL the good things and people he has given to us. To God be the glory!

PS - This will be my last post for a number of days as I take some time to encourage and bless my wife and children this summer.

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