Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

January 31, 2004

I've just read a wonderful little book by Calvin Miller, Called The Power of Encouragement. As my loyal readers well know, I've been thinking a lot about encouragement lately. It is among the Spiritual gifts listed by Paul in Romans 12. But it is the one among them that we most often take for granted. We may think a lot about teaching, or prophesy, or mercy, and we recognize those who clearly have that gift. Much thought, much ink, much prayerful longing, has been devoted to these gifts. But encouragement? Everyone knows what that is, and everyone agrees that it's a good thing, and of course we all try to be encouragers, right? So what's there to think about?

But I've been wondering if we're not short-selling one of the Father's most important and fundamental gifts. So I decided to do a little admittedly un-scientific research. A keyword search in produced some interesting results. Plenty of encouraging books, but only a few that were really about encouragement. Switching over to Books in Print (hey, I'm a librarian, after all), I did find a few more, but I also discovered something else. Books in Print includes each book's subject heading, which is assigned by the Library of Congress. BIP lists 269 books under the subject heading "PROPHECY--CHRISTIANITY." All well and good, but when I tried "ENCOURAGEMENT--CHRISTIANITY," nothing!

Well then, Miller's book appears to be one of the few. Not a text-book, not a hermeneutical study, not a solemn Biblical tome, but a little book intended to encourage encouragement! In fact, here's a book so short that I was able to read it aloud to my wife one evening, with only a few stops along the way for sips of water. Miller's fundamental presumption is that we can all encourage. He says it's our commission from the Lord. "Use your life to build others up! Each affirming act or word must issue from our need to be like Jesus. Each time we bless a hurting soul, we act as good stewards of Christ’s love, so freely given to us. Our encouraging words are kudos from our King. They are a serum of grace for the plague of self-loathing. We can and should do something to help color our drab world with beauty and truth. We are sent to demonstrate to our isolated world that God has not left it friendless."

Miller proceeds to lay out a simple 3-step blueprint for understanding encouragement.

    Holy Involvement. "We must learn the art of seeing inside the needy without violating their sacred inwardness."

    Diagnosis. "What does this person need me to say right now to heal or give hope?"

    Playing the Role of Christ. "The giving of the Bold Blessing."

Miller's Biblical example of all this is, of course, Jesus. Specifically, His dealing with the woman at the well at Sychar, John 4.

First, the holy involvement: Jesus speaks to a woman to whom, according to the lights of that cultural moment, He should not have been speaking. Even she is astounded that He, a Jew, should be asking her for water.

Next, the diagnosis. Jesus is able to see into this woman and understand the root of her isolation: at both the level of the personal (v.16), and of the spiritual (v.21).

Finally, the blessing. He offers her that which will change her life forever (v.26).

The Power of Encouragement is by no means the last word on this subject, but it is not a bad starting point. And it is, in its own right, a beautifully encouraging book.


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