Have you ever noticed that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs and craves encouragement? And have you noticed that it's the devil's scheme to discourage you. Let me say that again: the devil's scheme is to discourage you and discourage you and discourage you, by one means and then another, relentlessly, stealthily, by one lie after another, until you finally live in a climate of discouragement, with despair looming ominously in the distance.
Long time readers will remember that I blogged at length about encouragement, back in the early days of Mr. Standfast (all those months ago). I'd gotten it into my head that I was going to be an encourager. That encouragement was my gift. Right about then God started sending people into my life who desperately needed encouragement. As if to say, "Okay, fella. Give it a go."
Hmmm. What I discovered was that encouragement is not always easy. There are people, believers, who just can't seem to receive the good news of freedom and grace. It could be they're just plain frightened, like Peter when he looked down at the water. Or perhaps they're in a kind of bondage to lies that were spoken into their lives long ago, and that they can't even identify now, but that keep them in a state of hopelessness.
The fact is, the reasons why are legion, but the truth is one. The reasons are monumental, imposing, overwhelming, but the truth is the intimate voice of one who loves you with an eternal love. In other words, we think way too much of the lies. We think too much of the discouragements. We think too much of the chains. And too little, far far too little, of the the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Back when I walked in darkness, I didn't even know how dark it was. I didn't know how close to the precipice I was walking. I didn't need encouragement, because I had convinced myself that I was a paragon of self-sufficiency. And that's one of those devilish lies, of course. It leads inevitably to discouragement. And it works like a charm.
But the point is, when I came into the light, when I finally knew how dark was my darkness, I learned that I needed help. I needed, craved, encouragement. A strong hand. Because I saw that often, in my words and my deeds I was drawing dangerously close to that same old precipice again. Which is why a heartfelt cry for help is one of the best and purest prayers anyone can offer up.
What am I getting at? Believers, maybe even especially believers, need encouragement. Sometimes, desperately. This is a crucial part of my view of the church--believers helping each other along the narrow way. God has put you beside another today, at your particular place on the path, so that you can offer the strong hand of love and encouragement to that person. I want to live this, and I want to be around other people who are willing to live it too.
I've been going on about brokenness lately (ad infinitum, some might say). And I think these two matters are closely related--brokenness and encouragement. When we have experienced the strength of God in our own brokenness, we can speak authentically about that strength to others in their brokenness. Also, knowing and confessing our brokenness, we can finally accept the encouragement of others. We can trust it. Walk in it. Thanking God because it's him loving us--it's always him loving us--through people.
Here's how Henri Nouwen draws the same connection:
Jesus is given to the world. He was chosen, blessed, and broken to be given. Jesus' life and death were a life and death for others. The Beloved Son of God, chosen from all eternity, was broken on the cross so that this one life could multiply and become food for people of all places and all times.
As God's beloved children we have to believe that our little lives, when lived as God's chosen and blessed children, are broken to be given to others. We too have to become bread for the world. When we live our brokenness under the blessing, our lives will continue to bear fruit from generation to generation. That is the story of the saints: they died, but they continue to be alive in the hearts of those who live after them - and it can be our story too.