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Encourage One Another

1 Thessalonians 5: 11

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the track at PNG High School and watch the first graders run the mile. I got there a little early and found my seat among the other parents and grandparents all there to watch these little boys and girls run four laps around the track.

All of the children gathered on the field, stretched, were divided into different groups, and made sure their shoes were tied tight. The groups ran and the parents cheered. Rylan ran in the first group and when he was done he came and sat by me as we replayed every step and every turn in his race. After the scare we had this spring I felt so blessed just to be able to see him run. The fact that he would have beaten me in the race by several minutes was kind of lost in the moment.

When the fifth and final race started Rylan got up and joined the rest of his group. I thought they were going to head back to the bus, but what they did made my heart grow a little. You see there is a little girl in the first grade that broke her leg at the beginning of the year. The break was so bad that she had to have surgery, and was in a wheel chair for several months. It was big news when she graduated to crutches, and even bigger news the day that she walked through the front door of the school.  Eight months later that little girl stood at the starting line, ready to run her mile.

From the very first sound of the whistle to start the race, her friends and fellow students cheered for that little girl to run. You could tell that she was not ready to run so far, after the first turn she started to walk and the students continued to cheer. As the other students, who were a lap ahead, began to pass her she began to cry. That’s when the students in the stands began to clap and cheer even louder. Her dad joined her in her run and held her hand as they ran together. And when she was the last person on the track the students, now joined by the parents who were watching this whole event unfold, began to cheer and call her name. With tears running down her face she crossed the finish line in the waiting arms of her mom. The stadium erupted in cheers and applause for a young girl who eight months earlier was confined to a wheel chair finished had her race.

Encouragement makes us want to continue when we want to quit, makes us want to run when we want to stop, and carry the load when we want to put it down. Encouragement makes us want to be better than we are, makes us want to be what we were created to be. It was not a mistake that when the Apostle Paul began the difficult work of taking Christ to the Gentile world that God made sure his traveling companion was Barnabas, the son of encouragement. God understood the difficult nature of Paul’s trip and He knew how badly Paul was going to need to be encouraged to keep doing the work.

As we continue to look at our One Another Passages I want to draw your attention to three passages that are vital for the life of this church. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Hebrews 3:13 But exhort (encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

One more, Hebrews 10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

You know what it means to be an encourager? It means to do and say things that make other people want to be better, stronger, and endure. Last week we ended our time together with this thought. Every time you walk into a room your attitude says one of two things. "Here I am!" or "There you are." I hope this past week that people heard you saying, "There you are," as you greeted them in love.

Today I wanted to start with that very same though. Every encounter you have with people either builds them up or tears them down. You either inspire them to be better, or you provoke them to give up trying. Their encounter with you leaves them blessed or burdened. So how can we who are the children of God learn to be people-builders instead of people-wreckers?

It's pretty hard to overstate how important it is to be an encourager. The Greek word for encouragement is found 109 times in the New Testament. All through the Bible, the role of the encourager is celebrated.

Did you know that encouragement is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit in Romans 12:8? As a matter of fact, on two occasions the Apostle Paul sent a man named Tychicus to different churches for the soul purpose of encouraging them. In Colossians 4:8 and Ephesians 6:22 Paul say I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts. Tychicus was sent because he had the gift of encouragement. And we also see that Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica for the purpose of encouraging the Christians there.

The passage we read a moment ago in Hebrews 3:13 says that one of the ways we avoid being hardened by sin is through the encouragement of others. Encouragement inspires us to be better people. It softens our hearts. It lifts our spirits. It draws us closer to God. So how can we fulfill this important command? I want to make three suggestions to you today about how we can encourage one another, and I’ll start with the one that's hardest for me.

Be easy to please.

We tend to be tough on others and easy on ourselves. Few things are more discouraging to people that living with someone who can't be pleased. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Encouragement has to do with us having humility, gentleness, and patience with one another.

Trista and I went to a marriage seminar where a speaker told this story on himself. He and the family were gathered in the den to watch a football game. His wife asked the kids, "Does anyone want a sandwich?" She took their orders and went to the kitchen to prepare them. The thing that bugged the husband was that she hadn't taken his order. In a few minutes she came back with sandwiches and drinks for the kids and one for herself.

The more he thought about it the more annoyed he became. So finally he turned to her and asked, "Why didn't you even offer to prepare a sandwich for me?"

She said, "Because I didn't feel like being criticized."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She said, "Every time I make a sandwich for you something isn't right. The bread is stale, the lettuce isn't crisp, there's too much of this or too little of that. I just didn't feel like being criticized tonight."

Here was a guy who was in search of the perfect sandwich, and there is nothing wrong with that.  The problem came that in the process of that search he had alienated his wife. Every encounter she had with him tore her down instead of building her up. He didn't lift her, he lowered her.

Now I'll be honest with you here. Most of you only see me at my best. On Sundays I'm doing the right things, saying the right words, I'm being kind to older ladies, tender with little children, and generally just a very patient, loving guy unless your phone goes off in the middle of my sermon.

But my close friends and my family know how I really am. I am not always humble and gentle. I'm not always patient. I tend to walk around with a hand full of tools.

A tape measure to make sure everyone measures up.

I sometimes use the hammer of criticism to pound you into shape.

The sand paper of negative words to smooth out what I consider to be the rough edges.

The level of unrealistic expectations.

Too much of that and people don't feel very lifted. They don't feel very blessed. They don't feel encouraged. So I'm going to work on being easier to live with. And I believe that some of you need to do the same.

We’ll all admit that we don't like spending time with people who are hard to please. It doesn't make us want to be better people. It makes us want to find someone else to spend time with. So the first thing we have got to learn to be an encourager is be easy to please. Accept people’s best and be grateful for their effort.

The second suggestion really is like the first. Don't constantly criticize.

You know in reality we are not the brightest people. You would think after you criticize someone the third time for the same thing, it would be pretty clear that they aren't going to respond to that approach. But we keep on doing what we've always done, and in the process both you and they wind up frustrated.

Why don’t we try a different approach? Rather than trying to discourage negative behavior why don’t we try encouraging positive behavior? People blossom under affirmation. They wilt under discouragement.

Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. I know that when someone disappoints me or makes me angry, the first thing I want to do is to criticize their behavior. We all want to react to their words or actions in an emotional way. We want to show them where they were wrong. To point out how they aren't measuring up.

Have you ever stopped to think how effective that approach really is? Usually, not very. But we do it anyway. We criticize. Then, when they don't respond, we criticize some more. We say to ourselves, "You’re not as smart as I gave you credit for. I just criticized you, and you didn’t even have enough brains to respond. So I guess I'll have to do it again, louder this time, with more intensity and more emotionally loaded words."

It's like trying to fix a dent in a fender by hitting it with a hammer. The dent just keeps getting deeper, but we feel better. There is a place for criticism. But nine times out of ten, people know they were wrong. So instead of pointing out the obvious, instead of hammering away at what's already dented, why not try building them up.

While I was at Faulkner University I was feeling pretty invincible and I had been up to some sort of mischief. It wasn’t that bad because I don't even remember what it was now. At that time, Wendell Winkler was the chair of the Bible department and you knew pretty soon after you stepped foot on the campus where Brother Winkler though the Bible majors were supposed to stand. He was pretty much revered and feared by every one of us. He just had this presence, like when Moses came off the Mount Sinai.

A little bird told him what I was up to and he asked me to stay after class for a few minutes one day. He put his arm around me, and I felt very far away.  I just knew that he was going to open his mouth and out would come lightening bolts from heaven. Instead, he said, "Jeremy, I've been hearing some things about you. I find them hard to believe. That's just not who you are. You can do better, and I expect you to." And you know what? I did.

Last week, I told you about a greeting I received in 1991. Today, I'm telling you about a word of encouragement I received in 1993. Words, offered in love, inspired by the Spirit, aimed at the heart make a lasting impact. Now, I want you to do something to put this into practice. We're working on becoming a warmer, friendlier church. Let's also work on becoming a more encouraging church.

Today I want you to spend a few minutes thinking about someone who needs your encouragement. Someone whom you can inspire to be a better person. I want you to write them a note. You can hand deliver it today, or take it home and mail it. Let me give you a few suggestions to help get you started.

Tell others that you appreciate their hard work

Thank them for their service

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Encourage them in their struggle

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Remember how they blessed you once

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Tell them of your prayers for them

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Identify something positive about them

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Name their admirable qualities

If we will all do that today I know that hundreds of people will be blessed because you took the time to encourage them. Now let me give you one more way to encourage people.

Encourage by your example.

Words are indispensable and they are powerful. But a living, breathing example of encouragement is hard to ignore. Paul told the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed Christ. Behavior is contagious.

You either spread the spiritual virus of discouragement or you share the spiritual fragrance of encouragement. You either make people spiritually sick, or you bless them. I know you cherish your relationships, your friends, and your family. But honestly how you are affecting them? Do you make them want to be better people? Or do they care less about God when they are with you?

No one ever goes to their eternal destiny alone. You always take someone with you. You'll either take them to heaven or you'll take them to hell. The next time you are with the people you love I want you to remember that. Where are you taking them?

So this morning as we close, let me encourage you to come to know my Savior. Let me introduce you to my Messiah who understands where you are today, and will accept you, and love you, and help you become the person you so desperately want to be.  

 

Questions To Consider

Why is being easy to please important to encouraging others?

How do you like to be encouraged?

Do you find it difficult to encourage others?

Why is encouragement so important to the work of the church? 

How can encouragement stir someone up to holiness?

Give me five ways that you can encourage others?

Encouragement is vital in the life of the church. What practical applications can you find for each of the Bible verses below?

1 Thessalonians 3:2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,

1 Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

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

Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Hebrews 10:25 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.

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."



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