'Encouragement Guilt,' and its Remedy
- Monday, May 07, 2007
Unless we remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure [the gospel] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us,” we will succumb to discouragement due to our own inadequacy when we observe the enormous needs surrounding us. God wants to break apart our jars of clay to display the treasure of the gospel. That process showcases His power and not our weaknesses. This should give us great hope and help us move from “I just don’t know how to be an encourager” to “Wow! God really is using me to accomplish His purposes!”
Is there a way to encourage some people without feeling guilty that we have not encouraged everyone? Can we read the weekly prayer list without feeling responsible for every need? How do we know if God wants us to walk into a situation requiring special skills even though we’ve had no personal experience form which to glean wisdom? And how do we live the lifestyle of an encourager without being overcome by “compassion fatigue”?
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, we find some answers. This passage describes the Macedonians’ response to the material needs of the Jerusalem saints – people they probably did not know:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.
If we review the reasons for neglecting encouragement, we see that the ways to overcome them are in this passage.
1. Our own lives are full of urgent demands. The Macedonians gave joyfully and generously although in severe trial and extreme poverty.
2. We don’t know what to say or do, so we decide it is better to say or do nothing than to say or do the wrong thing. They did not merely give what they were able but sacrificially.
3. We give up when our initial efforts show no results. They considered the opportunity to help carry the burden of their spiritual family a privilege and begged to be included.
4. We are insensitive. Their giving was an act of worship in that they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to the saints in keeping with God’s will. When w give ourselves to God before we try giving ourselves to others, He multiplies our meager offerings and thus we have no reason to worry about how far our encouragement is spreading.
As we become more intimate with Christ, we learn to recognize His voice (John 10:3, 27), and when we respond to His prompting we will find ourselves meeting needs of which we were completely unaware.
Many of us struggle because we do not do what we already know is right. Chuck Swindoll wrote about this in the context of marriage:
Let me mention one more “cheap substitute” so common among Christian wives in our day. It is learning about what is right rather than doing what is right. It has been my observation that a large percentage of Christian wives know more –much more – than they put into practice. And yet, they are continually interested in attending another class, taking another course, reading another book, going to another seminar….learning, discussing, studying, discerning…and with what results? Normally, greater guilt. Or, on the other side, an enormous backlog of theoretical data that blinds and thickens the conscience rather than spurs it into action. Learning more truth is a poor and cheap substitute for stopping and putting into action the truth already learned. (Charles R. Swindoll, Strike the Original Match, Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1980, 72)
Perhaps we could make the same observation about ourselves. Some of us attend Bible studies regularly, but do we apply what we are learning? In his exhortation to the Philippians to press on toward the goal of maturity in Christ, Paul said, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16).
Or, in the words of the well-known sports company Nike: “Just do it!” Just do what God tells you to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Sharon W. Betters, Treasures of Encouragement, Women Helping Women in the Church, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995, 106-109. To order visit www.markinc.org
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