33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?

24. Aspiring to Encourage

Aspiring Meditations: 24.  Aspiring to Encourage

Rom 15:4,5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,”

1 Cor 14:3 everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

1 Thess 5:11   Therefore encourage one another and build each other up

Heb 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.

This is another of those words that I’ve not just noticed in a list, but a word that has been with me a long time as a vital and essential requirement in today’s church and therefore a word worthy of our investigation in this ‘aspiring’ series.

What does it mean? Again my dictionary includes the following: Encouragement = to give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten, to give support to; be favorable to; foster; help.  Don’t we all need that? Don’t my brothers and sisters in Christ need that?

Our starting point as so often is God Himself. In Rom 15 above, Paul says God gives us encouragement. To the Thessalonians he said, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thess 2:16,17) That’s interesting. Eternal encouragement? Perhaps that means we are encouraged when we see God has a plan formulated from before the Creation that stretches into eternity, a plan to bless us, a plan to make us His children and to take us to be with Him in eternity. But that verse also shows us the outworking of encouragement – to strengthen us in word and deed.

I always find significant Paul’s words in 1 Cor 14:3 “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”  If you prophesy you bring a word from God and Paul says such a word will strengthen, encourage and comfort, so that is always God’s intent for His children.  There are two prayers I find the Lord answers so speedily, the prayer for wisdom and the prayer for encouragement. I have lost count of the number of times I felt worn in the battle and asked the Lord for some sort of encouragement. A little while back I felt the need of it and cried out for it and in the next couple of days had contacts from people in Australia, the USA and the south of England, people I’ve never heard of before, but the Lord clearly prompted them to contact me with expressions of encouragement. How wonderful He is!

Flowing on from that, we see that some people are especially gifted in the ability to encourage others: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us….if it is encouraging, let him encourage.” (Rom 12:6,7) But having said that the bulk of the New Testament teaching is for us all to encourage one other, but it starts with Him.

So if He encourages us, it is no surprise that in His word He encourages us to encourage one another (note the double – he encourages so that we may encourage). We have the word above from Hebrews 10 to encourage one another, especially because of the days in which we live, days that Jesus said would have many upsetting things happening. It is often a worrying world and the fact that we have an enemy means that life is not always easy and that means that we often need encouraging. The writer to the Hebrews also said, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb 3:13) i.e. our loving encouragement may keep others from giving in to temptation and sinning. Our encouragement of one another may act as protection as well as strengthening.

For the leader, encouragement is to be one of the things we naturally do for the flock: Encourage and rebuke with all authority.” (Titus 2:15) It is always a twofold ministry – one of correcting and challenging but also one of building up, comforting and encouraging. Again Paul instructed Timothy in his leadership role, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2) Again note the balance of correcting and encouraging. Correcting puts right wrong thoughts from the past, encouraging envisions and lifts us up to press on into the future.

How often do you leave church on a Sunday morning feeling, “That was a really great morning”?  Most Sundays I hope (be real, it won’t be every single Sunday). But what is it the contributes to such a feeling?  The worship? The preaching? The fellowship? How about the fact of being encouraged by another member or maybe, the fact that you were able to encourage someone else?  I go into church these days praying, “Lord, let me be a blessing to this people. Give me one, two or three people who I can specifically encourage.”  If the Lord answers that prayer (and we go looking to answer it), he will give us things to say to one another that does give courage, hope, or confidence to; embolden; hearten, to give support to others and therefore when we all leave, our encouraging others will be one of the ways the Lord strengthens the body, and people leave walking tall and feeling good, strengthened for the battles of the week ahead.

What potential we have. So how do we encourage others? First of all, look and listen. Around us, whenever we gather as the people of God there will be those worn down by the battles of last week, whether in the family, at work or in college, or maybe battles in the mind as the enemy seeks to sow doubts, discord, disappointments and discouragement generally. Ask the Lord to let you see something good about that person’s life and share it with them. If you are a more bold charismatic or Pentecostal, ask the Lord to give you a specific word of detail for them that will encourage.

I know a lady who has a lovely gifting whereby she gets a picture of someone, perhaps say a lady in a green coat, and the Lord says, “when she comes around the corner in front of you, stop her and tell her I love her and I understand what she is going through and if she will let me. I will help her.” And, lo and behold, the lady with the green coat comes around the corner. The God of encouragement! You and I may not have that particular gifting but we can bless one another with simple encouragement. Oh yes, this is definitely one to be added to the list of things to which I want to aspire more.

41. False Comforters

Meditations in Job : 41.  False Comforters

Job 16:2   I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!

Comfort, in modern usage, is normally about having nice things in our homes. We don’t tend to speak about comforting another unless it is in respect of a small child, yet the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as the Comforter in older versions, or the Counsellor in more modern versions, for a counsellor is simply someone who brings comfort. The psalmist wrote, May your unfailing love be my comfort,” (Psa 119:76). Knowing the God is a God of love and that all He does for us is an expression of His love, is a comfort to us. We need comforting when we are in worrying or difficult circumstances, and in a fallen world, that is quite often! Here is Job sitting in total misery (if you have forgotten, go back and read his earlier anguish in chapter 3) and in dire need of comfort. We have travelled this path before but it bears treading again. When you are in such a place what is it you want? Comfort! Well, yes, but what does that really mean? You want understanding acceptance, you want your friend to lift and encourage you with words that help. The last thing you want is words that condemn or judge, but that is what Job has been receiving!

Thus now as he responds to Eliphaz’s last outpouring, his first response is not to reply to the judgement but to express what he feels about these three ‘friends’. (We sometimes say, “With friends like that, who needs enemies!”)  What does he call them? Miserable comforters! That’s right, go for it, Job, you tell them! He’s been waiting for a simple word of encouragement and all he has received from them have been long rambling tirades! Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (v.3a). He despairs that they seem to go on and on. He wonders what is wrong with them: “What ails you that you keep on arguing?” (v.3b). It’s like he says, “What is it with you guys that you just have to keep on and on at me. Why can’t you stop?”

But then he thinks what it would be like if the boot were on the other foot, if it were him in their position and they were in his: “I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.” (v.4). Yes, anyone can make fine sounding words when they are feeling fit, healthy and secure; that is easy! But, he goes on, I wouldn’t do that to you! “But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (v.5).  I wouldn’t want to just go on at you; I would want to encourage, comfort and somehow bring you some relief if I could.

This little passage thus challenges us once again on the sort of people we are. I Have noticed that there are some people who just want to be strengthened and confirmed in their state of discouragement, and so they go and find others who they know are the same and the two of them groan together about how bad the world is, and go away conformed in their belief that life is bad and people are nasty and as for God….!  Those sort of people, it seems don’t want to be lifted and encouraged because if they were it would mean that they would have to take responsibility for their lives and for others around them, and they don’t want that.

But there are others who simply have low self-esteem because of the hard knocks of life, and although it may be a long, slow process, they are willing to receive gentle uplifting when it is given. But there comes the challenge, are we willing to be those who will bring such gentle and gradual uplift? Bringing encouragement to others requires persistence because their state means it is difficult for them to be lifted, and so that gentle understanding acceptance that we have spoken of, needs to come with a consistence that proved to our friend that it is not an artificial quick fix approach. No, our friend who needs lifting, wants to know that our care is genuine and that it won’t only come in one minute bursts. I knew someone who seemed to express care almost ‘professionally’. You were left feeling that they said what they said because it was their duty, and they would rather not have to do it, if only you would get yourself sorted out! Indeed as soon asd hey left you they were off on the next quest and you were forgotten.

That’s not what someone who needs lifting wants. They want to know that they are important to you, not just when you are before them but all the time. Paul was staggeringly good at this: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Eph 1:15,16) Wow! They were on his mind all the time! No, when we comfort another, part of that comfort comes in the knowledge that they are important to us. I have a terrible memory but I am aware that remembering people’s names is important. In a large church this is especially difficult but at least with just a relatively small number, surely we can show our care by remembering people’s names – and the things they shared with us when we last spoke. Little things perhaps, but they help people feel you care – and you do if you work on it. Soon you will find you are thinking about them, praying for them and wondering how they are getting on. It is something to be learned and something to be worked on, but if we do we will avoid being like Job’s comforters, who merely pulled him down further.

Why not set yourself a task to focus on a small number of people who you know struggle with life and who just need loving acceptance, and work at giving it to them. This won’t be a short term project so don’t embark on it lightly, but if you settle in for he long haul, you may find yourself helping a number of lives to be transformed in a significant and meaningful way.

53. Reassurance

Ephesians Meditations No.53

Eph  6:21-24 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love

And so we come to the closing verses of this wonderful little book. We hope you have been blessed by it. Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, he doesn’t send  lots of personal greetings at the end, but if this was supposed to be a letter sent to Ephesus and then circulated among all the other churches of the area, that is understandable.

Only one person gets a mention here, the man who presumably was entrusted with actually taking the letter to them:Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything.” We find Paul referring to him when he wrote to Timothy: “I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.” (2 Tim 4:12). He also mentioned him when he wrote to Titus, “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me.” (Titus 3:12) and also when he wrote to the Colossians: “Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Col 4:7) Look at these descriptions of this man – dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord and dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. Wow! There is a clear sign of affection there. This man means a lot to Paul. His faithfulness or ‘stickability’ is mentioned twice as is his servant-heartedness. He’s a good man! Could those descriptions be applied to us?

What is intriguing is Paul saying he “will tell you everything,” implying there is a lot to be told, and as soon as he says that you realise that this letter (or book, as we have referred to it) is largely devoid of any ‘news’. If we were writing a letter to friends we would probably fill it with things that have happened to us, but this isn’t that sort of letter. It is virtually all teaching. Paul has been imparting understanding of doctrine for the church. If you want the ‘local news’ you’ll have to ask the messenger, which is why he adds, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.”

Now Paul doesn’t just leave it there, he adds something that makes us think about the obvious depth of relationship that he has with the Christians in Ephesus: I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.” He anticipates the concern of the Christians at Ephesus for him. When he was with them he wasn’t some ‘distant’ or aloof preacher;  he got involved with them. Thus there was a mutual concern, and so he takes pains to acknowledge that concern and says that Tychicus will bring them up to date with all that has been happening to Paul so that they will not worry about him. That is pastoral concern. Tychicus will thus encourage them. Even more pastoral concern.

He closes his letter with a blessing: Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” See the things he wants for them: peace, love with faith and grace. Peace is the thing he almost invariably asks for whenever he writes to anyone, because he is aware that living in a hostile world means that there is often an absence of peace. Peace is an absence of worry or concerns. The causes may still be there, but peace means that we have come to a place of leaving them with the Lord (see Phil 4:6,7). But then there is love linked with faith that Paul says comes from heaven. Faith, we often say, is responding to that God says, and so here it is the recognition that true love comes through God’s revelation to us. Surely, reading this book, there must come that awareness, of God’s incredible love to us that has brought about all the wonderful things spoken about in the book. Our love comes through the knowledge of Him and all He has done for us!

Finally he asks for grace for all who love the Lord. Grace is simply the supernatural ability to cope in life, to live as Jesus. Note the little prod at the very end: this grace comes to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. That love will imply a closeness, and grace is actually the expression of the Lord himself in us. The love we have for him came because of what he did for us, is experienced and expressed daily through the empowering and prompting of his Spirit, and will continue into eternity. It is simply part of who we are, united with him.

Well, there we are, at the end. May you be blessed by this book. To conclude, may we recommend that, if you’ve never done it before, you make some time and read it out loud in one go. Be blessed.