Over the next few weeks, I want to spend some time reflecting on each one of the "Ten Things I Have Learned about Ministry and Life." I want to start today with some reflection on the importance of encouragement.
I Have Learned to Treasure Encouragers.
I have been blessed by the words and ministry of a number of encouragers. Little did they know it but these people were investing in my future. So often, they would come alongside me and provide just the right word. Even when I made mistakes, these same people would leave me with a sense of hope. I am so thankful.
Far too many people grow up in homes where mom and dad are passive. They are not critical or negative with their words. They do something just as painful. They are silent at very important times in the lives of their children.
Perhaps a son or daughter has a dream and yet mom and dad remain silent about the dream. They give no response. Maybe a child tries her best to accomplish a particular task and receives only silence from her parents. That silence can speak volumes to the tender heart of a child.
Other children grow up in homes where there is constant criticism. The criticism may be subtle or not so subtle. Maybe there is an atmosphere of negativity in the home. As the result of such a negative, critical atmosphere, a child may grow up believing that he really doesn’t amount to very much and probably isn’t capable of much.
I will always remember the first time I preached. It was a Sunday evening at a church in Memphis, Tennessee. Two of us from a Bible college two and a half hours away were to speak that evening. I spoke first. I think I may have spoken ten minutes. I don’t remember what I said. I do remember feeling embarrassed after it was over. I remember sensing that I did not do well.
On the front row that night was James Long. He was in his late forties and had come with us to this church. He had been a mentor and encourager to me. Anyway, at the conclusion of that worship service, everyone was invited to stay for a light meal. After eating, I slipped back into the empty auditorium to get my Bible. James followed me. He asked if I would sit on the front row next to him. I did. He put his arm around my shoulders and told me how proud he was of me. He told me that my speaking manner needed more maturity, but he was confident that would come in time. I remember feeling so encouraged.
It is true. Encouragement can give you a good feeling. Maybe, however, even more important is that someone’s encouragement can give you a nudge toward the future. Encouragement can give you the courage to move ahead when you might otherwise entertain serious thoughts of giving up. Encouragement can spur you on toward uncharted waters. (At least they are uncharted in your own experience.)
I remember particular moments of encouragement. Some of these moments occurred many years ago. These are like a stack of snapshots that I refuse to throw away because as I look at each picture, I am filled with encouragement all over again.
One of those moments took place almost three decades ago in a conversation with my father-in-law at his dining room table. I had been wrestling with whether or not to go to graduate school. A one point, he looked me in the eye and told me that I was capable of doing more study in several different areas. I could tell he was very serious. I could tell that he believed this was so. For weeks to come, my mind would be filled with some new possibilities for my future.
I also think about the encouragers who have been a part of churches where I have served. Time and again, these people filled my heart with fresh courage. So often, I can get focused on some improvement that I need to make or some situation that I would like to have handled better. The encouragers, however, seem to catch me in the act of doing something right and point out what was good and right about the situation. I am so grateful to these wonderful people who bless me with their words.
Bottom line? God has a way of using encouragers much like he used Barnabas with John Mark in the book of Acts. In fact, he used Barnabas to encourage a number of the early churches. God has placed a few Barnabases in my life.
Who has been a significant encourager in your life? What impact has this encouragement had on you?