A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Coming

It is fitting that the final pillar of encouragement centers on the return of Jesus. It is no surprise that the New Testament links encouragement to his second coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes this link explicit.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede th

ose who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It is absolutely certain that the same Jesus that bore the wrath of God to rescue us will come back to retrieve those who have trusted him. It is so certain, it is future history as one author has called it. It is certain that you have trusted him will receive a renewed, resurrected bScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMody at that time.

It is certain that you will be reunited with fellow believers who have died before you at that time. It is certain that when he returns you will be with him forever. He will not leave us as orphans. He will come for us.

Be encouraged! Things are absolutely going to get better. For the Christian, life in this fallen world is as bad as it gets. For the person rejecting Christ this is as good as it gets. It will get better for the Christian, this is not the final chapter of the book.

What we are experiencing here and now is temporary. Do not be drawn into the lie that you only have one shot at life, you will live forever! Every disappointment, every crushed dream, every unmet expectation will be eclipsed by a life that will never end. Be encouraged. He is coming for you Christian!

At the foundation of our framework for encouragement is our God. He calls us to be encouraged and to encourage one another as we recognize the image of God in others, as we revel in the good news of the cross, as we gather together to smash hard hearts and breathe hope into each other, and as we remind one another that this is not the end of the story.

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Cross

We have looked at the God-centered foundation of encouragement as well as the first pillar of creation. In this post we explore the cross as the ultimate source of encouragement.

Martin Luther famously said, “the cross alone is our theology.” It must be at the center of our thinking on all theological topics. Everything must be threaded through the cross if we would understScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMand things correctly. The cross of Jesus Christ is the climactic moment of God’s self-disclosure. It is the Mount Everest of his self-revelation, it is here we see the heart of God.

It is here where we see the salvation of God. There is no greater encouragement than the gospel. Check out these verses in 1 Thessalonians.

In the context Paul is reminding the church that they are children of light and not darkness, that they are to live sober lives ready for the return of Christ.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

There are two dimensions of gospel encouragement here. 1) Encouragement in the face of judgment and wrath. Dear reader, the greatest problem you and I face in this world is the wrath and judgment of God. The devil is not my greatest problem, not even my sin. It is God’s just response to my sin that is my greatest problem.

The God of Encouragement is a pure God, holy and high above. He is one who cannot and will not tolerate evil. He is grieved to his heart about the sin of man and he is furious about it. His fury is not capricious or unpredictable like our anger. David Peterson says it well, God’s wrath is a “fixed and determined response to all that is unholy and evil.” It is the right response to wickedness. Were he to engage otherwise, it would call into question his integrity, his goodness, his justice.

Hell is real. It is not a place where Satan rules, it is a place where God judges and pours out wrath for eternity. This truth speaks to the depths of our sin. It shouts of the offensive nature of our rebellion. We have to understand the depths of our sin and God’s judgment before we can grasp the greatness of his love for us in the gospel. The text says that those who have trusted Christ are not destined for wrath, but salvation.

Jesus came and took our place. He is our wrath quencher. On his shoulders he bore the full judgment of God. At Calvary, wave after wave of God’s just wrath swept over him and he absorbed and exhausted every drop. At the cross the judgment of God is finished, it is done.

Like a fireman who rushes into a blazing house as the flames are pressing down on you about to end you, he jumps in front of the flame, pulls of his fireproof jacket, casts it over you and takes the flames for you. The word in Scripture for this gospel truth is propitiation, the wrath quenching love of Christ. This means that there is no wrath for those who are hidden in Christ, there is no judgment any more!

This leads us to the second aspect of gospel encouragement in this text: 2) We have encouragement for all of life and in the face of death. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to him, we are his. This is a fixed reality. He is propitious toward us and favorably disposed for all eternity.

The text says that the gospel insures that we will “always live with him.” We belong to him, he dwells with us under our roof now and we will dwell under his roof with him when we experience death. The gospel is the only hope in the face of death, it is the sure and steady confidence that your Creator is for you and will carry you in life and in death.

The text says that we are to encourage one another with these words. Lift up your head Christian. Let your hearts soar! Our judgment is no more!

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creation

In the previous post we launched a blog series on encouragement. We explored the foundation of a framework for encouragement as we observed that God himself is the most encouraging being in existence. In the next few posts, we will look at the four pillars of encouragement. Today, we take a look at creation and the image of God that has been imprinted upon us.

You are the one thing in all creation that God stopped, stooped down into the dirt, formed you carefully and breathed life into you. You alone bear the image of God. Not animals, not angels, no other created thing. You alone were declared “very good” at creation. The first encouraging act of our Creator towards you was to create you and to make you in his image. To be an image-bearer is to be deeply valued and even delighted in…it is to be given qualities, gifts and attributes unique to you. There is only one you. The image of God is an encouraging truth. The image of God is also grounds for encouraging one another.

Check out this verse in James.

“With (our tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9).

How can we curse an image bearer? It is completely contrary to what should be done. Blessing, encouraging, building up—this is the only way to engage an image bearer. When we align our view toward one another with God’s perspective, everything changes. There is so much intrinsic value and dignity to every human being on this planet. The image of God in each other beckons us to the work of affirmation.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMEncouragement is the intentional gaze of one image-bearer toward another—a recognition and affirmation of what God has put in the other. Think about the unique gifts, talents, skills, personality, character, and perspective of every individual. There is so much to appreciate about one another if we see through the right lenses.

Encouragement takes the extra step from observation to affirmation. When seeing mercy, patience, kindness, joy, strength, or compassion in someone—encouragement speaks what is seen into the individual. When gifts and skills are recognized they are affirmed. Encouragement recognizes the reflection of God in the image bearer and reminds them of what is true about them.

Being an image bearer is an encouraging reality. To encourage is to be a good image bearer as we reflect the Great Encourager.The image of God in others is an invitation to see God in them and affirm what you see.

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creator

Encouragement is an underestimated force in our lives. It has the power to redirect our steps, change our future, eclipse our past and fill our present with courage. Scripture calls us to the great work of infusing hope in others through encouragement. In the next four posts we will develop a biblical framework for thinking on and practicing encouragement.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM

When you think about the most encouraging character in the Bible who comes to mind? Barnabas. Guaranteed it’s Barnabas. He was so encouraging that they renamed him “the son of encouragement.” But you see, Barnabas is a pale reflection, a faint whisper of the Greatest Encourager.

When building a framework you start with the foundation.

Take a look at this text from Romans 15:5-6, it provides the starting point for our discussion.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Encouragement in this verse is a descriptor of the character and nature of God himself. It does not merely say that God does some encouraging here and there. It says that he is the Encouraging God—the God who encourages…we are talking about a posture, a way of existing, a way of interacting.

The most encouraging being in existence is God himself. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of a God who encourages, who infuses hope and who instills courage. How encouraging were the strolls with God in the garden? How encouraging was it when the original rebellion was met with clothing for naked bodies and a promise of a Serpent-Crusher?

What about the safety of the ark, the rainbow reminder that the earth will never be flooded again? What about the promise and birth of Isaac? Don’t forget the Exodus, the taking of the promised land, the provision of the tabernacle and temple, the rise of righteous kins, the comforting words of the prophets and the promises of a coming Messiah.

The Encouraging God bursts onto the scene in the incarnation—he comes walking in the flesh. In Christ we see what divine encouragement looks like. We see it in his words and actions. Read the gospels, watch Christ interact and you will see encouragement. In the good news we find our greatest encouragement, something we will see further into our blog series. The New Testament letters are filled with encouragement flowing from the gospel for the church.

The New Testament ends with a burst of encouragement. The return of Christ, the future hope, the new heavens and new earth, the end of sorrow, the presence of God, and an eternity of hope! In the next few posts we will look at four pillars of encouragement throughout Scripture. There are many anchor points we could focus on, but I have chosen four that explicitly link the language of encouragement to their themes. At the root of all encouragement is our Creator, God himself. He is the great Encourager—everything we will explore flows out of his heart and his activity.

The Gospel and Grief

The Bible is the definitive guide to grief. Unflinchingly honest, the Scriptures tell us about the roots and realities of life in a ruptured world. It provides solace in solace in our suffering and resources to persevere in the face of seemingly unbearable circumstances.

At the heart of divine revelation stands the gospel of God: the good news of a suffering God on a tree, an empty tomb, and an exalted King. It is this message that provides the greatest power and hope amid tragedy.

To begin with, the gospel is about rescuing us from the ravages of sin, death and the evil one. It is our only hope for a renewed world, healed relationships and mended selves.

The cessation of pain is a future reality guaranteed by the work of Christ. He became the man of sorrows to rid us of sorrow. He died to end the reign of death. He suffered to extinguish suffering. For the Christian, grief and pain are a temporary state of affairs. This future hope gives us courage in our pain and grit as we hold to God’s promises.

The gospel that saves us also shows us about the nature of God. The person of work of Christ are the clearest display of the character of our Creator. In him we see compassion embodied. The number one emotion attributed to Jesus in the New Testament is compassion.

The language of compassion repeatedly applied to Christ literally refers to the bowels or inner-parts. It refers to a deep, visceral response to the pain of others. When Christ encountered pain he engaged from his gut with grace, love and grief.

It has been said that compassion is love as it encounters pain. The idea of compassion is to “suffer with” another person. We see this in Jesus. He grieves with those who grieve. He weeps, sighs and aches when encounters hurting humans.

The gospel of Christ displays a God who comes near, enters the fray and suffers with and for us. God is present to us in our pain. Presence may be the single most comforting and important thing we can provide when others are grieving.

Grief Engagement

“If your desire is to support a fellow human in grief, you must create a ‘safe place’ for people to embrace their feelings of profound loss. This safe place is a cleaned-out, compassionate heart. It is the open heart that allows you to be truly present to another human being’s intimate pain.”

So says Dr. Alan Wolfert, founder of the Center for Loss. Dr. Wolfert developed a model for grief engagement that is rooted in compassion. He calls his model “companioning.” The model is insightful and aligns well with the spirit of biblical compassion and humility. Here are his eleven principles that guide the framework.

  1. Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain; it is not about taking away the pain.
  2. Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being; it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
  3. Companioning is about honoring the spirit; it is not about focusing on the intellect.
  4. Companioning is about listening with the heart; it is not about analyzing with the head.
  5. Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others; it is not about judging or directing these struggles.
  6. Companioning is about walking alongside;it is not about leading or being led.
  7. Companioning is about discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it is not about filling up every moment with words.
  8. Companioning is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.
  9. Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion; it is not about imposing order and logic.
  10. Companioning is about learning from others; it is not about teaching them.
  11. Companioning is about compassionate curiosity; it is not about expertise.