If you haven’t already read the January Encourager’s Devotional, you might want to check that out before proceeding to the Bible study below. And if you need to get caught up on the details of how this series works, see the introductory post.
Note, the Bible study format will always have four sections:
- Information – This section may include additional reading, further thoughts on the month’s texts, background information and Bible study questions.
- Meditation – Here you’ll find things to prompt personal reflection and thoughts on how the devotion may be speaking to you.
- Application – This is where we’ll brainstorm together to stimulate ideas for possible follow-up responses to this month’s devotion. We’ll consider activities you may want to do, jot down the names of people who come to mind as you’re reading, and note personal promptings you may want to act on after contemplation and prayer. Many options should be considered even though you may not act on all of them.
- Dedication – In this section you’ll be challenged to write down (either in the comments section following the blog, or in your own notes) things you want to commit to doing for this month or in months ahead. The list may contain both individual and group project ideas. I hope you choose to share your commitments here or with a friend or two to increase accountability for follow-through. If you choose to note them here, I’ll personally check in on you later and try to “spur you on toward the love and good deeds” you’re hoping to undertake.
ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES – JANUARY BIBLE STUDY
Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9 (Note: I’m providing one link here to the book of 2 Timothy so you can scroll through the book for other references. For all other Scripture references, I’ll link to those specific texts).
In 2 Timothy 4:14,15 Paul has two responses to those who hurt him. What are his responses and how are they different? Continue reading
Welcome to The Encourager’s Devotional Series. I’m so glad you took the time to see what it’s all about. Before we dive into the devotion, here are a few notes about this devotional series:
Since this is the first post in a series that will continue throughout 2015, you may want to take a look at the introduction to the series (if you haven’t already) for information regarding the schedule for posting and what you can expect in the weeks to come.
Throughout the devotions, I will present many ideas on how you may apply what you’re learning to minister encouragement to others. I pray you will see the suggestions not as a list of “to do’s” (who needs any more of those?!), but as “prompts.” Let the Spirit stimulate your thinking, but don’t let it stop with just thinking. As you read, make note of anyone who comes to mind. Then, “be diligent” and “make every effort” to minister to someone with encouraging words and deeds.
For this first devotion, it may help to get out your Bible and turn to 2 Timothy. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted. You might want to read the whole book (it’s a short one) before you read the devotion. Or, you may just choose to have it open for reference during your devotional time. Either way, I hope you enjoy the devotion!
The Apostle Paul’s writings are so uplifting I don’t often think of him as someone who needed encouragement himself. Although, it does make sense. After all, he was often beaten, imprisoned, and bad-mouthed – both by unbelievers and by those who claimed to be of the faith. So, let’s look at Paul first as the encourager in order to gain insight as to how we might also be effective at this ministry even when we are experiencing hard times ourselves. Then we’ll look at Paul as the one in need of encouragement to help us recognize different ways others may need help.
The Encourager’s Perspective
In 2 Timothy, we find that Paul is near the end of his life. He is in prison, still facing opposition, and many of his friends have deserted him. After all he has done for the church, he seems to be concerned that some people are ashamed of him.
Yet, in the midst of all these trying things, Paul declared that the Lord was his sustainer and his deliverer. That Paul could stay so positive and focused on ministry during his own difficulties is something to consider as we seek to become encouragers. Paul did several things to maintain his ministry focus even when he himself was discouraged.
- First, he reminded himself of the truth of the Gospel and the end result of the Christian life (2:9,11,12; 4:8; see also Rom. 8:18-39).
- He also reminded himself of how God had helped him in the past (3:11).
- He reviewed and showed thankfulness (1:16-18) for how others had blessed him in the past (reminding me of his words in Philippians 4:8).
- And finally, he kept the needs of others in mind, even being willing to sacrifice himself for their sake (2:10).
Following these practices of Paul, we can keep ourselves encouraged, so we can then be uplifting to others. As Paul said, we should bring the Word to others and encourage them both “in season, and out of season” (4:2). In other words, we should do it even when our own conditions are less than favorable. Once we’ve geared ourselves up to become encouragers, we then need to become observant of those around us, intentionally looking to find people who need this ministry. As with Paul, someone people might not come to mind right away because they seem to have things in their lives under control. So we have to ask God to show us the real needs people have, sometimes despite their outward appearances.
Another Perspective: Paul’s Pleas for Help
Using Paul’s list of needs can prompt our thinking as to how we may help others this month.
- Paul had an obvious physical need – he wanted a coat because it was soon to be cold (4:13,21). Can you help relieve someone’s winter worries by giving clothing, paying a heating bill, or running an errand for a shut-in? Is there a ministry in your area you might partner with to meet such needs?
- Paul also had a spiritual need – to be reminded of the Christian’s ultimate victory as he struggled. Through cards, conversation or messaging, can you share the Word of God with someone to encourage them to persevere?
- Then there are his emotional needs – Paul repeatedly expressed the desire for understanding and companionship (1:4; 4:9; 4:21). Notice how he appreciated that one friend actually went out of his way to be with him (1:16-18). Paul needed to know that he still had supporters, that not everyone was ashamed of him. Can you go out of your way to spend time with someone who’s lonely? Do you know someone who might feel a sense of shame for what they’re going through? Your companionship can help them feel accepted and loved.
- And finally, Paul required help with his ministry (4:11). Can you come alongside someone to help in their ministry, even for one day or one task?
Remember, you don’t have to do everything that comes to mind as you contemplate the suggestions for ways to lift the spirits of others. But it is important to be diligent in seeking such opportunities. The world needs more encouragers.
Let’s do our utmost to go to those who need to be encouraged.
And, let’s hurry, before the cold becomes unbearable!
Next Wednesday, I’ll post the follow-up Bible study guide for this devotion. I hope you’ll continue to participate and let me know how you are finding ways to reach out to others who need to be refreshed.
The idea for an “Encouragers Ministry” came to me after reading Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds … encouraging one another …” In a commentary on that passage, William Barclay1 said:
As Barclay notes, it just seems to be easier to discourage one another than to encourage. And yet, encouragement is such a wonderful and much needed thing. How powerful it could be if we set our minds on becoming more encouraging people. Unfortunately, the rigors of everyday life keep us from developing this ministry as we should. It takes focus and practice; it is something we must be intentional about doing. So, I thought, maybe if even just a few people decide to be intentional about developing encouragement skills … And thus, this devotional series was born.
Originally, I sent the devotional out in hard copy to subscribers. Each month they would receive the devotion, a companion Bible study, and suggestions on how to apply the study. Some used it as a group study to start an “Encouragers Ministry” in their church or with a group of friends. But many individuals have worked through the material on their own as well and found it rewarding.
When shipping the materials in hard copy format, I always included a little something “extra” – bookmarks, magnets, note cards, craft ideas and such – which could be used by the recipients as reminders of the monthly focus or be given away to others they sought to uplift. The hard copy version is still available. If you would like to subscribe, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is the first time I have tried to put the devotional into digital form, so bear with me as I experiment with format. And feel free to leave me suggestions in the comments.
Here’s what you will receive if you follow this series on my blog every Wednesday:
A year’s worth of monthly devotions with messages to encourage you personally and inspire you to minister encouragement to others.
An accompanying study guide with four sections:
- Information – additional reading, further thoughts on the month’s texts, and Bible study questions.
- Meditation – things to prompt personal reflection as to how the devotion may be speaking to you.
- Application – a section for ideas (both yours and mine) for activities you may want to do, people who come to mind as you’re reading, and personal promptings you may want to act on. This is kind of the “brainstorming” section, so all options should be considered.
- Dedication – a place to write down things you want to commit to doing for that month or in months ahead. This last section may contain both personal and group project ideas.
I will post something related to the devotional series every Wednesday according to the following schedule:
1st Wednesday of the month – the devotional reading.
2nd Wednesday of the month – the study guide.
3rd Wednesday of the month – the answers to the study guide.
4th Wednesday (and the 5th if there is one) – my new version of the “something extra” I used to include in the hard copy. It might be a video, a tutorial, a link to a ministry idea or … well, I’m not sure yet. But I can tell you, I am passionate about this topic. I look forward to finding new ways to “spur you on to love and good deeds.” I am excited to share this journey with you.
To make sure you don’t miss any of the posts for the Encourager’s Devotional, click on my right sidebar to subscribe by email to follow me on WordPress.
1William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: The St. Andrew Press, 1955), pp. 137-138.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. See what’s happened since Lisa started her blog on May 8, 2014.
Here’s an excerpt:
The busiest day of the year was October 16th with 81 views. The most popular post that day was 5 Controversial Statements about Race and Gender I’ve Really Wanted to Post on My Blog but Haven’t – Until Now.
In a previous post, I suggested we start sharing stories of positive experiences with people of other cultures and color to help dispel the fears that drive so much of the prejudice we see. A Facebook post by Kelly Spann is just the type of story I was hoping for and she has given me permission to share. I pray we all actually look for opportunities to share love and common ground. These are the things that will help our community, our country, and the world heal. Here’s Kelly’s story: Continue reading
Note: I started writing this post this morning thinking it would still be awhile before the Grand Jury announced its decision in the Darren Wilson case. We are hearing now that the decision will be announced this evening, so maybe the post will not serve the original purpose I intended. Still, I think it is important that we consider these things as we process the decision and any aftermath that may occur.
I am typically not prone to fear or worry. I must admit, however, recent events in my hometown in North County, St. Louis have made me wonder if I should take some extra precautions in case rioting breaks out when the Grand Jury announces its decision on whether or not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. I have wondered if I should buy a generator, stock up on food, or in other ways prepare for the worst. I haven’t done these things, but I’ve thought about it.
This is not the only way that uneasiness with current events has tempted me to change my normal behavior. I met my daughter for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel on New Halls Ferry Road Saturday morning. While driving to meet her, I wondered if it was smart to have chosen that location. When I saw the many surrounding businesses that were boarded up to protect themselves from potential looting, I was saddened. As I entered the restaurant, though, I was encouraged to see it was busy with a diverse crowd of people. I was glad we were dining there and giving support to a community that needs it.
It’s obviously not wrong to be on alert or take precautions during this time. I have no problem with those doing so. I do have a problem, however, with the way fear is being heightened by obsessive, single-focused news coverage and inappropriate use of social media. While a whole lot could be written on those issues (and believe me, I’m tempted), I’d like to instead offer some ways we can combat their effects on us.
Share stories of your own positive experiences with people of other cultures, positions, and races. Such stories help combat the stereotypes that drive our fears. Challenge the mindsets that divide us – “all cops act …,” “all blacks are …,” “all whites think …” – by sharing stories of times you have seen the opposite.
Share positive news stories (with proper fact-checking, of course). It is obvious to those of us who live closer to these events that the news tends to highlight the negative incidents which occur. Even worse than that, though, is that those are the news stories which get shared most on social media. There are good stories being reported (see just one example here and others in prior posts). Let us know when you see something encouraging or inspiring.
Share some shout-outs to people you know who are making a positive impact or modeling the love and change you want to see in the world. Let people know about people and organizations that are doing good work in the area. There are many. Just a few of my shout-outs would be to “The Ferguson Response” group that held a 21 day prayer vigil and services in Ferguson, and Patricia Bynes who is willing to call out those who are doing wrong on both sides of the issue.
Share art, or poetry, or quotes that fight fear and/or promote reconciliation. Try to stay positive on your own social media sites. Even when you desire to point out the wrong people are doing, it can either be done in a way that promotes peace and understanding … or in a way that continues to bring out fear and hatred.
And finally, if you really want to combat fear:
Do NOT share without fact-checking. I am appalled at the number of people I see sharing things from fake news sources or from hearsay before verifying (see this article for examples). This helps no one.
Please feel free to share your positive stories and links here. I particularly would like to hear stories that help dispel stereotypes and calm fears.
The headline reads, “Church of God in Christ threatens to pull convention from St. Louis.” And my heart sinks.
According to this and other news reports, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is not the only organization that’s considered pulling their events from St. Louis convention centers following the Ferguson crisis. Most are hesitant due to fear of violence in the region. Others are making more political statements with their threats to take their business elsewhere. I can understand both responses. But when it comes to a church organization, something in my gut is repelled by the approach. If it were simply a matter of fear, I’d argue that the church has always been called into dangerous situations and must simply trust that God will protect them as they do what they are called to do. But COGIC’s motive falls into the latter category of flexing its political (and economical) muscle.
Should the church be involved in political causes? Yes. It’s our right as much as any other people group to be involved in the political processes of our nation, and I even believe we are morally obligated to utilize this privilege for the good.
Should the church use its monetary resources to impact the world around us? Most certainly. And again, I’d say it’s our moral obligation to be good stewards of the financial blessings we have been given.
Since 2010, COGIC has indeed blessed the St. Louis area during its convention stays. According to COGIC’s own convention recap, the work convention attendees, some 40,000 plus, accomplished while in St. Louis this year included the following.
During the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) 107th Holy Convocation in St. Louis, MO, November 3-11, 2014, many tremendous things occurred that demonstrated the church’s love for community and for the whole man.
Through a number of COGIC Cares initiatives, the St. Louis and metro east communities were helped in some of the following ways:
During our Health Fair and Job Fair, hundreds received free healthcare services while many unemployed attendees were able to network with St. Louis employers;
5,000 people received assistance in the form of food, clothing, blankets, toys, haircuts and medical check-ups at our Christmas in November event on Saturday, November 8, 2014;
Members of our denomination dispersed within the North St. Louis Fourth Ward community to provide cleanup assistance to blighted areas; and
Several COGIC leaders visited a St. Louis Public School to conduct “a day of reading” among elementary school children.
In his official video response on the convention, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake added, “Prior to the convocation, denominational leaders and members went into Ferguson to support and to participate in the struggle for justice after the shooting of young teenager Michael Brown.”
After such an impressive list of loving action, charitable endeavors, and positive activism it is hard to imagine the church following all that with the threat of discontinuing its positive work here if local politicians don’t meet specific demands. I have no specific grievances with the list of demands, as presented in COGIC’s letter to Governor Nixon. There are legitimate concerns that I, too, hope to see local government continue to address. My issue comes with the idea that they are demands, made by the church, to political leaders.
To me, this is akin to Jesus saying, “I’m no longer going to feed thousands of hungry people, or continue to heal the sick, or minister the gospel of spiritual deliverance to your region if your political leaders don’t do what I think is appropriate.” Jesus never did this, despite the fact that His people were oppressed by both the Roman government as well as corrupt Jewish leaders. He continued to do good and to teach His people how to live godly lives in trying times. His church should follow His lead.