INTRODUCING The Encourager’s Devotional Series …

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:

Barclay on Encouragement

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 (pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com).

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 Pain in Peace

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

My husband will be very happy to see I’m admitting this in public. I have a hard time saying I’m sorry when it comes to an argument.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that both sides have usually fallen into some form of error when embroiled in an argument – if not from the outset, most definitely once the battle begins.

And it’s not even that I don’t feel sorry for something along the way. At the very least, even when I feel like I’m 100% correct in my original point of contention, I’m always sorry we’re fighting. And I’m sorry the other person has been hurt in the process of airing out our grievances.

Here’s where my hang-up with “sorry” comes in: I can’t stand the thought of it being issued prematurely. I refuse to make an apology until I feel like my voice has been heard. I dislike the idea of a peace treaty that comes from either of us not having said what we’re really thinking and feeling. For me, a peace that stems from sugar coating or backing down from a perceived truth is only temporary. The issue will inevitably come up again because root issues were never really resolved.

I share all of this, not because I think I’m right or justified in this approach to conflict mediation. Rather, I put all this out on the table as an introduction to processing the quote from Jean Vanier. Here, I will share how I am working through the challenges presented in the quote, with the hope that the lessons I’m learning will also be seen as applicable to those who are praying for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.

The quote really challenged me to think through the idea of what I’m willing to lose in an effort to pursue peace. Now, I’m still working through the processing of this, but here’s what it looks like so far:

Contemplating the loss of certitudes – Am I willing to admit I may be wrong? If I am, then the resulting action would be to listen more closely to the person on the other side of the debate. Instead of only listening for signs that they hear my point of view, I will listen more closely to theirs. What hurts are they expressing? What feels like injustice to them? What valid points are they bringing to the table? Instead of only seeking to be understood, perhaps I should ask questions about their history and what has led them to the conclusions they are expressing.

Contemplating the loss of comforts that shelter and define me – Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore this issue from the perspective of “the other”? Am I willing to probe my own heart and see why I think saying “I’m sorry” is equivalent to saying, “I’m wrong”? Why does the withholding of my apology bring me comfort and a sense of security? Am I willing to give up that security in order to pursue peace? Why must the apology only come at the end of the discussion? Perhaps mingling in a few sincere apologies along the way would bring a level of comfort to the other person and foster truer, more effective dialogue. After all, I’m not just sorry after they’ve acknowledged my points. I’m sorry at various points in the discussion, so why not throw it out there as it’s occurring instead of waiting for them to earn it? (Darn! This is a difficult thing to admit.)

Contemplating the loss of hurts that shelter and define me – As difficult as that last area of contemplation was for me, this one is even harder. Am I willing to let go of my hurts? Holding on to my hurts shelters me from being hurt again. Will I risk all that in order to restore relationship? How does my hurt define me? Not just this hurt, but all the past hurts that feel similar to this one. Is it fair to bring all that baggage into this current conversation? It seems reasonable to allow both sides to acknowledge those hurts as reasons for their current stance on the issue and to promote understanding. If, however, I’m unwilling to release my grasp on those hurts … well, then I’m still in self-preservation mode and not yet working towards relationship preservation.

“Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice.” In seeking peace and justice, which of the losses is hardest for you to take?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 (NASB)

Sometimes the Whale Is Your Salvation

Man, this place stinks! How did I end up here? The darkness … the slime … it’s suffocating. God, I can’t take much more of this. I haven’t been that bad have I? Why are you punishing me? I know I didn’t want to go to Ninevah, but nobody wants to go to Ninevah – no self-respecting, righteous person anyway. I am one of your people, so why would you treat me like this? It’s just not fair.      

This is how I imagine Jonah’s inner dialogue during his “whale of a crisis.”

The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the first Bible stories told to children in Sunday School and at bedtime. We learn from this account not to disobey God as Jonah did.

As the story goes, God told Jonah to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and warn the people that they were going to be punished for their sins. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah (mainly because he didn’t like the part where God was also offering to extend mercy to the Ninevites if they turned from their sinful ways). So, he fled from the Lord and hopped on a boat going to Tarshish. During this trip a great storm arose.

When the men on the boat discovered that Jonah’s disobedience was the reason for the storm, they threw Jonah overboard. This is when Jonah was swallowed by the whale. After Jonah said a prayer of repentance, the Lord commanded the fish to spit Jonah up onto dry land. Once Jonah recuperated from his ordeal, he finally went to Ninevah and did as the Lord had instructed.

We usually think of the whale incident as part of Jonah’s punishment, his “trial” if you will. It did, of course, help Jonah come to repentance, but consider what Jonah’s state was before the fish swallowed him – he was drowning. Chapter 2 of the book gives a very graphic account, in Jonah’s own words, of what that experience was like…

“You hurled me into the deep,

into the very heart of the seas,

and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

swept over me…

The engulfing waters threatened me,

the deep surrounded me;

seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you brought my life up from the pit,

O Lord my God.”

What means did God use to deliver Jonah from this horrible state of drowning? He used the whale! The great fish came and swallowed Jonah, thus saving him from death. Jonah 1:17 says, “…the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”

Granted, a three night stay in the belly of a fish would not be pleasant. It was surely dark, smelly, and slimy. Yet, this experience was provided by the Lord to deliver Jonah. It was a blessing.

This brings to mind James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Trials may come for various reasons. Some are our own doing. Many of the epistles warn us to be careful that our desires for riches or pleasures do not lead us into troublesome situations (e.g., I Tim. 6:9; James 4:1; Gal. 6:7,8).

Other trials seem to be set up by God himself to test us and purify us. Paul said he was given his “thorn in the flesh” to help keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, David (Ps. 119:67-75) acknowledged that God afflicted him to teach him to obey God’s word.

There are also trials brought on by the enemy of our souls (see the book of Job). And, alas, many of our trials are just the natural consequences of living in a fallen world. In the book of Romans (especially chapters 5-8), Paul goes into great detail as to how the world has been corrupted since the fall of Adam. Death, sickness, and strife will be a part of human existence until we are in heaven.

Regardless of the source, however, James and Paul both tell us to count it a joy when we face these trials. We can do this because we know that the Lord will use the trials of life to perfect us and help us mature. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Even things that seem bad in our lives will be worked out by God for our eventual good. Paul says that the good that will come is better than we can ever imagine. He reminds us (Rom. 8:18) that “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

When we feel as if we are drowning in our troubles, it may help to remember this lesson. Sometimes what we consider to be a terrible trial is being used by God to make us become more like Christ. We can come out of trials better people than when we went into them. In this sense, the trials can rescue us from our own nature and help us mature in spirit. Sometimes the whale is our salvation.

 

* Scripture references from the Holy Bible, New International Version.

FREEDOM – Day 14 of The One Word Devotional

NOTE: Today is the final day in this two-week go around with The One Word Devotional Series. I’ll do another round sometime in the fall. Glad for all who have joined us for this two week series. Now, for today’s focus …

Today’s word is FREEDOM.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

GLORY – Day 13 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is GLORY.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

GIVE – Day 12 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is GIVE.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

TREASURE – Day 11 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is TREASURE.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

LIGHT – Day 8 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is LIGHT.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

SABBATH – Day 7 of The One Word Devotional

Today’s word is SABBATH.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.