What’s the most encouraging thing someone has ever done for you?

The Encourager’s Devotional Series is planned around a monthly theme with related posts every Wednesday according to this schedule:

Week 1 – main devotion

Week 2 – correlating Bible study

Week 3 – Bible study answer guide

Week 4 – monthly wrap-up with suggestions for application or any other additional material I’d like to bring in

So, what happens when we have a month with five Wednesdays? Well, I’m going to call that the “5th Wednesday Free-for-All.” This is where I’ll ask you to bring your best encouragement ideas to the table. I will probably have some directed themes in future free-for-alls, but this being our first one, I thought I’d just ask, “What’s the most encouraging thing someone has ever done for you?”

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Encourager’s Devotional Series – April Bible Study Answer Guide

Since there were not as many short answer or fill-in questions in the Bible study for the April devotional, I am not copying the full text of the study in this month’s answer guide. Instead, I’ve added a few prompts for you to share how you are applying the study.  

Information

According to 1:6 and 2:14-16 what kind of tragedy were the Thessalonians experiencing?

Severe suffering, persecution from those who opposed the gospel

Grief for those who have died is addressed in 4:13-18. What does Paul say we can use to comfort/encourage one another under these circumstances?

Tell them we have the hope of resurrection and that we will be reunited with those who have passed away when Jesus returns. Also, remind them that heaven will be for eternity and we will be with the Lord forever.

According to 3:7-8, why were Paul and his co-workers encouraged?

They were encouraged because the Thessalonian Christians are demonstrating their faith and standing firm in the Lord.

How does this relate to Proverbs 11:25?

Paul and his co-workers were always encouraging the churches and in return the churches encouraged them.

Meditation

Notice that in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 Timothy was sent specifically to encourage the Thessalonians. We studied last month the fact that the Holy Spirit was sent to be our comforter/encourager. Read 2 Corinthians1:3-4. It says God is the God of all comfort (and yes, that is the same root word as encourager). It goes on to say that we should comfort others in the same way that we have been comforted. What experiences have you had in which God was your comforter and encourager?

How have you used your past experiences to encourage others who are now in the same situations you have been through?

Application

Read 1 Thessalonians 3:12. Think of some people who “work hard among you.” How might you “show respect” for those people?

We are only five months away from Minister Appreciation Month (October). To help others think and plan ahead, can you share things you have done or are planning to do for those who devote their lives to ministry?

Eugene Peterson renders the key verse for this ministry (Heb. 10:24) as: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging …” (The Message). I thought that described our goal very well. Can you think of any way(s) to be “inventive” or creative with your ministry of encouragement, to do something different than you’ve done so far? If so, make note so you don’t forget.

Since we are now four months into the Encourager’s Devotional Series, I would love to hear some of your stories about things you have done in response to the material. Did you take up the challenge to “be more inventive” in your approach to the ministry of encouragement? 

Dedication

Are you doing this study with a group? If so, have you planned any group projects? Please share in the comments so everyone can add your great ideas to their encouragement repertoire. 

Encourager’s Devotional Series – April Bible Study

This Bible study accompanies the April devotion for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Information

Since this month’s study is mostly an in-depth look at 1 Thessalonians, you will get the most out of it if you take the time first to read the book. If possible, the best way to do this is to read it in one sitting (fortunately, this is a small book and won’t take much time). If you do not mind writing in your Bible, you might want to underline all uses of the words encourage, comfort, exhort, urge, and maybe beseech or appeal depending on your translation. You should find 9-13 usages. Almost every time you see these words, they stem from our root word for encourage (parakaleson). The only exceptions I could find are in the four passages noted below when Paul is using a string of similar words, each possibly to stress a different aspect of the meaning. The exceptions (using NIV) are:

2:12 – “… encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” In this passage, the first word is our word with its broad range of meaning. The second, comforting, is a more specific word used in relation to tragedy or grief. And the third, urging, is also more specific and more insistant (some translations might have “charging you” or “pleading with you”).

4:1 – “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” Paul is asking them to remember and live out what they had been taught about how to live in a way that pleases God. He asks first with a general word for asking, then uses our word (rendered “urge” here) to denote more urgency and be more commanding. By asking twice, Paul is being emphatic. He further stresses the importance of what he’s asking by adding “in the Lord” to his request.

5:12 – Neither of the two usages in this verse are from our root word.

5:14 – “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” The urging that Paul is doing is our root word. The other words are more specific depending on the task he’s telling us to do. Warning the idle (or unruly) has a harsher connotation. Encouraging the timid (or fainthearted) is the same word used in 2:12 which implies help for those who may be losing heart due to grief or tragedy. Helping the weak would involve being devoted to or “holding up” those who, for various reasons, cannot stand in their own strength at the moment (in this case, most likely because of weak faith or weak morals, but could also mean physically weak or ill). They need someone to walk closely beside them so they do not fall. And of course, all of us appreciate when others are patient with us.

According to 1:6 and 2:14-16 what kind of tragedy were the Thessalonians experiencing?

Grief for those who have died is addressed in 4:13-18. What does Paul say we can use to comfort/encourage one another under these circumstances? Continue reading

Bring the Rain by which the Flowers Bloom – April Encourager’s Devotion

Enc 4 April main graphic

(Image Source)

Charles Swindoll has some wonderful words on the power of encouragement:

Encouragement is awesome. Think about it: It has the capacity to lift a man’s or woman’s shoulders. To spark the flicker of a smile on the face of a discouraged child. To breathe fresh fire into the fading embers of a smoldering dream. To actually change the course of another human being’s day … or week … or life. That, my friend, is no small thing. But it doesn’t stop there. Consistent, timely encouragement has the staggering magnetic power to draw an immortal soul to the God of hope. The One whose name is Wonderful Counselor. Is it easy? Not on your life. It takes courage, tough-minded courage, to trust God, to believe in ourselves, and to reach a hand to others. But what a beautiful way to live. I know of no one more needed, more valuable, more Christ-like, than the person who is committed to encouragement.

When I first started The Encourager’s Devotional Series, I wondered if it would get old discussing the same topic every month. I am glad that has not been the case. Rather, my Bible reading has been enhanced by looking at Scripture with “encourager’s eyes.” I’ve been amazed at how often the Bible discusses the topic. I find hints on how to be a better encourager, texts that help me broaden my definition of encouragement, and good examples of what it means to minister in this way, even when I am not reading for that purpose.

While studying 1 Thessalonians, I discovered the word encourage is used four times (3:2, 4:18, 5:11,14). Following are some of the notes I took as I read:

* 2:5 – Encouragement is not just flattery. We should get beyond the more superficial forms of encouragement (“You sure look nice today!”) to real edification. Notice how specific Paul is with the commendations he gives this church in chapter one – they labored in love, they showed endurance, they were good role models, and more. When we praise people for specific things they do, it “spurs them on to more love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).

* 2:6 – We seek to encourage for the benefit it brings to others, not for the praise of men. Some of you may be doing much in an effort to encourage others, even though you haven’t received even one card in the mail for yourselves. Many times you’ll never receive a “thank you” for something you’ve done. This passage speaks to these situations and helps us to keep our hearts and motivations right as we pursue this ministry. To keep a check on your motives, you might try anonymous encouragement now and then.

* 2:8,17; 3:2,6 – But there is also a time for personal, up close, encouragement. This book speaks often of Paul’s “intense longing” to see his brethren face to face. He also sent Timothy to them to “stengthen and encourage” them. Loving edification means sharing of ourselves, our lives – purposely and intentionally spending time with others.

* 4:10 – The Thessalonian believers are commended for loving each other, but exhorted to do it “more and more.” We cannot overestimate the power of encouraging relationships. We simply cannot do too much in this endeavor.

* 3:2,10; 5:12-14 – Besides expressing thanks for the good that people are doing, real edification should also involve “supplying what is lacking in their faith.” The goal is to help them grow stronger in their walk with the Lord and with others. For example, among other specific instructions, Paul tells these believers to honor those who work hard, to warn those who are lazy or disruptive, to be more patient and to live in peace with each other. This stronger, more direct form of encouragement may not be easy to give, or to receive, but the benefits are like the showers of rain in April which produce flowers in May. Sometimes we get tired of the rain in spring, but it is necessary for growth.

How comfortable are you with pouring on the stronger forms of encouragement?

How willing are you to receive it from others?

Encourager’s Devotional Series – March Wrap-Up

To wrap up this month’s Encourager’s Devotional theme (Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos), I thought I’d give you a list of ideas for ways to maintain a personal sense of peace and/or encourage others. This is a list I included, along with other support materials, in the Leader’s Guide for the March devotion. If you would like to receive the Leader’s Guide for each month’s theme, email me at pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com.

  1. Help someone whose loved one is away for military duty. You can tie this into the theme of “a world in chaos” and how this puts added stress on military families.
    • People whose spouses are away suggested the following: stamps, packing materials, offer to babysit or organize a “spouses night out.”
    • Remember that some have basically been thrust into the role of single parenting. Any help with errands, home repair, carpooling, etc. is sure to be helpful.
    • Those who are actively serving also need support. One friend said her husband loved getting care packages, especially cookies.
    • Letters from children in Sunday School classes or other groups are encouraging.
    • I also really liked one idea I heard where someone bought two copies of a daily devotion book. They gave one copy to the wife and sent the other to the husband in Iraq. That way, they could have a daily “connection” by reading and thinking on the same things.
  2. Plan an event to make or view Christian artwork. Below is a picture from a mosaic making night we had at my church. Several of the people who came told me how relaxing the night was for them.

    Mosaic by Me Night @ The Merge

    Mosaic by Me Night @ The Merge

  3. Visit a Christian bookstore. The atmosphere is usually wonderful and you’ll find much to lift your spirit. You’ll also find things to help you minister to others. (Teacher: You could plan a group outing and then share what you each discovered over lunch. You might also give everyone the assignment to find at least one item they will purchase to give to someone they want to encourage.)
  4. Organize a prayer walk, set up a prayer room, or set a time of day you will pray with others even if you are not in the same location.
  5. And finally, how about supporting a local Christian radio station? The positive message they put out daily is a blessing to many. Most Christian radio stations do some form of fundraising during the spring. Your participation would not only be an encouragement to the people who run the stations, but also to those who benefit from listening. Here’s a link to a new Christian radio station that I highly recommend, The Rock. It’s based in the St. Louis area but you can listen online. Update May 15, 2015: The Rock is currently raising funds to create an app for their station. For more details, or to support this cause, click here.

Given our current situation in St. Louis, I’d also like to create a list of ways we can support local law enforcement families. While many are working to right the wrongs of those in law enforcement who have contributed to the problem here, we must remember that there are also many good people serving our communities in local police agencies. Recent events have put an incredible strain on their families. If you have any ideas on ways we can support them, please post them in the comments.

Encourager’s Devotional Series – February Bible Study

This Bible study correlates with February’s devotion for the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Meditation

You will have two meditation sections in the study guide this month. I’m putting an extra one up front because I believe that before you can be truly loving to others you must “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18). Understanding how much He loves you, and how He demonstrates His love for you, should fill you with a sense of security, love and appreciation which will then just more naturally flow out to others. So, to help you think on the “length, width, height and depth” of His love …

Choose a few of the following accounts from the Gospels to read (or any others that may be favorites of yours which demonstrate the love of God). Remember, these stories are found in the other Gospels too, so you might want to do some cross-referencing and read several accounts. When you are finished, take some time to meditate on the extent of God’s love and express your thankfulness to Him.

Can you identify with any of these sinners?

  • the rebellious/wasteful son
  • the doubter
  • the mockers and unbelievers,
  • the one afraid to speak for Christ
  • the one led to sin by fleshly desires

From Romans 5:8, answer the following questions:

How did God demonstrate His love for us?

When did God demonstrate His love for us?

Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on the extent of God’s mercy and love.

Information

What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? Mt 22:36-40

List the five types of leaders Jesus gave as gifts to the church. (Eph 4:11)

What are these leaders supposed to do for the saints? (Eph 4:12)

What is the purpose of our works of service to one another? (Eph 4:12) Continue reading

Mature Love – February Encourager’s Devotion

Encourager's Devotional Series - February

Just as love is the crux of the Gospel message, it is also the key to building a vital, effective, mature church body. Love is such a key factor that Matthew 22:36-40 says everything hangs on it. When I read that verse, I picture a door with two hinges. One hinge is our love for God and the other is our love for people. If either hinge is broken, the door simply does not work as it should. It may even become stuck and be totally inadequate at fulfilling its purpose.

God has designed us with purpose. We are called individually to serve God in different ways. And we are called as a body of believers to function in a certain way so as to complete the work that God, through Christ, began on this earth.

Ephesians has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible because in it I see how BIG God’s plan is for the church. It inspires me to see how a mature body of believers could really accomplish great things. If we are ever to fulfill that calling, we must get a grip on the love thing. We will never be the mature Christians we should be, or the effective church we could be, until love is firmly planted in our hearts. That’s why I’m so excited about The Encourager’s Devotional Series and the benefits of intentionally building an encouragement ministry. I think it’s the first, and perhaps biggest, step a congregation can take in becoming what God has planned.

You see, one of the biggest and most harmful myths that pervades the church is the idea that it is “THE” ministry’s job, or the job of a select few, to make everyone else become mature believers. But Ephesians 3:14-4:16 tells us differently. The ministry’s job is to prepare the saints to do ministry. The body is called to edify itself in love. We are all called to speak to each other in ways that promote maturity (4:15), to treat each other lovingly (4:2-3), and to do works of service together (4:12,16).

Like it or not, God has called us together to be a people – plural (Luke 1:17; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9-10). His plan is that we work in community (Eph 2:19-22). This community aspect of our faith is so important that unity was Jesus’ “last request” concerning His followers before His death (Jn 17:20-26). It is only when we work together with other believers in love that we are most effective as witnesses of God’s grace, power and love to the world (Phil 2:1-15).

When studying the life of Moses as he led God’s people, one thing is abundantly clear – God insisted that they stay together. They could not split up and say, “Ok, those with enough faith and maturity can go into the promised land now and the rest of you who aren’t quite ready yet must go wander in the wilderness.” No, they would either go in as a people or wander in the wilderness together as a people.

Studying Moses helps us answer the question of how you stick with a group of people when you see the promised land (in other words you see that things should be better than they are), but the people around you aren’t quite “there” yet. Continue reading

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Wrap-up

As we finish out the January theme of The Encourager’s Devotional Series – Hearing the Plea from Those Who Need Encouragement, I’d like to wrap-up with 1) further thoughts regarding a section in the Bible Study Answer Guide, 2) a few suggestions for easy ways to encourage, and 3) a couple fun videos that show the power of encouragement. Continue reading

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study Answer Guide

Click here to view accompanying materials (original devotional, study guide and general introduction).

If you would like a leader’s guide to facilitate this study with a group of friends, feel free to email me at pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com. The leader’s guide contains suggestions for ice-breakers, activities you can lead with a group, as well as additional teaching material.

ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES – JANUARY BIBLE STUDY ANSWER GUIDE

Information

Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9

Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel.

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good?

They encourage us to keep on doing good and not lose heart.

How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

They help us remember:

  • You will reap a harvest if you do not grow weary.
  • The kingdom of heaven is yours and your reward in heaven is great.
  • You are in good company (with the prophets before you).

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

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study

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

Information

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).

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good? How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

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