Hearing the Plea from Those Who Need Encouragement – January Encourager’s Devotion

 

Paul to Timothy

Paul to Timothy (NKJV)

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 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!

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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.

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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.

4 Motivating Reasons to Start Your New Year’s Resolutions NOW

After finishing up our church’s small group study of Radical by David Platt, we decided to commit to The Radical Experiment. It’s a year-long commitment to five specific challenges:

  • To pray for the entire world
  • To read through the entire Word
  • To commit our lives to multiplying community
  • To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose
  • To give our time in another context

We started working on several of the challenges immediately. For the prayer goal, we’re beginning with Operation World’s 60 day prayer experience. It’s an app that provides the history, statistics and prayer needs of a different people group each day. After the 60 days, we’ll find another resource to help us continue our prayer efforts. We decided on a chronological reading plan for the Bible challenge and have begun our reading. We’re also planning a mission trip with Casas por Cristo for March and we’re raising funds for that.

While doing the Bible reading plan and prayer experience, I’ve thought how these are usually the tasks I start at the beginning of a New Year. I’m finding it refreshing to start some New Year’s resolutions before the New Year actually begins. Here are four benefits I see to starting early:

  1. Starting now is proactive instead of reactive. Being proactive means looking ahead and planning for challenges instead of just reacting to them after they hit. We all know New Year’s Resolutions are difficult to keep. Starting early provides opportunity to work out the kinks and make adjustments to be more realistic with our goals.
  1. Starting now fosters a mindset that deals effectively with setbacks. Since I’m taking action prior to the official start date, if I miss a day here or there it doesn’t feel like defeat. And if I miss a day in 2015 it won’t undermine the whole process because I’ll have made deposits into the “resolution account” to balance out the negative days.
  1. Starting now is motivating because it doesn’t begin with the concept of failure. New Year’s resolutions often feel like attempts to reboot or refocus on something I’ve failed at previously. In 2015, my goal will be to continue something good I’ve already started instead of trying to muster up the enthusiasm to begin something I’ve been putting off for far too long.
  1. Starting now is creating momentum, which should lead to a more successful approach to the resolutions. When the New Year starts, I’ll already have established the good habits I’m working towards. I will enter the 2015 feeling like I’m ahead of the game. I like the idea that I’ll start the New Year off with some accomplishments already made towards my goals.

This approach to my Bible reading and prayer goals has been so positive and motivating that I’m starting on a few more resolutions now instead of waiting. One such goal is related to this blog. To date, I’ve been blogging inconsistently, whenever the mood strikes and/or I make time for it. I’m now planning a posting schedule for 2015. I’m particularly excited to work on turning my “Encourager’s Devotional Series” into a blog feature. This was something I used to send out to email subscribers and Bible study groups. I’ve been told many times, for MANY years, I should create an internet version. Looks like it’s time to get to it. Stay tuned for that and an overall schedule – and remember, I hope to be posting it BEFORE the New Year begins. 🙂

What challenges or goals have you been putting off until the New Year? What resolutions to you begrudgingly put on your list every year only to have forgotten about them in a few months? How might starting now change your success rate?

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

Amidst the chaos of recent events in Ferguson, MO, it is good to remember that this is occurring in a community filled with wonderful people. Please continue to pray that peace will be restored, justice will be served, and that we will come out of this a stronger community.

To join our Facebook prayer group, click here.

Prologue to the “One Word Devotional”

Beginning Monday, June 16 and running for two weeks, I’ll be posting a “one word devotional.”

This idea came to me years ago when I was working at a daycare. My co-workers and I had tried several times to have devotions while the children were napping. But of course, there was never a time when all the kids slept for the whole nap time. We couldn’t really focus and rarely completed a lesson. So, I suggested we have one “word for the day” to think on and then share throughout the day our thoughts and experiences related to that particular word. It turned out to be a great exercise.

Particularly interesting to me was how “deep” such a simple approach to devotions could go. The continual focus on one single word offered great opportunities for application throughout the day. It revealed areas in which we might not be living out the principles behind the word or not feeling its impact in our lives to the fullest. It brought to mind Scriptures that we shared with one another. We also thought of times when the word had ministered to us and we shared those stories, too. We often set goals related to the word at hand and then held each other accountable to those goals.

Sometimes we were comforted. Sometimes challenged. Always, we were blessed by our interactions with the word and with each other. I am looking forward to having this kind of devotional experience again, with you.

Since I will only be posting the one word at the beginning of the day, with no commentary, the devotional experience will actually come in our follow-up discussions and postings. So, join me Monday for the word of the day and feel free to share your thoughts and reactions to that word as the day progresses.

Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

This is something I posted last year for Mother’s Day. I’m reposting again as part of this month’s Encourager’s Devotional Series because it was part of the original work I did on the series. I expanded it for this month’s devotion on Spiritual Parenting, but had things in the original that were omitted. It also explains the story behind this month’s thoughts.

Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

“Baby feet have got to be the sweetest things God ever created,” I found myself thinking as I was putting my daycare toddlers down to nap. With my own children being teens, I had forgotten how very much I love baby feet. This daycare job had turned out to be a surprisingly interesting and rewarding experience for me. I say it was a surprise because, when I was first offered the job, I cried – it was the last thing I wanted to do at that point in my life.

After finishing seminary, I had recently moved back to St. Louis. My husband and I both believed that this move was an open door for me to finally fulfill my heart’s desire and look for a job on staff at a church. I had started my job search, but I felt that the Lord was telling me to stop the search and wait. He didn’t tell me what I was waiting for, how long, or why – just wait. I discovered quickly I am not good at waiting!

One day, feeling frustrated, I prayed and asked God to at least tell me how long I was supposed to wait. The next day I got the call to do the full-time subbing job at the daycare in the district where I was substitute teaching. It was going to be a long-term position. I felt God was telling me the wait was going to be longer than I thought – that’s when I cried.

Besides the fact that this seemed like a detour from my dream, I just could not believe I was going to be in a daycare – changing diapers – when my training and experiences in teaching up to that point had been in high school and my most recent schooling was to focus on adult education.

But God moves in mysterious ways, and a few months into the daycare position I found myself actually thanking Him for the experience. I saw how that job actually contributed to my “education” for the work I eventually saw myself doing in the church – teaching and training others in various aspects of church ministry.

And besides that, it gave me some thoughts for the monthly devotional series I was sending out to subscribers at the time. It was called “The Encouragers Devotional Series” and each month I would give suggestions on ways to encourage others. I was working on the devotion for May and, with Mother’s Day approaching, I wanted to write on the idea of being “spiritual parents” to others.

I had planned many Mother’s Day and Father’s Day services in our years in ministry. Each time, I tried to think of ways the service could bless everyone in the congregation and not just those who had good parents or were being honored as good parents. I approached the services realizing that not everyone has a mother or father that is a model Christian or “praiseworthy.” For instance, I knew a young lady who got a little down every time there was some kind of family emphasis at church because she came without her parents. She needed spiritual parents to fill a void for her.

Here’s an excerpt from the devotion I sent out:

There are so many ways one might apply the idea of parenting in a ministry of encouragement. The Apostle Paul was a spiritual parent to Timothy. While Timothy had a strong Christian mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), his father was not a believer (Acts 16:1). Paul filled that void for him. In the opening of both letters to Timothy, Paul calls him his “son in the faith.” And in Philippians 2:19-22, Paul said Timothy served with him “as a son with his father.”      

My babies (my how they grow on you) at the daycare need various forms of encouragement. As they learn to do things on their own, learn to get along with others, and just learn about the world around them, they sometimes need a guide and a cheerleader. And sometimes, they need correction – remember, one of the definitions for the word encourage in Scripture is “to admonish.”

Children’s temperaments, ability levels, and even their learning styles are different. That’s why they need someone who is attentive to them and knows them well enough to create individualized learning experiences for them. Sometimes they are frustrated and just need someone to encourage them to keep trying, to help them develop confidence. When they fall or get hurt by others, they need comfort (and maybe an ice-pack or Band-Aid). And tangible gifts like hugs, stickers, or toys always make them smile and feel loved.

There are many “babes in Christ” who also need these forms of encouragement. Can you think of any? If not, can you keep your eyes open to look for someone who needs a spiritual parent? Pray that God will direct you to someone.

You might be like me and be a little hesitant to take on such a task, to go into unfamiliar territory. But, also like me, you may just find that God’s assignment for you will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

I eventually left my daycare job. Funny thing is, I cried again when I had to leave. While waiting for my dream job to materialize, I learned that God is full of surprises, that all of His children are precious, and that little things like baby feet can bring us incredible joy when we take the time to appreciate them.

More suggestions for practicing encouragement:

  • Send a note of thanks to someone who has been a spiritual parent to you.
  • Try something new. Agree to help in a new area of ministry at your church (maybe even the nursery!). Even if you explain clearly that you just want to “test the waters” for a short “trial period,” I’m sure the person leading that ministry will feel encouraged AND you may just discover something that you really love.
  • And I’ve got another one for military families. I heard someone say that they appreciated the gift of two identical daily devotion books. One was given to them, and the other was sent to their loved one in the military. They said knowing that they were reading the same thing each day helped them feel connected.