Encouragement for the Fainthearted

back view photo of person walking out of a cave

It’s been said that if you speak to hurting people, you will never lack an audience.

In Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote to a group of people who were discouraged and fainthearted, worn down and tired from the struggles of life. Maybe you can relate to those feelings as well.

In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, Paul gives the Thessalonians three things in order to encourage these fainthearted people: an outside perspective, an explanation of God’s justice, and a surprising prayer.

An Outside Perspective

We know that the Thessalonians were dealing with very difficult things: persecution, false teachers, problematic people in their congregation. And yet, Paul, in seeking to encourage them, gives them an outside perspective on how they are doing. He tells them that he can see growth in their life, in the areas of faith and love.

We all need those people in our lives who will put their hand on your shoulder, look you in the eye, and tell you what they see in you. I’ve had a few people like that in my life, and it is incredibly powerful.

This isn’t only true in regard to encouragement; sometimes we need someone to do that for us in order to help us see where we’re off-track or need to improve. An important, but often overlooked passage in the book of Genesis is Genesis 49, where Jacob gathers his sons to him in his old age and gives each of them a “blessing suitable for them” (Genesis 49:28). He takes each of his sons, and speaks into their lives, telling them what he sees in them that he is proud of, and what he sees in them which is cause for concern.

For parents, I think this is absolutely essential: that we give our children and outside perspective on what we see in them. It can be incredibly life-giving.

This is also important in friendships. This past week, in the wake of Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s death by suicide, there has been an outpouring of love and kind messages posted online from people who knew Jarrid. Many people who struggle with depression are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, and lies from the enemy, Satan, “the Father of Lies”, that they are alone, that people would be happier if they were gone, that no one would miss them, that no one cares about them, that their life is not worth living, etc. For a believer, our minds are the primary battle ground of spiritual warfare. To make it worse, our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), which means that telling someone to “listen to your heart” is some of the worst advice you could possibly give. It is important, therefore, that we give those who are discouraged or fainthearted an outside perspective on how we really see them, think about them, and feel about them, so they know how much they are valued and appreciated, so they are encouraged by the growth that we see, and challenged by the things which cause us concern – lest they be abandoned and left alone to the spiritual battlefield which is their own hearts and minds.

An Explanation of God’s Justice

Many people feel that human hardship and suffering calls God’s justice into question (see: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Lets Bad Things Happen to Good People”). However, in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul evokes God’s justice in order to encourage fainthearted people.

He explains on the one hand, that God is not unfair in allowing these things to happen to them, because God is allowing these things and using them in their lives to shape them and grow them. Additionally, God is just and will deal with those who abuse and do wrong. Finally, God is beyond just, in that he will bring about a day of relief from suffering for those who are in Christ, will all sin, death and evil will end forever and we will be glorified with Christ.

A Surprising Prayer

My tendency, and perhaps yours as well, when I face difficulty that causes me discouragement, is to pray that God would take away the problem or fix the situation. Surprisingly, that’s not what Paul prays for when he prays for the Thessalonians. Instead, he prays that God would strengthen them, and that God would be glorified through them, no matter what happens – whether their situation improves or not.

As human beings we seem to be obsessed with our circumstances. In our culture, we tend to pray disproportionately for God to protect us from bad things happening to us (think: “traveling mercies”), compared to how much we pray for God to be glorified in our lives, whatever that might entail. I am challenged by Paul’s prayer here to be asking this key question all the more: How can I glorify God the most in the midst of this situation?

For more on this topic, check out the sermon from White Fields Church: Encouragement for the Fainthearted

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How Can You “Count it All Joy” When Hardships Come Your Way?

In the month of December, we did a month-long series at White Fields on the topic of joy, and how Christianity gives a unique perspective on joy because it finds the source of joy in a unique place.

This past week, Mike and I sat down to discuss Christian joy and what it means when the Bible tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”, and what this means especially at the outset of the new year.

Here is a link to the Joy to the World series, where you can listen to those messages, and here is the video of our discussion:

(if you watch closely, I get a phone call in the 6th minute of the video!)

An Important Perspective on the Difficult and Mudane

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A while back a friend shared an interesting concept with me, which I have come to see applies to many areas of life. We were on our way to meet with a ministry that our church supports and we knew that there would be some hard conversations that needed to be had – some behaviors and attitudes which needed to be confronted and challenged, some practices that needed to be critiqued.

What my friend told me is that things like this are hard in the moment, but when you zoom way out, and you take the big picture view of what is going on, they are actually beautiful – and if you can keep that perspective, it helps you to do those things which are difficult in the moment.

The example he used was his family: if you look at any given moment up close, it probably doesn’t look that beautiful: dad is frustrated and scolding the kids for not doing their chores, mom is complaining that someone left their shoes in the middle of the floor, siblings are bickering with each other, the dog is barking and scratching up the glass door…  It’s all terrible, right?

Except it’s not. If you zoom out from the details of the moment and take the 30,00o foot view, where you see what is happening there as a whole, what you see is something beautiful: you see a group of people who are living together, who love each other and are committed to each other. And 20 years from now, it’s not going to be the siblings bickering that you’ll remember, it’s the big picture of the family that was together.

The point is: Even if in the moment it isn’t glorious and beautiful, in the big picture it is.

I think this can be applied to many areas in life. In general, creating things and building things is an inglorious process, but the big picture of the process itself, not only the finished product, can be a beautiful thing.

I know someone who felt a calling to move his family to a certain city a few years ago to plant a church. They were excited, they felt that they loved the culture of this city, that it would be a great fit for their family, and they expected that God would use them to birth a new church. After arriving in town and getting established, they set up the church’s website, affiliated with a group of churches, and announced a weekly meeting. They were prepared that it might be slow-going getting started, but they were excited when someone they had invited showed up for their Bible study. However, little encouragements like this became more and more rare. For two years they did everything they could think of to get this church started, the whole family was involved, and the husband worked also worked a full time job to pay the bills. After two years, they shut it down and moved back to where they had come from, disappointed and confused: had they not discerned God’s will correctly that this is what they were supposed to do?  Or was it possible that God had led them out there on purpose, knowing that the church plant would not succeed, in order to teach them something?

If you would have looked at any given moment, you might have seen intense discouragement. You might have seen kids complaining that their parents had taken them away from their friends back home to move to this place, and for what? To have a Bible study in their house that was poorly attended? You might have seen a marriage that was struggling under the stress and sadness of a dream that was not materializing. Nothing beautiful. Nothing glorious.

But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, you do see something that is beautiful. You see something that is downright glorious. You see a family together, taking a step of faith and following God; working together and serving together, praying together for God to work in a city and call people to new life. You see a man and a woman who are seeking God for direction, and asking Him to speak to them. You see a group of kids who have a mom and dad who are setting an amazing example for them of values which really matter… That is beautiful. That is glorious.

That isn’t to say that everything people do is glorious in the big picture. There are plenty of things which are not. But doing things that matter often consists of doing many things which aren’t glorious or pretty or fun. Sometimes they are messy or painful or even just super boring. This is true of business, school, relationships, marriage, and just about anything else that matters.

Keep that perspective in mind this week: try to see the big picture in the difficult moments, and let that encourage you to continue on working for things that matter.