It was an unexpected note from one of our quieter students. She wanted to express her appreciation for my wife and I, for making her feel so welcome in our home, and for our leadership of the CCF ministry, which she said has been such a blessing to her during her time in college.
The note came on a somewhat down day for me. It was a welcome balm. In the past few months, we have had a lot of balm applied and it was desperately needed. There was the card from our student president full of encouraging words. There was the Valentine’s Day balloon anonymously attached to our mailbox with a note reminding us how much we are loved by Jesus. There was a woman in our church who had no idea what was happening in our lives who came over during the greeting time and prayed for us. All of these and many more the Lord used to encourage us when life was difficult.
Encouragement is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-8) and I will be the first to admit that I do not have it. I have the gift of exhortation which can, as is the case with all gifts, get out of balance on occasion. That is why God spreads his gifts among us, so that one gift, or one part of the body, doesn’t get overused. However, a hand, a foot, or even a nose is sometimes called upon to do something beyond its normal function. If you have ever had your hands full and you have an itch on your arm, you will know what I mean.
Over the past few months, as I have received encouragement, I have been reminded how important it is for me to be aware of people who also need encouragement. As my wife and I have discussed recently, people with an exhortation gift are often too quick to use it and end up sabotaging its effect because encouragement was more needed at the moment. Guilty! As I wrote recently, balance is the key.
These are challenging times for people gifted like me. I see all kinds of things which are not right; traps set by our enemy. Yet, for many, life is so discouraging. Like one treading water after a boat capsizes, the goal is not to enjoy the view, but merely to keep from drowning. My bent is to yell, “It would have been wise to learn how to swim!” Yet, at that point, such exhortation won’t be helpful. Rather, swimming out to them and offering encouraging words while helping them back to shore is what is needed. Perhaps later I can help them with swimming lessons.
While the Scriptures command us to use the individual gifts we are given, life often requires us to adapt and do things we are not particularly gifted to do. I once had a friend who was a carpenter who often had a good laugh at my expense when I attempted various repairs at home. Yet, repeated attempts (and the introduction of the YouTube video) yielded increasingly better results. I will never be a professional handyman, but my abilities have improved with practice.
It is the same with living the Christian life. We each have certain gifts that we are to use on behalf of God’s Kingdom, but life repeatedly will require us to do helpful things that are outside our areas of giftedness. Paul tells the Thessalonian believers, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11 NIV) It is certain not all of these believers had the gift of encouragement; yet they are commanded to encourage. And the reason is, the believers needed it. It was a difficult time for them as they faced much persecution as a result of their faith.
Whatever your spiritual gifts may be, know there is a need to encourage your fellow believers. It’s a tough world and people can become discouraged. Words and acts of kindness can do wonders for our spirits as they have for mine. And the more you practice, the better you will become at it.
© Jim Musser 2019