Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for…Encouragement
by Shelly Burke

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  1 Thess. 5:11

One thing I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older (more “mature”) is that even the most confident-appearing, fashionably dressed, perfect-hair-day-every-day person is insecure in some way.

The person who (to my eyes) gives brilliant answers in Bible class worries that people will think she’s “dumb” or “talks too much.”

The member of the choir who sings beautifully? Fears that others will think she is “showing off”.

And the “everyday” people? The mom who takes her kids to church thinks her kids are “too loud” during the sermon.

The quiet elderly man in Bible Class? Terrified to ask a question (which happens to be a question I’ve thought about for years).

Everyone—even the most confident-appearing people—needs and appreciates encouragement.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs the Thessalonians, and by extension, us, to encourage each other “just as you are doing.” Paul doesn’t provide a list of things the people had been doing, so I think they were simple, every day things—probably things you have been doing or can easily start doing, in order to “encourage and build one another up.”

     *Tell the harried mom whose kids kept her busy during church, “I’m so glad you’re here! I know it’s a challenge, but it’s worth it to get your kids to know God.”

     *Thank the pastor, choir director, soloist, education director, organist, secretary, Bible Study leader, your co-workers or boss, for what they do. So often we are touched and encouraged by what they do…but we forget that they need encouragement too.

     *Ask someone you know is going through a difficult time, “How are things going?” The person may answer with just a few words—or you might hear a detailed accounting of the last few days. Either way, you’ve showed that you care. You don’t have to have the “right” words—just listen and, if appropriate, tell her you are praying for her.

     *Give a hug “just because.”
     *Text a Bible verse to your kids or a friend facing a difficulty.

     *Pray…for your family, for friends, for acquaintances if you know they are facing a tough decision or hard time. You do not have to know the details; ask God to bless the person and care for and provide for him or her as the person needs. God knows the details!

     *Send someone a card of encouragement and include a Bible verse that is specific to his or her situation.
     *Surprise a friend or acquaintance—with a flower, treat, or something they’ve mentioned needing or wanting, like a book, a CD, or scented lotion.

     *Give anonymously or to a stranger. Pay for the purchase of the car behind you in the fast-food drive through. Ask the cashier to apply the change from your purchase, to that of the person behind you in the check-out line. Wish the cashier a nice day. Smile at the person who looks lonely; take a few minutes to chat about the weather or what you’re making for supper.

A wonderful "side effect" of encouraging others is that you will immediately feel better about yourself and your life. God Himself encourages us through His Word and the people He puts in our lives. Share His love and encouragement by passing on that love and encouragement to those whose lives you touch.

Lord, thank You for encouraging me through Your word. Please, help me to show your love by encouraging and lifting others up. Amen. 

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D is for…Discernment

By Shelly Burke

Life offers us many choices, every day.

Many, if not most decisions don’t matter much more than a few moments—what to prepare for supper, what to wear, evening plans.

Some choices have short-term or minimal consequences; where to vacation, whether to attend an event.  

Some, decisions, however, have much larger and longer-term consequences. Whether or not to marry. What career or job to seek. How to react to a child’s continued negative behavior. Whether or not to continue a friendship with someone who makes negative choices. Whether or not to accept a new job that requires relocation across the country. Whether or not to continue a marriage. How much debt to obtain.

The easy decisions are, well, just that. Easy. Trying a new recipe could result in a stomach ache but probably nothing longer-lasting. A vacation to a resort that features a tiny, algae-filled pool and only sandwiches at the “gourmet buffet” will probably result in nothing more than bad memories—or a few good laughs and the resolution never to go back there!

But those big, sometimes life-changing decisions require discernment, which can be described as “the process of determining God’s will in a situation or for your life.” How can we discern God’s will?  
Begin with prayer. Tell the Lord about the decision you face and your options. Ask Him to help you discern the path you should take. Pray that He will lead you to make a decision that is pleasing to Him. Listen for His still, small voice. You might not receive a clear answer right away. Continue to pray, and  pay attention to people who cross your path, Bible verses that come to mind, and more information you might find regarding the decision.

Next go to The Book which offers guidance to making all of the decisions you will face.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

We must remember that no matter what “the world” says is acceptable, as Christians we test our options against God’s Word. In doing so we can quickly discern that working in an abortion clinic is not in line with His Word. Helping someone steal, even in extreme circumstances, is not obeying Him. Despite what “the world” says, we can quickly discern from His Word that homosexuality is wrong (Romans 1:26-29, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:8-10).

“Walk as children of light and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10

How do we walk as “children of light”? By reading God’s Word and determining what is “pleasing to the Lord.” He gives us many guidelines throughout His Word, perhaps most notably the Ten Commandments. We can build our character by seeking to develop the “fruits of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Throughout His word we can learn from the mistakes people made during Bible times, and we can find principles to follow.

Proverbs 15:22 tells us, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Obviously, if you seek enough counselors you will get the answer you want to hear, so be sure to seek counsel from people you trust to tell you the truth, God’s truth.

You may be surprised at path the Lord puts you on or asks you to take but by seeking His will and using discernment, you can be sure that you are on the right path. 

Lord, when I face decisions, please help me to use Your word, listen for Your voice and seek wise counsel so that I may discern the choice that pleases You. Amen.