Encouragement Skill #12

REMEMBER THE ORPHAN’S POSTURE

Imagine yourself receiving this news. The paperwork for the child your family has been waiting to adopt from overseas is finally finished.  Your new son is from war-torn Sudan.  He lost both his parents in the relentless bombing and desperately needs a new home as soon as possible.  Elated, you fly to the country and make plans to visit the orphanage where he has been living for the past year.  You have brought a couple of presents to give to him and you stop to pick up some balloons that morning to commemorate this wonderful occasion.  When you arrive, the director of the orphanage takes you aside.  “You will have to re-think the way you are going to greet him,” she says.  “All he has seen are the ravages of war.  He trusts no one and rarely comes out of the corner of his room.”

This is the posture of the orphan.  Withdrawn, suspicious, distant.  How will you adapt your plan to meet him?  You will pray a lot.  You will hold back the balloons, maybe even the gifts initially.  You will slower your pace, call his name softly, kneel down to eye level.  You will try to encourage a moment of eye contact so he can see the love in your eyes.  You will pray for God to give you some kind of tender gesture to build a thread of credibility.  You know it’s going to be a slow process.  Much time will pass before you will have a child who knows how to receive love. Normal life is quite far off.

Why do I have you imagine this scene?  Because many of us will be called upon to care for someone severely wounded and/or in a condition where they can’t speak.  For some, their life-story has been such that they feel they are only safe if they stay away from people.  They have been tucked away behind a wall of mis-trust.  Or, others are in ICU, in and out of a coma, on life support, and can’t speak.  They may look at you now and then but there are no words.  How comfortable will you be in their presence?  The learned ways you use to reach everyone else will not be effective for this person. Cards, flowers, or a phone call will not do it.

It’s time to re-assess.  Coming to sit with them, praying their story, respecting their fear and being willing to make slow progress, these are some of the things required.  God will help you customize efforts to win trust and impact their heart.  He knows how they are made, knows their story, and He is the only One who knows perfectly how to build a bridge. He excels with non-verbals.  “I’ll pour robust well-being into her like a river.  You’ll nurse at her breasts, nestle in her bosom, and be bounced on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I’ll comfort you.”  Isaiah 66:12-13  These are all gestures that don’t require talking.  Nestling, bouncing, nursing, comforting.  There are times when words aren’t enough but God is not limited in love language.  Nor are we.  Though we may be initially uncomfortable, love carries us through the discomfort.  God will show us how to do what so few are willing to do.

Some of your most powerful miracles with people didn’t involve words.  Breathing on your disciples, urging Elisha to lay on the dead child of the Shunamite woman.  I am willing to reach out and be unconventional for the sake of someone who needs You.  Use me, Lord.  Amen

Encouragement Skill #9

ASK GOOD QUESTIONS

“Where are you?”  It was the first question posed in the history of our world.  God was the one was doing the asking.  While a question is usually asked for the purpose of finding an answer, it was not true in this case.  God sees all things and knows all things.  He knew right where Adam and Eve were but perhaps they needed to admit they were hiding and why.  God continued to ask questions on and off throughout the Old Testament.  Seventy questions were posed to Job alone; heart wrenching questions that, in the end, brought perspective to his despair.

When Jesus lived here, He asked over three hundred questions but when others inquired of Him, He only answered a handful because a good number of questions were traps.  Jesus’ asked someone a question for the purpose of self-revelation.  There was something a person needed to discover about themselves by digging deeply.

Jesus asked Philip, while they looked out over a hillside dotted with hungry people, “Where are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?”  Would Philip answer with a statement of faith?  “There’s no food here but that’s not a challenge for You, Lord!”  Instead, he felt the stress of a problem too big to be humanly solved. Faith was absent.  I also remember Jesus asking the cripple at the Pool of Siloam, “Do you want to be well?”  To him, it must have sounded like a foolish question but it was one that reverberated with meaning in depths of his soul.  Was he really ready to have his identity changed?  Did he want to relate to others as someone independent rather than needy?  Was he ready to give up the attention he was accustomed to?

When I am hurting, it’s easy to get stuck in my own head.  The events of my life swirl round and round and hold me captive.  “Are you having a good day today?” is unhelpful for it invites a one-word answer and does nothing to help me find any relief.  I may need to talk but have no idea where to start.  Most of the time, people are shy of someone who hurts.  The darkness is intimidating and they feel the pressure of thinking they have to have answers.  The real gift is expressing a love that is interested enough to ask the question.  It’s often the only time someone who is afflicted is invited to say what desperately needs to be said, to admit what they have borne alone, and to reveal what has tormented them but has never before found words.

A good question is not one that can be answered with a simple yes or a no.  It is one that opens the soul.  i.e. How are you handling this?  What’s the most difficult part of this journey?   Most of us want, and need, to tell a part of our story to someone who loves us, someone safe and wise.  Our experience is that few either care enough to ask or are not equipped with enough experience to know that heartfelt questions can be so extremely helpful.

Lord, help me discern the questions you might ask that would bring relief and spiritual breakthroughs.  I am your servant. Amen

Really Reaching Those Who Hurt

Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road?   Luke 24:32

I know how I feel when the Spirit of God speaks to me.  It’s especially meaningful when I need Him the most.   It’s wonderful, it’s convicting, it even causes me to ache for my future home with Jesus. I bet I feel like the group Luke describes.  They were walking down the road; Jesus showed up and began to share with them.  They didn’t recognize Him until afterward when they reviewed how they had felt when He spoke to them.  They described the experience like this ~’Did our hearts not burn within us as He talked?.’

What is it your hurting friend needs most? I often struggle to know how to reach out, having exhausted all my creativity to make a dent in their place of pain.  But really, what they need is a word, a touch, from Jesus.  When we speak, or sit beside them, or send a card, or extend meaningful touches, we should leave them feeling that something sacred occurred.  The memory of us being there should be akin to feeling that their ‘heart burned within them.’

This series will explore twelve creative ways to extend encouragement. Each suggestion helps lay a groundwork for God to show up.  So, who is it for whom your heart aches?  Who is it that has drained you of internal resources?  Who is it that is no longer affected by anything you do or say and you wonder what you should do next?  There are things we can do and there are things we can say.  Gestures will only make a spiritual impact if the Spirit has fueled them.  Over the next two weeks, I’ll be offering one suggestion a day.  Think of it.  That person you care about, the one who has shut himself or herself away into a place that is hard to reach, they just might feel Jesus’ touch.

Twelve encouragement skills can be perceived as twelve formulas.  Know that they are not and I need to qualify something. You and I can’t give away what we first don’t posses for ourselves!  If I don’t work out my own theology of pain and God’s sovereignty, I will not be able to provide the deep soul care others need despite my best efforts.  My words will ring hollow and they will be able to see through me.  Credibility builds a successful bridge.

Someone who knows Jesus well can say just a few words and I’m changed.  Someone who has not been with Jesus in a long time, and exerts effort from their own heart, can say a hundred words and fail to move me.  I received a note some time back from someone I hadn’t seen in a while.  The note simply said, “He has heard your cry.”  This note came on a day when I had asked the Lord if He was listening.  I was discouraged, weary in prayer, so for this note to arrive meant a lot to me.  The one who wrote it was undoubtedly nudged by God to write just one sentence.  She was obedient.  Five words, Spirit-driven, gave me my breakthrough.

Prepare our ears, then our hands, to do Your work of compassion.  Amen

Why Can’t I See Him?

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8

Purity and defilement are polar opposites. A pure heart sees God. A defiled heart does not. A pure heart has a cleansed conscience. A defiled heart has a seared one.

Can I achieve purity of heart with mere mental discipline? Not remotely. Some would say to just ‘think on the things’ that Paul advocates in Philippians. But those mental gymnastics don’t make me pure. Though they might help me stay pure in heart, purity is the gift God gives to me upon confession of sin.  A defiled heart is one that is deceived. To the degree that I have a history of unconfessed sin, I can be sure that deception has a hold on me and has rendered me partially blind. Christ won’t be someone I treasure because my vision is impaired.

When mentoring women, I take them through a life inventory. I explain that past sins, not yet confessed, bear consequences of spiritual blindness. Unholy spiritual legacies from family bloodlines will also pass on deception. Let me speak from personal experience. My father, and his parents, belonged to the Masonic Lodge. When he asked to be released from his vows, he initiated a freedom for my sister and me. If he had stayed in the Lodge, he would have passed on spiritual blindness since the belief system of the Lodge is rooted in Eastern religion. Our family did some significant spiritual work to fully renounce the ties of our ancestors. Just as they took vows, one at a time, they needed to be renounced one at a time. Some vague general prayer didn’t really hit the mark.

Paul addressed this subject another way. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Titus 1:15   My rudder, resident in my conscience, is corrupted by unbelief.

If I want to see God and remain pure in heart, I need to be tough on sin. I aim to be a sin-killer. Otherwise, I risk wearing foggy eyeglasses when I behold the face of God.

Bad eyesight can creep up on me. Expose my sin before it metastasizes. I want to see You in all of Your glory. Amen

When Satan Pours On The Heat

And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13

I find that temptation rarely comes on a good day. I would have more resources to resist. Temptation comes when I’m worn down, when I’ve lost a night’s sleep, when I’m grieving something, or when I’m stressed by life. That’s when the enemy pours it on. Is there a scripture to support that? Actually, yes.  Jesus went from his own beautiful baptism by John the Baptist to the desert for 40 days. His calling was followed by a season of testing. (Isn’t that the way it is!) When Jesus was alone, weathering the elements of an unforgiving wilderness, hungry, tired….that’s when Satan came with guns loaded. One temptation after another bombarded him to offer Jesus a way out of distress early.  Instead of persevering and waiting for God’s intervention and care, Satan wanted Him to take advantage of a counterfeit fix. All Jesus had to do was worship him.

We can also be sure that temptation will involve an offer of pain relief that encourages us to circumvent waiting on God. Jesus showed us what to do. He didn’t cave no matter how weakened He was. He quoted scripture and put the enemy in His place. He stayed the course and waited on God’s grace and comfort, and eventually, deliverance.

Today’s scripture is what concludes His wilderness temptation. When the devil had been unsuccessful at every juncture point, he departed from Jesus until another opportune time. When would that be? When Jesus would be weary from ministry, misunderstood by those who once loved Him, and betrayed by Judas. These would comprise the next opportunities for temptation.

If you are in a difficult period of life, beware of the one who doesn’t play fair. Satan loves to prey on the vulnerable. Listen for the roar of the pretend lion. Have a plan. Have some scripture picked out and ready so that when you want like everything to compromise, you can withstand the temptation. Every victory tones our spiritual muscles for the ‘next time.’

And when Your wilderness was over, You entered ministry with power. I want everything You promised. Don’t let me cave. Amen

Application, Not Theory.

So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.  Romans 10:17

Life-saving advice means that what was shared with me was so valuable that I couldn’t wait to go away and apply it.  I have complete confidence in it.

One of the meanings for faith, in the Greek, is ‘to have complete confidence in something.’  The evidence of confidence is application.

Abraham had faith in God.  How do we know that?  He left his home village of Ur and took off for a new life.  Saul had faith after experiencing Christ on the road to Damascus.  How do we know that?  He went from hunting down Christians to becoming ‘the hunted.’  Peter and Andrew had faith after hearing Jesus’ call to them.  How do we know that?  They left their fishing business and their families to follow Jesus, even unto death.

Many today say that they believe in God; that he lived, died, and spoke the truth.  They equate belief with faith.  Yet, there has been no action that has proven their confidence.  Words are cheap without evidence of life-change.

Ultimately, this is not a devotional about unbelievers vs. believers.  It is more personal.  I must ask myself the question, “Do I have faith that Scripture is true?”  I answer ‘yes’ without even blinking.  But if that’s true, am I acting upon what I read without hesitation?  Am I one who looks for loopholes?  Do I rationalize why I haven’t obeyed yet?

Or, am I bold in my application?  Will I stand up for truth in a meeting where it will cost me something?  Will I take on a challenge God has led me to if I fear I’m not qualified?  Will I risk offending family or even a good friend by charting a different course from them?  Will I leave a group where I’m comfortable if God is telling me to join a different Bible study, Sunday school class, or even go to a different church?

Difficult obedience is the proof of faith.  “Faith comes by hearing”….yes, but faith is more than saying “I believe.”  The essence of faith is a confidence that bears proof through actions.

I believe You, Lord.  In everything You speak, I believe You.  Where do I need to act on it today?  Show me where I’ve been lying to myself.  Amen