Choosing to Encourage

I was in the third grade when I painfully discovered something about myself. A teacher was giving a math lesson on the multiplication table using a chart with colored geometric shapes. She asked for a volunteer to provide the answer to 3X3, referring to the colored circles on the poster. I raised my hand, was called on, and enthusiastically shouted out, “Nine blue circles!” I knew I had the right answer. But the teacher’s response confused me. “No, they’re purple. What’s wrong with you?” She then asked another child to provide the “correct” answer. Everyone in the class was looking. That was the first time I remember feeling such shame. Something was wrong with me. A year later at an eye doctor’s appointment, I was diagnosed with a type of color blindness. Certain shades of blues and purples, among other colors, looked virtually the same in my world.

On the surface, this shouldn’t have been an event that left a scar. Yet more than 50 years later, it’s still quite vivid in my memory. I forgave the teacher who callously humiliated me a long time ago and have since learned to laugh off most of my color-blind blunderings. But the incident also highlighted for me the difference between merely calling out people’s weaknesses versus calling out courage for them to grow beyond their weaknesses and walk out their destiny.

What’s on God’s heart for me?

There are all kinds of human weaknesses. The Bible is clear that God is merciful, gentle, and kind. Yet He sees our sin and does not wink at it or write it off as merely a mistake. Our alienation from Him stems from the choice made long ago in human history, that people still affirm, to depend on our own understanding rather than on the One who made us. Jesus was sent to the earth to cover our shameful weaknesses and forgive and repair the damage done by our blatant sin. He does a perfect balancing act of truth and love.

So, how might God correct His children in their weaknesses and sin? He’s not afraid to point out the things in our lives that need to be mended or repented of. He loves us, after all, too much to let us remain the same, going around in circles in our brokenness. He desires to give us what we need to move forward. He sees each of us as we were meant to be: sons and daughters, members of His royal family. And that is the eternal future He is always drawing and calling us to.

Gideon, Coward or Hero?

A picture from the Bible that comes to mind is the Old Testament story of Gideon. The nation of Israel was in a mess. A couple of neighboring people groups, the Midianites and the Amalekites, had been swarming through the land for years stealing all the food so that Gideon, his family, and the rest of the nation were on the brink of starvation. The story opens with Gideon threshing a small amount of grain in a winepress. He was trying to hide what he had from the enemy. I’m sure it looked kind of ridiculous. An angel of the LORD shows up and says, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!” (Judges 6:12 NLT). Gideon surely looked around to see who this stranger was talking to. There was nothing heroic going on in that winepress. In fact, after the angel tells Gideon to go rescue the Israelites from the Midianites, Gideon explains that of all the people of Israel he is the least likely to be a candidate for such a task.

What’s going on here? God is speaking to this man according to how He, his Maker, sees him rather than how Gideon himself or those in his family or tribe understand the man. God is first and foremost declaring Gideon’s destiny and expecting him to live up to it. The story goes on to give some detail. God calls out the idolatry in Gideon’s family and tells him what to do as an act of repentance. God also works several miracles as an affirmation of His word over Gideon’s life and calling.

Encouragement is what I see flowing from God to this man. Yes, sin and bad behavior are called out. But God begins by addressing Gideon according to how He sees him: “Mighty hero!” Wow! God is all about moving his sons and daughters forward into their destiny! And He wants to give courage and strength by affirming our true identities. Therefore, He doesn’t condemn and close off hope. He will convict of attitudes and behaviors that are not fitting for a child that bears His name. But He will always provide a way of dealing with it, which is called obedience.

What does God expect from me?

Now, if this is an example of how God seeks to approach us, calling out our true identity and then guiding us how to live it, how might He expect us to interact with each other? I believe it’s pretty much the same. We are to be encouragers just as our Heavenly Father is our encourager.

The word encourage basically means to inspire or stimulate courage. And courage is the quality of mind or spirit that gives strength to do the right thing and keep on going. We too can encourage others by calling out the destiny that God has for them. We get to be His mouthpieces like the angel that addressed Gideon. And how can we know what His destiny is for those around us? Stop, and ask Him. I’m sure He’ll show you something about that person next to you, if you’re determined to communicate it.

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT).

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT).

Ask for help . . . and then do it!

There are so many ways, even beyond words, that we can encourage others to walk out the destiny God has for them. I’m assuming my third-grade teacher hadn’t thought much about this. She missed an opportunity to impart some courage to a little boy at a moment who could have really used it. My insecurity with colors became a major obstacle to pursuing a career as an illustrator, one of my early aspirations. A simple hug, some private questions for clarity, and assurance that I was okay could have worked some wonders that day.

Don’t miss any opportunities to be God’s spokesperson. Ask Him to give you His eyes for those around you: your children, your students, your spouse, your coworkers, strangers in the grocery store. You, as a follower of Jesus, have something to give: COURAGE!

Don’t hold back!

Response

  • Think of a time that another person has encouraged you. What did they do or say that renewed your hope and gave you a bit more strength to go on?
  • What is the destiny that God is calling you to?
  • What would it take for you to see those around you through the eyes of Jesus? How might seeing them that way help you be more of an encourager?
  • How confident are you in your own destiny as a son or daughter of God? How can you help those around you see themselves more like how God sees them?
  • Jesus, how do you see me? How do you see the person I interact with every day?

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