June 2023

Keep your head above water

The adage “keep your head above water” is certainly applicable to faithfully living the Christian life when you are feeling overwhelmed. The sensation of drowning in the midst of problems, struggles, and challenges calls for a determined trust in God that is greater than our feelings. David was familiar with the trauma caused by life, and he often expresses the raw emotion of those in the Psalms.

Psalm 69:20 is one such confession by David. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. When life is ticking along smoothly, we give little thought to preparing for the times of struggle. Regardless of the source of your tauntings, be they health, financial, relational, or decisions gone bad, reaching that point of  heart break and despair is torturous. The sense of aloneness can be demoralising to say the least. David was there; human friendship had failed, personal resources had failed, there was no light in his tunnel of life, but he knew Yahweh would not fail him.

Psalm 69:1-3 records David’s initial cry of despair. ​Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. David had reached his end. His perception of life was understandably human in its focus, and he was tired of waiting for God to respond in the way he expected. Yet, in spite of the seemingly hopeless nature of his situation, David calls out in dependence upon the God of hope. But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness (Psalm 69:13).

Burnt out expectations eventually yielded to the providential love of God which supplied the required trust that David lacked (Psalm 40:4; Jeremiah 17:7). This trust looked to God for what seemed impossible, and it clung to God for compassionate relief at the most appropriate time. Like David, we can keep our heads above water when all else seems lost by trusting God. Trust that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) regardless of circumstances and what others may say.

Never give up on prayer, that God will embed within you acceptance, patience, and relief. Pray for His presence to be the comfort you need. Pray for wisdom to discern God operating within your heart and to observe His coordination of external events (James 1:5). Pray for common sense to navigate the complexities of your situation in ways that will lead you closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. Determine to rest in God’s plan for your life to glorify Him. Wait for God to work in His time and through the supportive people He brings into your life.

Never abandon reading God’s Word. Talk to the Lord about what you’re reading. Question Him. Share your raw thoughts and feelings with Him. Worship Him with whatever thoughts of gratitude you can muster. Distract yourself from the surrounding problems with times of spiritual focus using whatever methods are available to you. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

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Comforting Encouragement – Part 2

Just as we all express encouragement differently, so also, encouragement is perceived differently from person to person. What may seem amazing to one person, may not even register with another. Therefore, thoughtful grace needs to be operating in all believers to compensate for and enhance the learning process of how to express and receive encouragement appropriately. Personal history, personality, culture, health, and maturity are some of the key players in the business of encouragement. Plus, its grace that elevates encouragement to the level of comfort, but only if it is received. While our hearts are remarkably sensitive at receiving, they are not always so delicate at expressing compassionate sentiments. Both the giver and the receiver share equal responsibility in the ministry of encouragement.

Included in Paul’s relational teaching to the church in Rome, He instructed them to give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:17-18). Here, Paul is saying that believers are to consider the different ways we express honour to different people as all people will perceive honour differently. Also, we are to do our best to express and receive other’s attempts to show us honour with a peaceful attitude. This speaks to the matter of not allowing ourselves to take offence when no offence was intended. It thinks the best of the other person. That’s grace.

With the concept of grace in our thinking, Romans 15:5-7 takes on a fresh dimension. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Christ welcomes us with the listening grace of acceptance, of preforgiveness, in full knowledge of all our shortcomings and failings. Just as Christ glorifies God by welcoming us with such grace, so also, we glorify God when we welcome others likewise. God is by nature the God of endurance and encouragement, and endurance is greatly fuelled by the strength that comes through encouragement, whether we are receiving or expressing it.

As we learnt from 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we are to encourage one another and build one another up, which is the graceful purpose that should be intentional. But I suggest, that listening to and receiving those words or actions of encouragement should be received for the purpose of being built up yourself, which is graceful listening. Again, this thinks the best of the other person. Grace!

In Acts 14:22, Paul was strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. What a wonderful and realistic example Paul leaves us. He did not hide from the difficult realities of the Christian life, and he also highlights the resource of strength that comes through encouraging… to continue in the faith. Often, pain follows us as we enter and live in this stage of God’s Kingdom, and the human expression of encouraging one another to remain faithful is critical to our spiritual sanity. We also do this by not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).

As we perceive the closeness of Christ’s return to snatch up His bride, so we should be motivated to do and receive encouragement in an attitude of grace, for God’s glory.

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Comforting encouragement

Both comfort and encouragement are regularly needed by the human heart, and they work best when operating in synchromesh with each other. Plus, both are able to be conveyed and received in multiple ways, but always best when done with authentic love. Consequently, refreshment at some level, and to some degree, is usually the result. Here we see the compassionate nature of God, who has  designed and equipped believers as agents of His grace.

It seems a contradiction by worldly thinking, that the LORD is able to show His mercies while we are engulfed in the pains of life. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction… (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Instead of only offering comfort to those enjoying the sweet and smooth times of life, God offers comfort during struggles for those suffering. Counter to the culture of our times, the greater our suffering, the greater the availability of meaningful comfort to sustain us. The reservoir of divine comfort is as limitless and as free as God’s mercy, simply waiting for the pained child of God to draw from.

Like Job of the Old Testament, it’s in the extremities of life that we realise more fully our fragile and limited personal resources. Once taken outside of our coping mechanisms, we often find ourselves in that vulnerable place of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

As it was following salvation, times of refreshing… come from the presence of the Lord… (Acts 3:19-20), so it is during the great difficulties of life, God is the source of refreshment which fuels our endurance. But how does He do this? What are some of the most common methods used by the LORD to transfer His comfort and refreshment to His child engulfed by trials? More often than not, God employs other believers to conduct the transfer.

As Yahweh is the God of endurance and encouragement (Romans 15:5), He uses those redeemed by Jesus Christ to communicate the required encouragement. So Paul commands us to encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Encouragement is to be intentional,  purposeful, and applied to one another in the body of Christ without discrimination as it looks to do it’s work. Since encouragement specifically looks to build up it’s recipients, Paul adds, be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14).

Paul understood that fragile hearts need building up through peaceful relationships that looks to encourage and help with patience. This takes only a little thought to gain some idea of the needs of the recipient. Our listening should not be flippant, dismissive, shallow, or self-serving, as we look to the interests of the other person as our priority (Philippians 2:4). What a spectacular recipe of grace. The fears of the heart which trigger so many internal malfunctions are kindly explored, and love is applied without pretence or force. There is no personal agenda here, only the desire to love on behalf of Christ.

The church of Jesus Christ is well equipped to apply His soothing love to those under the weight of life. A smile, a listening ear, a few minutes of genuine interest, is all it takes to initiate the process. Proverbs 16:24 reminds us, gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. The power of grace accompanied by a few words can have far reaching consequences for good and create opportunity for encouraging comfort.

To be continued…

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