Is Encouragement Overrated?
I’ve been developing my writing craft for about nine years now (since around 2003) and mom’s been saying the same thing since I started. She’d say the same things about the Bible studies I led and on some occasions when I’ve “brought the Word.” You’d think I’d get it.
Then there’s the social marketing classes I’ve been taking the last few years. They echo her words. And the books I’ve read, and now, some of the counsel I receive about ministry.
The message seems loud and clear: BE ENCOURAGING!
People want to hear how their situation is not as bad as it feels. They want to be told that tomorrow is a new day, that God is in control, and that the yuck and mire of life is something we should smile through, if for no other reason than in celebration of the fact that it’s temporary.
It seems everyone wants me (and any other loudspeaker for God) to flower our words with niceness and motivating words. That’s the way to make people like you. That’s the way to grow an audience. That’s the way to build a platform, or to earn respect as a minister or teacher.
It’s good advice. Makes perfect sense, actually. If you’ve been around my blogs long enough, you know I believe encouragement is among the core functions the church. The church should edify the saints, encourage everyone, and evangelize the lost.
But stubbornly, my writing rarely takes the turn toward encouragement. You won’t hear my voice when you’re in the darkest places of your life. In fact, the reality is, if you stick around the blog long enough, you’re likely to see me in my darker moments. You’ll read things you think shouldn’t be written. You’ll hear me open up about things — ugly, yucky, feel crappy, pity party things — that may make you feel worse.
But I’m okay with that.
It being Easter and all, I was reading this week about how Jesus took his closest friends with him to the Garden of Gethsemane, and I wondered what Jesus was hoping to accomplish? I’m guessing he wasn’t about to offer them some sunshine and daffodil message about the life he was about to so dramatically sacrifice?
Quite the contrary. It seems Jesus, the teacher, wanted to be able to lean on these “students” he called his friends and brothers. What was the offense of their sleeping if not simply that they were unavailable to Jesus, the Son of God, when he needed them most?
Look into Jesus’ ministry and you won’t find an abundance of encouragement. It was often the case that Jesus spoke with intentional candor to his disciples about how crappy things could get. What, with his talk of swords and crosses and persecution. Look no further than Luke 12 for an example of his teaching that this life would not spell out some amazing picture of fortuitous circumstances.
Jesus did indeed come to set the captives free, and to proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord. But he also challenged what the disciples believe God wanted from them. He reinterpreted the Law (sermon on the mount), family (who is my mother?), and the idea that life following him is all peaches and cream (“take up your cross”). He was not simply a messenger of rescue and encouragement, but of intellectual challenge and some real tough love in life. Both in good measure.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in God’s kingdom, and I’m starting to think it may not include so many encouraging pats on the head. The truth is, Christianity is hard. It’s a battle, waged between ego and God, and evil and God. Following God is hard. The devil attacks, and trials and temptations are a part of life. To hide this would be counter the “candid” nature of this blog.
So accept this as a disclaimer. Being “candid” means I have no interest in setting myself up as a fictitiously happy, hiding-all-the junk, answer-man kind of minister. We’ve got way too many of those and people are getting sick of that facade anyway. It really doesn’t fool anyone these days.
Instead, I want to share with my fellow Christians my Gethsamanes, and I want to be there awake and ready to listen when you are in yours. We’ll be real, then we’ll be encouraging, and God will get the glory through it all.
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