Monthly Encouraging Words
September, 2020 | Barbara Fiscus, M.A., CCLC
Last week, I was once again feeling weary and burdened with all of the negative news. It is very disheartening to read some of the news stories from around the country, in my state, and in my own community. I sometimes struggle as to how to respond. Do I shut it all out and simply pray about it, or do I actively stand up against it? Is the first response better, as it is an act of faith to simply trust God to provide the answer and rescue the situation, thereby assuring He gets the glory? Or is that being too passive, and what God really wants is for me to speak out, to be bold and vocal, as long as I do it with civility and respect? I am still not clear.
What I do know is that I don’t want to cause further anxiety or anger in others. I want to be able to offer people hope that overcomes their fears and brings them peace. In order to do that, though, I need to have peace inside of me. I need to know how to protect my own heart and mind first so I can be most effective in helping others to protect theirs.
It was in the midst of this mindset that God led me to a certain passage of Scripture: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 10:23-25, ESV).
That first sentence jumped out at me! God was encouraging my heart! “Hold on,” He seemed to be saying. “I am faithful.” He knows the fears we have. He understands our predicament. And He can be trusted. As I read on, it seemed He wanted not only to encourage my heart, but to also prompt me to encourage others: “Stir up one another; meet together; encourage one another. You see the Day drawing near.” I went back through, rereading each word carefully. I want to be one “who has ears to hear,” (Mark 4:9, ESV) especially when it seems God has given me a specific word.
The passage starts, “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” We need to adhere tightly to our hope and be bold in confessing it to others. While the author no doubt meant our spiritual hope, I believe God was also showing me another perspective. In a world filled with bad news, simply spreading good news can be the hook that draws people in. Most people in southeast Alaska can testify to being captivated by a pocket of blue sky after days of dismal gray. It brings light and life. Philippians 4:8 says it this way: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 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” (ESV). And then take it another step further and speak about them. Share your optimism. Maybe you do that by encouraging those who are still frightened of the virus with the hopeful reminder that it is not nearly as infectious or deadly as once feared. Or maybe you bring up that a positive aspect of the evil and corruption we have seen exposed is that it has now been brought to light where many people have become actively engaged in the fight against it.
Another way we can share hope is from more a spiritual perspective, by pointing out that the light of Jesus shines most brightly in the darkest times. It is also true that, historically, it is in man’s greatest times of need--when he humbles himself enough to cry out to God for help--that the rescue begins. These are the times that have produced great revivals. And not only are we ripe for it, we are now beginning to see evidence that it is on its way. Many regard 2020 as the year from hell, but do not take into consideration that God may yet have an answer from heaven. The crises that began with COVID have created a resurgence of prayer worldwide. With each new catastrophe, I believe there are an increasing number of people turning to the Lord. Just this last weekend, tens of thousands of people gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to pray for our country. It is estimated that millions of others worldwide watched on and prayed. I have seen stories of spontaneous public worship and, more recently, mass baptisms. These are all causes for hope.
Finally, as was the original intent of this passage, we are to “hold fast the confession of our hope” of eternal life, and we are to do so “without wavering.” How can we have such confidence? Because “he who promised is faithful.” We can trust that God will follow through on His Word. Notice the verse doesn’t say, “hold fast our hope;” it says, “hold fast the confession of our hope.” To me, that means we are to be bold in our witness, sharing the good news of Jesus with others. In a world of uncertainty and fear, we have a Source of hope, and are called to declare Him. We are urged in 1 Peter 3:15: “…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Interestingly, the author added, “But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV). Apparently, that caution needed to be given back then, too.
The next statement in the Hebrews passage provides some relational instructions: 1) “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” 2) don’t neglect to meet together, and 3) encourage one another. It adds, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While some commentators believe the writer was alluding to Jerusalem’s destruction, others theorize “the Day” may have been a reference to the second coming of Christ. If we presume this latter view, the verse becomes even more relevant to us, as most Bible scholars seem to believe we are now literally “see(ing) the Day drawing near.”
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to take these instructions seriously. We ought to give careful thought as to how to motivate each other to love better, both in our hearts and with our actions. That may begin with helping people to see their specific giftings and finding ways in which they can utilize them for the good of others and the glory of God.
We are also cautioned not to neglect meeting together, “as is the habit of some.” It is interesting that one of the consequences of the pandemic has been a restriction on gatherings of people. Churches worldwide were banned from in-person meetings. Some still have not reconvened. Likewise, many state and local governments have limited the number of people allowed to congregate in various areas, especially indoors. Community events have been canceled and social distancing and masks have been enforced, at times severely. All of these measures have served to isolate people from one another. I believe this is a tool of the enemy to divide and conquer. We are stronger together, and he knows it. Clearly, so did the writer of Hebrews. We must be intentional about establishing and maintaining social connections, even if that means having smaller gatherings, whether to pray, break bread or recreate with others. If we are physically separated, we need to find creative ways to build those bridges.
The last exhortation in the passage is to encourage one another. Faith is contagious. So are enthusiasm, optimism and hope. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, ESV) Our God is a relational God. He desires intimacy with us, and He desires that we have intimacy with each other. Jesus called His disciples friends (John 15:15); Jonathan encouraged David in the Lord (1 Samuel 23:16); and Paul expressed many times his desire to both encourage others and be encouraged by them. He wrote to the Philippians, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2, ESV). At the time in which we are living, when so many things are unpredictable and unstable, we need each other all the more. “Woe to him who is alone when he falls…”
A couple days ago, I read some of Paul’s words of advice to Timothy. I thought them also particularly applicable to us today: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, ESV). This is my sincere desire--that we would so rightly handle the truth, giving our answers to others “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b, ESV), that they would “come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil.”
Paul’s very next words further establish their relevance to us today: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, ESV). Whew! What a list! I think it is safe to say we have seen much of this in our society today. However, I praise God that I can also say I see a large and growing remnant being activated in faith. There are people on their faces, seeking God for His rescue and revival. By holding fast the confession of our hope, stirring one another to love and good works, and being prepared with a gentle and respectful answer, we can be part of this amazing move of God!