6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.
10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 11 All power to him forever! Amen.
-1 Peter 5:6-11 (NLT)
When I was a kid, there was such a thing as western songs. The genre was called “Country Western.” George Strait sang a few like “Cheyanne” and “Amarillo by Morning” in his early years but you don’t hear many of them anymore. Now days country music is about beer, girls and suntans but it used to be about cowboys, horses and rodeos. I remember sitting with my grandma in her house trailer listening to Marty Robbins singing El Paso and The Streets of Laredo. Western songs tapped into the American West and one of the first I learned as a child was “Home on the Range” which was adapted from a poem written in 1972. “Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
One of the features of our culture circa 2019 is that “often is heard a discouraging word and the skies can seem cloudy for weeks on end.” Discouragement occurs when people are disappointed, hurting, desperate or disillusioned and can find no relief or source of hope in which to tap.
Whether you think people should feel the way they do really doesn’t matter.
Whether you think people made their own problems really doesn’t matter.
Whether you think our culture has grown soft doesn’t really matter either.
People are discouraged today, many for good reason and most have no idea where to turn.
Since many do have faith; God is neither an outlet nor a source of hope.
Since so many families are dysfunctional, family is neither an outlet or a source of hope.
Since many don’t have any real friends, deep friendship is neither an outlet or a source of hope.
So where do they turn? Cowboys had horses to talk to but we have the internet! Almost everyone has access to a computer and Social Media is free…and if you have ever spent one minute on Social Media you know this, “We are not home on the range anymore!” I often read things that spew like a well shaken soft drink spews out of its can when it is opened. The internal pressure is just too great and the second it has a chance for release, everything rushes to the exit. My temptation is to just unfollow, unfriend and block people who spew but perhaps the Christian solution is not quite so easy. Loving our enemies is different than ignoring them and praying for those who persecute us is different than avoiding them. Both love and prayer are active stances; as counter-cultural as they are messy. May I share an uniquely Christian thought with you? What if we accepted God’s call to be encouragers to the discouraged?
Encouragement is actually a gift of the Holy Spirit that is found in Romans 12: 8 and embodied by the ministry of Christ. Jesus met people where they were but he never left them that way. Jesus never went up to a demon possessed person and said, “You are just fine the way you are and don’t ever let anyone tell you different. God made you like that so you just keep on with your destructive behaviors, hanging out in cemeteries and freaking people out.” Jesus would cast the demon out, gave the person their life back, tell them to sin no more and send them home to a new life. Jesus reminds us that encouragement isn’t afraid to tell the truth. Encouragement tells the truth in love and the way, the truth and the life is found only in Jesus Christ. In fact, a failure to speak truth isn’t encouragement at all.
We have a large back yard containing a fire pit. I love to build camp fires in the spring and fall and just sit out back and chill. Keeping a fire going is easy but getting a fire started can be difficult. You need kindling. You have to start with small and highly flammable things and then use them to ignite larger and less immediately flammable things. And once you catch a couple pieces of full sized fire wood on fire; you are set! Encouragement is kindling the love of Christ in the life of someone else. It is seeing something good in someone and placing energy there. It is as transforming as it is counter-cultural.
Let’s take a look at some counter-cultural ideas concerning the ministry of encouragement and what it takes to keep encouraging when encouraging is hard. First of all, when is encouragement easy? When people are doing what you think they ought to be doing and thinking the way you think they ought to be thinking. When is encouragement hard? When people are not doing what you think they ought to be doing and not thinking the way you think they ought to be thinking.
Imagine your kid or grandkid is playing baseball or softball this summer. One night they go 4-4, drive in 3 runs, score two, make a defensive gem to save the game and the team wins by two. You are watching all this, people are nodding at you approvingly for providing such wonderful genes and you are happy you had children! After the game, you go celebrate with the team and your kid is the star of the show. You relive each moment, tell stories from the past, animate, laugh and get ice cream…with sprinkles. It is like an encouragement camp fire and everyone share in its warmth.
NOW imagine your kid goes 0-4, strikes our 3 times, makes two errors and the team loses 12-1. To make matters worse, said child make the final out…with runners on base…looking at a pitch down the middle. The umpire calls strike three and there is an awkward moment. You are in your lawn chair correctly suspecting the other fans wish your whole family was on vacation this week and had missed the game entirely. They don’t know what to say and you don’t know what to say but it’s bad. You really want to just quietly leave and go home as quickly as possible but can you really do that with your kid crying in the dugout?
So you say something loud while you’re are folding up your lawn chair like, “That’s okay” but it is like those people on Family Feud who answer the question, “Name something in a house that is green?” with the response, “The Bible” and the other family members condescendingly say, “Good answer” which really means “Terrible but we love you.” (BUZZ) What is really going on in your head as this game ends is those old Southwest Airlines “Want to Get Away?” commercials. But what you do is find something encouragement to build on. You say, “Stop crying. You did your very best and you played really hard. That one ball you hit will get through next time. It wasn’t your best night but I am still very proud of you and I love you very much.”
So here is the deal: When it is most difficult to encourage someone is often when that person needs encouragement the most.
Despite the fact he made the Hall of Fame, the apostle Peter was an inconsistent player early in his career. There were games he was 4-4 and occasions he struck out all four times. There is not one person in the Bible Jesus scolded more than Peter. There is not one person in the Bible into whom Jesus invested more than Peter. Sometimes the only encouraging thing you have going is having someone in your life who loves you enough to not give up on you. Let’s explore what Peter has to say about encouragement.
V. 6 Humble yourselves under the power of God and in good time, you will be rewarded If there is an upside to failure, it does keep you humble. I was more open to coaching after an 0-4 game. Peter was humbled time and time again but Jesus wouldn’t give up on him! Jesus said, “Peter, I see something special in you and I refuse to lie to you on one hand or to give up on you on the other.” Over the course of a couple of days, Peter had told Jesus he didn’t need to die, gone to sleep on watch in the Garden of Gethsemane, publicly denied Jesus and abandoned Jesus during the crucifixion. 0-4. Can you imagine how Peter felt when he saw a resurrected Jesus for the first time?
Peter wrote to a church he led that was suffering both internal and external pressures; as a man who had suffered both internal and external pressures. It was a difficult time to be the church and like today, there were times when it seemed you couldn’t win regardless of what you did. Being a leader of any kind in 2019 is like walking across a Midwestern cow pasture; you are going step in something and some of it is going to explode all over your shoes. Peter’s church was discouraged, but Peter was discouraged as well. What does a discouraged leader say to encourage a discouraged church? He encourages them by sharing something greater than how we feel right now or what is going on around us. The Word of God! First comes truth and then comes love.
Let’s explore the truth and then the encouragement!
V. 8 A warning for the church
#1 Be careful
Counter-cultural movements must be intentional. We are going against the grain. In challenging times, we have to be careful about what we say, what we post and what we do. In a time when all things are taken in the worst possible way, Christians must be most cautious to “do no harm.” We must realize the Gospel sometimes offends but we must not proclaim it offensively. We need to work to say the right things in the right spirit and in the right way; pray before we speak and especially pray before we post.
#2 Watch for attacks from Satan (roaring lion)
Counter-cultural movements must be vigilant. Lions in the wild attack the weak, the sick, the young, the vulnerable and the isolated. When we remove ourselves from regular worship and community we become spiritual stragglers inviting attack. We must stay aware and stay in the fellowship of the church.
#3 V. 9 Take a firm stand
Counter-cultural movements must be clear. If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything. There are some things that are non-negotiable for me. Among them are the active existence of a God who loves absolutely everyone, the centrality of Christ for salvation, the power of the Holy Spirit to conduct ministry and the authority of Scripture to speak into our lives. We must stand clearly and firmly on these things.
#4 Be strong
Counter-cultural movements must be resilient. In our flesh, adversity make us weak but in the spirit adversity will make us strong. I learned as an athlete, what makes you sore will soon make you strong if you stay at it. I am not going to argue with anyone and I am not going to return evil with evil but I am not backing down either.
# 5 Remember other Christians are suffering
Counter-cultural movements must keep the bigger game in mind. Self-pity is a weapon of Satan. The great prophet Elijah spoke the word of the Lord and king Ahab wanted him dead. Now in hiding, he says, “God, I am the only prophet you have.” God replied, “Stop it. I have many others.” Among the things Jesus promised is that his followers would be persecuted and hated by the world. Self-pity makes us fold when we ought to raise the stakes in our spiritual lives. Next time you are squirting weak sauce into the eye of God, just hear him say, “Stop it.” He has said it to better people than you and me.
Encouragement for the Church
- 10 After you have suffered for a while God will… Counter-cultural movements must realize suffering is part of following Jesus. I don’t know of a single Christian or a single church that has not had great challenges, disappointments and let downs. But when we are faithful in the hard times, God does some very specific things us!
#1 Restore us
#2 Support us
#3 Strengthen us
#4 Place us on a firm foundation
And what seals all this?
11 All power is his forever Because Jesus holds all authority in heaven and on earth; power is his to give. We do not weakly stand in our own strength, we triumphantly stand in the power of the Holy Spirit!
Here is the formula:
- Learn to spot the good in people
- Verbalize what you see to that person
- Speak truth in love
The world has far too many critics. Critics tear down without building up.
People are discouraged. We need encourageers.
We need people in our lives who absolutely refuse to give up on us.
Might you be one of these people?
Might God use you to speak truth and love into the life of someone today?
Do you feel the call?
Let’s encourage each other, even…no especially when it is hard.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997