‘Encourage…and build up one another.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NAS
Here are four questions you need to be able to answer: (1) Do people feel better about themselves after spending time with you? (2) Are your expectations so high that you focus on people’s shortcomings instead of their strengths? (3) When somebody speaks well of a person you don’t particularly like, do you feel the need to inject a disparaging remark? (4) Are you so insecure and lacking in self-worth that you only feel good about yourself by putting others down? Well, how did you do on the test? If you’re not four-for-four, it’s time to spend time with God in prayer and ask Him to help you change your attitude and what comes out of your mouth. Paul says, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (Ephesians 4:29 NIV) Words are like hammers: they can be used to break down or build up. It all depends on the person swinging the hammer! It’s just as easy to be part of the construction crew as it is to be a member of the wrecking crew. Make a habit of encouraging your family and your friends. Let your wife know she’s the only woman in the world for you. Express appreciation for your husband’s care and sense of responsibility. Applaud your teenager for avoiding drugs and alcohol. Thank your friends for keeping your secrets! Accept people as they are, and resist the temptation to constantly ‘fix’ something about them—that’s God’s job, not yours. Remember, you only have them for a short time!
‘…that it may go well with you and your children…’ Deuteronomy 4:40 NIV
Sometimes we get scared because our kids remind us so much of ourselves. We see in them the same fears and proclivities that we have struggled with. We watch them veering off life’s highway in some of the same spots where we crashed and burned and it’s difficult not to want to save them. But sometimes we can’t. They’ve grown up with their own mindset, strengths and dreams. And if the parable of the prodigal son teaches us anything, it’s that good parents can raise children who are only capable of learning the hard way. So what can you do? Pray for them—and ‘be there’ when they return. Many a successful adult was once a prodigal saved by the prayers of a parent who refused to give up on them. If what you’re doing is taking you away from prayer time for your children, your priorities are wrong. There’s nothing more valuable than the time you spend before God interceding on their behalf. You say, ‘But I don’t know how to pray.’ Try this: ‘Father, I’m concerned about the direction my children are taking. Right now they seem beyond the reach of my voice and influence. But You can reach them. You can remind them of what they’ve been taught—and initiate the circumstances that will bring them back to You. Your Word says if I obey You, things will go well for me and my children (Deuteronomy 4:40). So I stand on Your promise, believing they’ll choose to serve You and walk in Your blessing for the rest of their lives. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.’
‘Bring them…so I may bless them.’ Genesis 48:9 NIV
Here are three more things your children deserve from you: (1) Forgive them, and be willing to ask for their forgiveness. By doing this you’re teaching them that: a) We must all deal with the consequences of our actions. And that when we do, we grow. b) Failing doesn’t make you a failure; it’s just part of learning and maturing. It comes with the turf. c) We should be quick to extend to others the same grace that has so often been extended to us. (2) Separate the baggage. One man became anxious and depressed as his son approached his twelfth birthday. Shortly after the boy’s birthday party, the father was thumbing through a photo album from his own childhood. That’s when it dawned on him that he was twelve when his father abandoned the family and then killed himself. Watching his son approach the same age made him afraid because it reopened old wounds—unhealed ones. A caring counsellor helped him regain his perspective and peace by helping him realise he was a very different man from his father, and he wasn’t about to abandon his family. (3) Bless them. ‘“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”’ (Genesis 48:9 NIV) The principles you live by and the blessings you enjoy are meant to be passed on to your children and grandchildren. Whether it’s expressing what’s in your heart, or sending a note or email to say you’re proud of them, bless your children at every possible opportunity.
‘Children are a gift from the Lord.’ Psalm 127:3 NLT
Your children deserve certain things, like: (1) Time. Not leftover time at the end of the day, but prioritised time. If your life is ruled by a schedule and your children aren’t on it, do something—quickly. Otherwise there’ll come a day when you’re not included in their schedule. Simply watching television together for three hours won’t cut it; you must be ‘emotionally present’. Sometimes that means letting them see your fears and insecurities, even as they witness your delight and appreciation of them. (2) Openness. There’s so much our children can teach us about themselves, about ourselves, and about who God is. Once we realise we don’t have all the answers, we become open to allowing God to speak to us through our children. That kind of receptivity strengthens their faith, helps them remain teachable, and also keeps us young at heart. (3) Structure. It’s vital, during the formative years, to establish rules and maintain boundaries. Children need guidelines and a framework to feel secure. In the early years this includes things like having an established bedtime, then moving it back as they get older. This helps them understand that age brings freedom, but not all at once, because freedom brings responsibility and they’re not as ready to handle it as they think. Don’t try to be your child’s best friend or look to them to meet your emotional needs. Their shoulders aren’t broad enough to carry that load. Be confident in God, and in who you are. Seek outside encouragement from healthy sources. In short, strive to become the firm, gentle parent your child deserves.
‘I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind.’ John 14:27 NLT
You can control what goes on in your mind by filling it with God’s Word. Not the Word you read casually, but the Word you process mentally, apply to each situation that arises, and stand on in times of crisis because you know it’s your right to have the peace Jesus promised. Jesus corrected His disciples because they lost their peace of mind during a storm. He didn’t lose His. He was asleep in the back of the boat. So where are you today? Resting with Jesus in the back of the boat, or panicking with the others up front? Worry overwhelms you when you forget two things: (1) What the Lord has told you. Jesus said, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ (Mark 4:35 NIV) And once He spoke those words there wasn’t a wave big enough to sink them. Anytime you’re doing what God’s told you to do, you may go through storms but you won’t sink. (2) Who’s with you in the boat. The disciples thought they knew Jesus pretty well, but before the night was over they were asking, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’ (Mark 4:41 NIV) Has it ever occurred to you that the storm you’re in right now has been permitted by God to show you that you don’t have a problem He can’t solve; that you’re not alone, and that through this experience you’ll come to know Him better? In the Amplified Bible the words of Jesus are translated like this: ‘Do not let your hearts be…distressed, agitated.’ (John 14:1 AMP) The only power worry has over you—is the power you give it.
‘Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more.’ Philippians 1:21 GWT
Roman prisons were terrible places. Offenders were stripped, flogged and placed in leg irons. Their blood-soaked clothing wasn’t changed even in the dead of winter. And the ‘inner cell’ (Acts 16:24 NIV) where Paul and Silas were imprisoned was the worst. Lack of water, cramped conditions and the stench of toilets (if that’s what you could call them) made sleep impossible. Prisoners routinely begged for death, and some even committed suicide. It was your worst nightmare! Yet ‘Paul and Silas were…singing…and the other prisoners were listening.’ (Acts 16:25 NIV) Paul’s attitude impressed his fellow inmates before his religious beliefs ever reached them. Let’s face it, anybody can sing in church, including hypocrites. But when you can praise God in the midst of pain, pressures, and problems—that’s something else. How did they do it? They had a faith perspective! It’s not what you have lost, but what you have left that counts! Paul didn’t just sing in prison, he wrote some of his best stuff there. Here’s his take on it: ‘…through my being in prison, the Lord has given most of our brothers and sisters confidence to speak God’s word more boldly and fearlessly than ever… I will speak very boldly and honour Christ… now as always, whether I live or die. Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more.’ (Philippians 1:19–21 GWT) What are you going to do with a man or woman like this? They’re beyond your threats. Their strength comes from a source that’s not diminished by outside circumstances. That’s because they have a faith perspective. And that’s what you need today too!
‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
Hindrances, hang-ups, and hurdles are God’s gift to the self-sufficient. While He won’t let you use your weakness as a crutch or a cop-out, He’ll allow it to keep you dependent on Him. Paul wrote, ‘I was given a thorn…to…keep me from becoming proud.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT) Why would God keep you in touch with your limitations? To embarrass you? No, to empower you so that you can do His will. God’s intention is to increase, not decrease your need for Him. Perhaps this illustration will help you. Imagine four steel rings. The first can support eighty kg, the second sixty kg, the third forty kg, and the fourth twenty kg. Linked together, what’s the greatest weight the chain can support? Two hundred kg? No, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the answer is twenty kg! And it’s the same with us; we’re only as strong as our weakest area. That’s why we sometimes try to excuse or ignore them. But that’s dangerous because relying on your own strength may win you a few victories and accolades and cause you to think you can handle everything on your own. It was because Paul was so brilliant that God permitted difficult circumstances that kept him on his knees, living in a state of forced dependence. After praying repeatedly for God to take his weakness away, Paul finally came to the place where he could say, ‘I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV) So today, depend on God!
‘You have… encouraged those who are weak or falling.’ Job 4:3 TLB
The Bible says, ‘…let us pursue what makes for… mutual upbuilding.’ (Romans 14:19 ESV) When Job was in trouble, his friend Eliphaz reminded him how in the past Job’s words had ‘encouraged those who were weak or falling.’ Words can hurt or heal, bless or blister, destroy or deliver, tear down or build up. ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’ (Proverbs 18:21 NIV) Jon Walker writes: ‘You…the one with Jesus in your heart—are capable of murder. And so am I. We have the power to speak death with our words, and… the power to speak life. Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of a message meant to murder. “You’re not smart enough…thin enough…fast enough…good enough…a real Christian wouldn’t think such things.” In a world where people are beaten up and put down, God gives you superhero power to punch through the negativity. You speak life when you say, “You matter to me. I like you just the way you are… Your life counts. You were created for a purpose. God loves you, and you’re incredibly valuable to Him.” You can become the voice of God’s grace in the lives of others, supporting, loving, helping and encouraging them with the words that flow from your mouth.’ God wants us to encourage each other, but that doesn’t mean flattering or buttering people up. It means speaking words that help them to stay on their feet and keep going. What you say can give fresh hope to a friend, a relative, a neighbour, or a co-worker who’s about to collapse. What a gift!
‘ …be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.’ Titus 3:2 NIV
Gratitude comes with a host of benefits. It improves your heart rhythm, reduces stress, and helps you heal physically and think more clearly under pressure. It floods your body and brain with endorphins that strengthen and rejuvenate you. And like any muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it grows. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just take a walk and think about your blessings and it will set the tone for your day. The psalmist said, ‘Praise the Lord and do not forget all His kindnesses.’ (Psalm 103:2 NCV) God’s blessings operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Try this: When you sit down to eat, have everyone at the table name something they’re thankful for. There’s always something. An elderly lady at a nursing home said, ‘I thank you, Lord, for two good teeth, one upper and one lower. And I thank you that they meet!’ Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests sending a letter or email of gratitude to somebody, then visiting that person and reading it to them. People who say ‘thank you’ are measurably happier and less depressed. The CEO of Campbell Soup wrote over sixteen thousand thank–you notes to his employees, and energised the entire company in the process. Go ahead, encourage your friends and co-workers by letting them know you appreciate what they do. The Bible says, ‘…be peaceable and considerate.’ One author observes: ‘You have it in your power to increase the sum total of the world’s happiness by giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who’s lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you’ll forget the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them for a lifetime.’
‘Pray…with all [manner of] prayer.’ Ephesians 6:18 AMP
Here are three more types of prayer: (1) The prayer of petition. You must learn to be confident in asking God to meet your needs. Jesus promised, ‘Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.’ (Mark 11:24 NKJV) If we’d stop trying to impress God, we’d be a lot better off. Length, loudness or eloquence isn’t the issue; it’s the sincerity of our heart, the faith that’s in our heart, and the assurance that we’re praying according to God’s will that gets results. (2) The prayer of agreement. ‘All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer...’ (Acts 1:14 ESV) When you’re up against something too big to handle alone, find a prayer partner and get into agreement with them. This isn’t for people who constantly live in strife, then decide to agree because they’re desperate. God honours the prayers of those who pay the price to live together in harmony (See Psalm 133:1) (3) The prayer of thanksgiving. When your prayers outnumber your praises, it says something about your character. Self-centred people ask, but rarely appreciate. God won’t release us into the fullness of all He has planned for us until we become thankful for what we’ve already received. Petition avails much; praise avails much more! ‘In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Philippians 4:6 NIV) Powerful living comes through thanksgiving. We can literally ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV) by being thankful all day long, praising God for His favour, mercy, loving kindness, grace, longsuffering and goodness.