Encouragement

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Romans 15:4

 
 Introduction: Looking to God’s nature and character
 
All across His world God moves in extraordinary ways and we cannot always predict what He is going to do. After all, why is it that some people live through great difficulty whilst others lose their lives and why does God move in peculiar ways in some areas, yet not seem to move at all in others?
 
One of the ways in which we make sense of all this is in realising that God never promised that He would always show how and why He does things in certain ways. Neither does God expect us to have a ‘pick-and-mix mentality’ as we look at what He does and then say, “I’ll have some of this” or “I’ll have some of that.” Instead, we are to look at His nature and character and feed on who He is and in doing so we find comfort and encouragement no matter what is going on. God is gracious and compassionate (Isaiah 30:18), He is love (1 John 4:8) and does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:19).
 

In 1987 a Muslim decided to bulldoze the graves of certain white Christian missionaries at Ibi town in the Wukari Local Government Area of the present Taraba State of Nigeria in order to extend his estate. God spoke to a Christian to tell the Emir of Ibi to warn the man not to. On December 24th the graves were bulldozed and immediately a fire broke out with the bulldozer being the first victim. The fire then burned the property of several Muslims in the town. Only little children could see the approach of the fire to any of its targets. The invisible fire continued until January of the following year, by which time over 400 houses had been gutted according to a secular North Nigerian newspaper called, ‘The Reporter.’ By March of that year over 3,000 houses were affected and people began to realise the fire was selective. The Nigerian Television Authority in Lagos also reported it in a weekend programme.

When all efforts, sacrifices and prayers sought by the Emir failed to stop the operation of the fire, it became obvious that the Christian God was defending even the dry bones of His servants who had died as far back as 1904 and 1905. The Christians realised that they must not sympathise with the Muslims, but they did not rejoice over what happened. All they did was to summon the people together and preach the gospel of peace and love to them. A Christian organisation, Love Divine Ministry, based in Kaduna was there. Over 400 people, most of them Muslims were converted and some of them came forward to say God had also healed them of certain physical diseases and disablement. The three-day visitation of the Holy Spirit in the area has been described as a rain of revival.                            

                             G.J.O.Moshay in, Who is this Allah? Pages 53-4
 
 
When we find ourselves in difficult situations and circumstances it can feel as if God has suddenly left the house. Whilst we recognise that scripture speaks of God’s love, grace and mercy for us, we begin to feel that it’s not so much for us as it is for everyone else around us. Doubts begin to creep in and all the negative things that have ever been said to us act like a crowd of Judges around us and we begin to feel more and more isolated. Yet as Helen Roosevelt once said, “No-one can make us feel inferior without our consent.” 
 
Situations and circumstances may pull us down, and the going can be tough at times because we live in a fallen world, yet God does not come to us as a Father in order to make us feel insignificant or useless. Neither does He place His Spirit (Eph 1:14, 1 Cor 3:16) in our lives in order to give us the power to crush ourselves. God has always wanted the very best for our lives. He is not out to get us, does not leave us on our own (John 10:28, Rom 8:8)  and does not want anyone thinking they are some sort of second-class citizen in His kingdom where all are equally accepted through Christ (Eph 2:8).
 
Our heavenly Father (Ps 68:5) loves us, and is out to make us His (Eph 2:10). As a father encourages a young child to develop new skills, our heavenly Father encourages us to become all that we can be (1 Peter 1:15; 2 Pet 1:3), as His sons and daughters. He will never leave us nor forsake us and no matter what we go through we can grow in His grace. However this will not happen with just an intellectual knowledge of God. Instead the power and authority to live comes about as we yield to the leading and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. In all situations and in all ways God wants to encourage us.
 

“When you have nothing left but God, you begin to realise that God really is enough.”

 
Letters of encouragement
 
After preaching in Thessalonica for three weeks, Paul ended up in trouble; violence erupted and the whole city was in turmoil. Paul then had to do a runner and make a quick exit and ended up preaching in Berea; but then some of the Thessalonians arrived to give him a hard time. From these events we could wrongly assume that nothing good came of Paul’s work at this time, yet we would be wrong. The Holy Spirit was still at work (as He was with Stephen when he was taken out and stoned!) and another church was birthed. Throughout his life Paul recognised that God moves by the power of His Spirit (Zech 4:6) and that we should not always judge by what we see with our eyes. At a At a later stage in his life Paul was able to write to the newly-formed Spirit-indwelt church at Thessalonica and say…

 “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”           

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

 
In the early church we find ex-synagogue rulers mixing with ex-prostitutes, slaves worshipping alongside their masters, ex-occultists praying with Jewish men and women, and tax collectors preaching on forgiveness. Undoubtedly there would be many problems amongst this group of diverse people as they learned to love and support one another and recognise that what defined them was not their past but their identification as sons and daughters of God.

They were the community of the re-birthed who lived because of the work of Christ and were indwelt by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. There identification was not based on ethnicity, worldly achievement or failure, and was found in Christ alone. As Paul once wrote…
 

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28

  
In reading the New Testament we see that most of the difficulties that came about in the early church came from within the church. This happened when people allowed the experiences and thought patterns of past experiences and the world to dominate their hearts and minds instead of God’s Word under the empowerment of the Spirit. Because of this we find division, one-upmanship, preferential treatment of the rich, gossip, slander and so on and of course it all needed to be dealt with. Yet look at how God instructs Paul and others to begin their letters and we see that He does so with a reminder of whose they are and what had been done for them before anything else. This is why Paul begins his letters with words like “grace”, “peace” and “Father.” In doing so we are all encouraged to see just who we are in Christ before anything else. We are recipients of generous grace and all of our brothers and sisters in church are equally accepted through the work of the One who seeks to encourage us in every way. So how well do we encourage others? Do we treat those around us as the Lord Jesus treats us, or do we judge them by their past which God has already forgiven? Then again, perhaps we are judging them through our past experiences, which affect how we see them.
 
Ephesus: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord
                     Christ.” Ephesians 1:2
 
Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ
                   Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those
                   everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ —
                   their Lord and ours. Grace and peace to you from God our
                   Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:2-3
 
Philippi: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the
                 overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our
                 Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:1-2        

Colossae “To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace
                    and  peace to you from God our Father.” Colossians 1:2                  
 
Thessolonica: “Paul, Silas, and Timothy, to the church of the
                            Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus
                            Christ: Grace and  peace to you.” 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-2
 
Grace (Eph 2:8, Titus 2:11) speaks of receiving that which we do not deserve in any way, whilst peace (John 14:27) is not the absence of trouble. Ultimately peace (Eph 2:17-18) speaks of the reconciliation of relationships between man and God through the work of Jesus. Peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of a Person: the Holy Spirit. He is with us right now and will help us with all we are going through if we seek Him first and foremost. Let us never forget that our heavenly Father is always interested in our lives and that we can encourage one another by taking a genuine interest in each other’s lives.
 

“Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.” 
Robert Martin, an  American Politician who served on his local education committee.

  
All New Testament churches had their share of problems because they, like us, are a work in progress. Yet one thing was certain: the church belonged to God. The church was God’s church, and grew under the guidance of a heavenly Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the work of Jesus whom the Spirit clearly points to in all things.
 

“But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”                     
1 Thessalonians 5:8-11

 
We are to live our lives and speak to others in ways that encourage and build up our brothers and sisters as we help them to have confidence in who they are in Christ. In the Greek language the word ‘build’ (‘oikodomeo’) is from the same root as ‘to be a house-builder.’ God is our heavenly Father, and the master-craftsman. He can build into our lives, no matter what we are going through if we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Likewise we must seek to build up others and not leave them feeling as if they are a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God.  He is the master of all things, and we are the work of His hands.
 

“Jesus knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or axe. He only needed a word…He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Rev 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter host in human life.” 
D. Willard in ‘The Divine Conspiracy page 108

 
Three snapshots of encouragement…
 
(1) Jacob: a man who had to let go.
 
Once upon a time there was a man who thought he was dead. His friends were concerned that he might go along to the cemetery one day and bury himself and so they took him to a doctor.  This doctor spent a few hours with him, showing him all sorts of slides and diagrams to prove to the man that dead men did not bleed. Finally, the man who thought he was dead said, “Yes I can see that its absolutely true: dead men do not bleed.”  With that the doctor took a pin and pricked the man’s finger. The man looked at his finger in horror and then at the doctor and said, “Doc”, you’ve got it wrong! Dead men do bleed.” Sometimes, no matter the evidence, we seem to want to hold on to our own thinking!
 
Throughout the Bible God challenges us to let go of our independence and fragmented thinking and totally rely on Him. This should be an encouragement to us because God never wants us to ‘go it alone.’ God will challenge us and in His grace and mercy He does work and will continue to work in all manner of ways to encourage us to let go of all that hinders and holds us back. One such man who faced numerous challenges from the God who wanted to raise him up is Jacob.
 
We pick up on the story of Jacob in Genesis 32 where we find the 97-year-old schemer being encountered in a strange way. Picture what’s going on in your mind’s eye and imagine the life you had lived up until now…
 
Many years ago you’d been a little dishonest in seeking to bring about God’s blessing your own way (Gen 27:19). This resulted in you having to flee from your brother Esau. The years had passed and along the way you’d been fooled by others and ended up with wives who were jealous of each other and slave girls who’d given you more children than you thought you’d ever have. You were also aware that the slave girls were little more than tools used by your wives as a means of getting at each other and trying to earn your love. How do you think you would feel with all this going on?
 
Jacob was a man who listened to God, yet always had to add his own ingredients to the mix, so to speak. Now in Genesis 32, we catch up with him at a point just prior to him heading back into the Promised Land.
 
As Jacob moved towards the Promised Land, he was met by a group of angels, and he named the place Mahanaim, meaning ‘double-camp.’  In this encounter God encourages Jacob and in doing so reminds him that He is with Jacob. Yet this encouragement was about to go right out of Jacob’s mind as he hears that Esau (the brother who’d wanted to kill him! (Gen 27:41), is on his way with 400 men.
 
Not surprisingly Jacob was concerned about all that was going on, just as many of us would have been. But the main point that Jacob needed to learn, was to trust in God, and stop adding his own interpretation to what God was saying and doing. That night, because of God’s grace and mercy, Jacob ends up wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, but why?
 
Jacob had not grasped the concept that God’s gifts are gifts of grace and that the land he is going to claim is also a gift from God that cannot be earned. Jacob also needed to realise that God really did know what was best, and in his wrestling with the angel we see, in a spiritual sense, the role-playing concerning what his life had been like up to that point.
 
Jacob was a schemer who often sought to bring about things his own way. Although he had sought God at times, and was not always in error, there were times when it seems as if there was just a smattering of God added to his own picture of life, for good measure. That night Jacob kept on and on wrestling and eventually God crippled him.
 
Jacob was now powerless and dependent. He was faced with the glaring fact that he was crippled and unable to overcome in his own strength. Yet Jacob still clung on. He was a desperate man, and realised that he needed a blessing. So what happens next?
          
The angel said to Jacob, “What is your name?” (despite the fact that he must have already known his name).  In Hebrew thought a name speaks of nature and character, and in giving his name, Jacob had to confess his nature: he had been the “Heel catcher” - a manipulator and a schemer. Let’s think about that for a moment. In acknowledging his name Jacob was being made to accept what he had really been like over the years. He was a tired and struggling man and being called to face up to what he was really like.
 
In wrestling with Jacob and getting him to confess his name (nature and character) God was encouraging Jacob to let go of self and trust completely in a Father whose grace and mercy are beyond measure. Jacob needed to fully realise that knowing about God and adding Him to our thoughts on the odd occasion is not what God calls relationship. It is no more than a basic half-baked intellectual understanding about some of the things of God and as different from the truth as a match is from the blazing sun. God will break down our self-sufficiency and worldly way of dealing with life because He is an encourager – one who will use all means necessary to help us place our trust in Him and live life in the Spirit.
 
After getting Jacob to admit his name the angel gives Jacob a new name, calling him ‘Israel’ which means, ‘Prince / One who prevails with God’.  Jacob now has a new prophetic name, which speaks of what he would become in the strength of the Lord. Yes Jacob still had a long way to go but he is learning to allow God to have complete authority over his life, instead of adding his own ten-penny-worth to what God says and does.
  
When we find ourselves in difficult situations we can all panic at times, and wonder what is going on. We can be desperate to find a way out of the difficulty and make plan after plan about how things need to change. Yet, in the midst of our difficulty we need to hold on to the word of the Lord, and continue to come to Him in prayer. We need to remember whose we are and who we are in Christ. We are to make sure it is the word of God that dictates to our lives and not our circumstance. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation –a people who exclusively belong to the One who will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6, Josh 1:5, Rom 8:37-9).
 
We need to be encouraged and remember that when Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5), that is exactly what He meant. Sometimes we forget this and go out as if we can catch sunlight in a fishing net - in other words we try to use natural ways to bring about spiritual realities and it does not work.
 
Jesus did not send His Spirit into our lives so that we could forget our heavenly Father, or try to squeeze Him into our own plans. He wants us to trust in Him alone and encourages us to seek first the rule, reign and presence of God in all things – even when we feel the most useless person on the planet. Note that Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13.
 
The God who helped Jacob to face up to what he was really like, and take on all that he was able to become is with us now. He will help us if we really want to give up and let go of some of our own thinking, plans and agendas and trust in Him. Be encouraged.
 

“There is more to being like Jesus than simply recognizing weaknesses and confessing sin. To grow, you must also practice new attitudes and habits. Just as athletes develop their muscles and skills through strenuous training, you will see greatest growth when you repeatedly think and behave properly in response to challenging circumstances. For example, when people provoke and frustrate you, practice love and forgiveness. When they fail to act promptly, develop patience. When you are tempted to give up on someone, exercise faithfulness.”
K. Sande in ‘The Peacemaker, p 25’.

 
 (2) Gideon – a man who God held onto.
 
In my final year at Primary School I went on a school holiday to the Isle of Wight. In the grounds of the large country house where we stayed there was a long rope-slide (known as a death-slide). One day I decided to have a go on the slide, climbed up and was soon travelling along at what, to an eleven-year-old, seemed an incredible speed. All too quickly the end of the slide came into sight and it was then that I found there was no brake as I slammed into a tree. A couple of seconds before hitting the tree I was fully aware of what was going to happen – but totally powerless to do anything about it. And by the way, yes it did hurt.
  
Sometimes we find ourselves rushing through life so quickly that we feel we are totally out of control of our lives. Then, when we recognise we are in trouble, there is invariably at least one person who comes along and says, “Just hold on to God.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not always very comforting when you have been trying the best you can!
 
One of the most important things we need to do is encourage both ourselves and others to see that God always wants to hold on to us and  can be trusted, no matter what we are experiencing. In fact the scriptures are full of stories that remind us that God holds on to our lives and is the one who helps us grow. Take for example, the story of Gideon.
 
Gideon’s story appears at a time when Israel was in trouble with marauding Midianites who’d teamed up with the Amalakites and were giving Israel a regular beating. The problem was made worse for Israel in that she trusted in her own strength and allowed other gods to be worshipped.  Yet God did not give up on His people, even though they’d only been offering Him a token service, so to speak. In grace and mercy, the Angel of the Lord suddenly appears on the scene, and in Judges 6:13 we read of these words being spoken to Gideon: “The Lord is with you courageous warrior.”
 
The words spoken by the Angel of the Lord, “The Lord is with you courageous warrior” were prophetic, yet from Gideon’s response we see that he was very much caught up with the issues of the day as I am sure we could all be. After all, how many times have we said, “If you are with me Lord then what on earth is going on”? Despite Gideon’s uncertainty God holds on to him and through grace and mercy a man who felt weak and inexperienced was able to do great things.
 
The word ‘Lord’ speaks, in part, of ‘the one who provides for and protects those under his charge” and through the actions of the Angel of the Lord, Gideon beings to understand and experience the truth that it is the God of Israel who has come on the scene. Gideon names the place of sacrifice, “The Lord is Peace.” Things were going to change because God was present. Remember that one of the ideas behind peace is that it speaks of the presence of a person; not the absence of trouble! The One who is present holds on to Gideon and starts to lead him to deal with some of the issues at hand.
 
The first thing God tells Gideon to do was to deal with some of the idolatry, which had crept into the nation. An idol is anything in the created order that we allow to get between God and us. From this we see that feeling that we are a failure and of no use to God, can be an idol that we allow to control our thinking. We serve the ‘idol’ of feeling a failure and feeling useless by withdrawing from others and never stepping out in faith. Therefore there is a real need to be delivered from old thought patterns as we take captive our thinking and make it obedient to the Lord (2 Cor 10:5ff)
 

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”                           
Romans 12:2

 
Gideon is told to deal with idolatry because the Israelites had lost sight of God and reduced Him to one amongst many.  Yet in the strength of their own thinking they became weak, and damaged the very lives they thought they were strengthening. No wonder God told Gideon to tear down the altar of Baal. Gideon went and did this during the night because he was too scared to do it during the day. Yet God did not have a go at Gideon for this – God held on to Gideon and continued to instruct and encourage him. Are we willing to hold on to others when they struggle, or do we give up and walk away?
 
God also told Gideon that he would destroy the enemy which was a big step forward for Gideon. Gideon was not certain about this and yet God did not squash Gideon. Instead God held onto a struggling man and helped Gideon to trust Him. Read Judges 6:36-40 and recognise how God encourages this man. Perhaps we need to think more about how we encourage others around us.
 
Next, in Judges 7 we read of how God reduced Gideon’s army of 32,000 men down to 300. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was in Gideon’s position and called to fight a powerful enemy I think I’d probably have been like him and sought to get as large an army together as possible. What we need to be doing is focusing on the Lord and trusting that He will bring about what He says in His strength. Ask God to help you trust Him.

 
 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

 
It is hardly surprising that Gideon wanted to feel as comfortable as possible in the forthcoming confrontation, yet God knew that Gideon and Israel were relying on themselves and that this would get them nowhere very fast. This is why God reduces Gideon’s army down to just 300 men. God is encouraging Gideon to let go of what he had become (someone relying on a large army) and walk in the strength and power of the only One who really knows how to take a victory.
 
Gideon is able to move forward in his life and calling because of God’s presence with him and this on-going change is captured in the words of Judges 7:1 where we read…
 

  “Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and his men got up the next morning and camped near the spring of Harod.” 

 
‘Jerub-Baal’ means defender of Baal, and being given a name pertaining to a false god effectively said, ‘this god owns you.’ Israel at the time of God’s intervention was very much controlled by a thinking that saw God as one amongst many. As can be seen in reading Judges seven, the One true e God of Israel steps in, in such as way so as to strip away any doubt and false belief left in Gideon and Israel’s thinking. In reducing an army from 32,000 to 300 and then giving a great victory it was going to be obvious just who it was that won the day: God.
 
Right at this very moment God is in the business of making us His. But this does not mean we are always going to feel comfortable with everything that is going on at times. This is because God will sometimes challenge us and stretch us well beyond our comfort zone as He strips away wrong thinking and helps us to draw on the strength and power of One who is always there. 
 
When you are going through difficulty be encouraged and remember that God is still holding on to you and will walk with you in such a way that you can gain victory even in the most difficult of circumstances
 

“The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the Lord's promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him. Indeed, who is God besides the Lord? Who is a protector besides our God? The one true God gives me strength; He removes the obstacles in my way. He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend even the strongest bow. You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail. You widen my path; my feet do not slip.”
Psalm 18:30-36

 
When difficulty appears on the horizon and we feel we cannot take another step, let us remember that seeing God as He is (fear/awe of God) brings about wisdom: (Proverbs 9:10), knowledge (Prov 2:5) and strong confidence (14:26).
 
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.”
Psalm 9:9-10

 

 In seeing how graciously and patiently God works with His people let us be encouraged and recognise that He will never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5). Let us also seek to stand with all those around us who are going through difficulty and not just sit on a wall and throw well-meaning advice at them. Let us be encouraged to walk in the power of the Spirit with all who are struggling and feeling downtrodden that they may be uplifted in grace and mercy, as are we all, right at this very moment.

"In the Babema tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person, regardless of age, begins to tell the person in the centre about all the good things he or she has done during his or her life. All the stories are told with the utmost sincerity and love. No one is allowed to exaggerate events that happened, and everyone knows that they cannot make stories up. Nobody is insincere or sarcastic as they speak. The process can go on for several days. In the end, the tribe breaks the circle and a celebration occurs as the person is welcomed back into the tribe
G. Jampolsky in Forgiveness, the Greatest Healer of them All, pages 96-7

 
3. Daniel and growing in the Lord.
 
I’ve’ always liked the look of Bonsai trees, but never really wanted to buy one. This is because their growth is deliberately stunted and the pots in which they grow are never big enough for root systems to spread out. Yet perhaps there are times when I am a little like a Bonsai tree as the reliance on my own thinking becomes the pot that stunts growth that could be mine in Jesus.
 
As we have already noted, there were many occasions when Israel stood in her own strength through ignoring God altogether or adding to the ways of the Lord with their own plans and ideas. Despite this continual up-and-down of lack of trust, trust and lack of trust again, we find the cosmic Shepherd, who wants the very best for us, reaching out to the lost sheep again and again. It is only in His grace and mercy that we can grow. Let’s now travel back around five-hundred years before Christ and look at an Israel in Babylonian captivity.
 
The reason Israel ended up in captivity was because she had relied on her own strength and ignored warnings from God. Whilst they were in captivity God reached out through Daniel and others in extraordinary ways to show who was really in charge of all that went on. Through His dealings with His people at the time God effectively said, “as a nation you were unable to stand against the might of Babylon despite your so-called strength and power. I will now show you that I can achieve my purposes and change the outlook of the most powerful king on earth through working with a teenager called Daniel.
 
During his life Daniel must have had many encounters with evil in a city that was full of pagan temples as did three of his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

On one occasion a group of pagan astrologers picked on these three friends and they  ended up being thrown into a fiery furnace by some of Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers  (Daniel 3:19-27).
 
In throwing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace, some of the soldiers lost their own lives; yet the three friends remained very much alive. Another person (the Angel of the Lord: Pre-Incarnate Christ) was seen walking with them in the fire and their hair was not singed, whilst the cords that bound them were burnt away.  
 
Now that’s encouraging and through this amazing intervention by God both
Nebuchadnezzar and his astrologers were brought to realise how powerful God was and that the God of Israel cared for all His people. Nebuchadnezzar had given Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Babylonian names, as a means of saying, “I own these people” yet God comes along and through extraordinary ways says, “no you don’t, I do.”  May we all be encouraged to see that God can bring about spiritual growth no matter what we are going through – if we are open to Him.
 
 Scripture speaks of us as His workmanship (Eph 2:10), living stones (1 Peter 2:5), and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We are those who can receive blessing from the Lord (Numbers 6:24) no matter what is going on and are to pass that blessing on to others. We are spoken of as a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), in that through Jesus we belong to God and are to be like Him. In saying that we are a holy nation let’s remember that holiness begins with an encounter and leads to maturity through the working of His Spirit. We cannot belong to God if you trust in your own ways. We are pronounced ‘holy’ through His work, and grow into that holiness through the leading of the Spirit.
 
All of us have been created for growth (2 Peter 1:5-8), and are spoken of as fellow citizens; indwelt by His Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).  We are those called to serve the living God (Heb 9:14).  We are spoken of as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) and led by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) to become Christ-like in all ways, using the particular gifts that God has given us by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), for His glory alone. Christ-likeness speaks of intimacy with our heavenly Father and a total reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let us work together to encourage one another to keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:25).
 

“On a grey, rainy day in November 1990, a church ground-breaking ceremony took place in the Boston area…Church planting is tough in the rocky spiritual soil of New England, and the new facility was innovative. Two congregations – of separate Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus – were combining under one roof as a living demonstration of the human dividing walls being broken down by the cross of Christ.”
Prof  Oz Guiness in ‘No God but God, page 81

 

Concluding thoughts
Be encouraged!  At times Jacob struggled, and at times he doubted, as can be seen by some of his actions; yet God did not give up on Jacob. In grace and mercy our heavenly Father encouraged Jacob to stop relying on self and place his full trust in God. Jacob learned to let go of self and trust in the Lord who encourages and uplifts.
 
Be encouraged! Gideon felt useless before God, and struggled with the circumstances Israel found herself in. Gideon was allowed to ask questions and God helped him by reducing his army from 32,000 to 300 to show that it really is about God alone. God holds on to His people.
 
Be encouraged! Daniel was in the most powerful city in the world yet was still able to grow in the ways of the Lord, as were his friends because of the One who knows how many hairs are on our heads (Luke 12:7) and sees every glass of water given in His name (Mark 9:41).  
 
Ultimately our security comes from putting God first in every situation as we confess our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:10), knowing that our Father will not castigate us for being weak, but will help us to walk in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:25). When we confess weaknesses (Mark 9:24) and remain open to the Lord there is nothing that can stop us from growing.
 
Be encouraged! At the beginning of this paper we read of Paul writing to a church that had risen out of a rioting town, with vindictive enemies who had followed him in order to discredit his ministry. As the following verses reveal, life was not always easy for Paul, and he did not always know what was happening; yet He was always aware of the presence and power of His heavenly Father.  Be encouraged.
 

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.”               
2 Corinthians 4:7-10

 
Like all of us who have placed our trust in Jesus, Paul was indwelt by the Spirit, and aware that God always knew what was best. Even in the midst of great difficulty, God was still present, and always and ever the master of every situation. Paul must have struggled and felt very low on occasion, yet was always able to grow in the ways of the Lord, because of our Father’s grace and mercy. As Peter writes in one of his letters, “everything is ours in Christ.’(2 Peter 1:3-9)
 
A missionary once wrote about a time when, as a young evangelist, he got frustrated after a meeting where no-one seemed to respond. He was exhausted and went out and sat under an apple tree. Of that time, he wrote, “The Lord seemed to come to me and say, “You’re tired, aren’t you? “ “Yes,” I replied, “I am, because I have worked hard.” “And you are out of patience, aren’t you?” “Yes, because these people seem unresponsive.” Then He quietly said, “Do you see this apple tree? How does it bring forth fruit? Does it work itself up into a stew trying to be fruitful? Or does it simply keep the channels open, taking in life from soil and sky and allowing life to flow through itself into the fruit? And is it not all unstrained? Then if you’ll not fret nor worry about results, but simply keep the channels open, letting My life flow through you, then you will bear fruit naturally without strain or drain.” I arose relaxed and released. I didn’t have to succeed – I only had to keep the channels open. God did the rest.
 
God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3) and seeks to renew all who reach out to Him (Isaiah 40:31). His grace is sufficient in all situations (2 Cor 12:9) and we really can do all things through the One who strengthens us (Phil 4:13), but not if we are not open to His leading and have allowed the troubles of the world to make us doubt God’s love and concern for us. God’s ways are not our ways, so we should not always be trying to find out what is going on. Instead we should be looking at who He is.
 

“The things Jesus says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality except through me. Try to retain your own life and you will inevitably be ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.” 
Taken from C.S. Lewis “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” quoted in The Journey, p 179, Ed Oz Guinness.

 
In closing I would encourage you to encourage others (Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 1:5-7). In doing so, the gifts the Lord has given you through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit will strengthen you. Through serving one another and seeking to uplift, rather than ignore or distance ourselves from those around us, we will find extraordinary help and great blessing. Let us walk in confidence knowing that we follow in the footsteps of a heavenly King who sees nothing in our lives as small or insignificant and who wants us to appropriate all that is ours through His blessing.  Be encouraged in all things, be an encourager and be blessed.
 
BE BLESSED!
Jem Trehern, 07/05/2015