In this fourth installment in our Take Heart series we explore what it means to be encouraged in our ability to build skills and competence in the areas God has entrusted to us. Discouragement can come externally from factors outside of our control that can be overwhelming, but it can also come from feelings and patterns of passiveness within that keep us from enacting what God has trusted us to do.
Jesus tells his followers in John 16:33 to “take heart” or be encouraged because of his triumph over the world system. This comes right after he tells them of the hardships they will endure. In this message, Dan looks at what it means to be encouraged and how we can live more of the time in that state. For many of us who live in a constant state of low-level chronic discouragement, this is extremely good news.
Discouragement happens when we have no hope that anything I do can actually help my situation. It makes us feel powerless and creates a sense of “can’t.” On the flip side being encouraged means we feel courageous and that we have the ability to do something to change our circumstances. It creates a feeling of power and a mindset of “can.” When we believe we can’t we inevitably become passive. In many cases a sense of engrained learned helplessness can set in where we stop trying to fight against the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Unfortunately, sometimes the church can fuel this feeling of can’t be insisting we must trust God for everything. Although we can’t trust ourselves for our own salvation, it turns out there is much God has entrusted to us that he wants us to trust ourselves with. For example, love must be freely chosen, so our ability to love others must originate within our own will and not be coerced by God. We can’t trust him for us to love others, rather he’s given us the ability to make that choice of our own volition. It is the same with humility. It must be chosen, or else it’s just humiliation.
As with the parable of the bags of gold in Matthew 25, when God entrusts us with something He wants us to invest it and use it. We have to trust God, but sometimes that means trusting what God has already prompted us to do. God is fundamentally relational, and in order for someone to have a relationship, one needs autonomy and say so. To be encouraged we must of our own choice believe we can receive it. We must believe He has given us something we can trust.
There are dangers to be aware of when going down this road. Just because we can doesn’t mean it’s easy. Some people bring problems on themselves by their own choices and others are oppressed externally. The tough part is we can’t always tell the difference. The good news is we don’t have to make that judgment. We can judge principalities and powers behind systems that are oppressing people, but we’re never to sit in the judgment seat against an individual. We are to use encouragement to help people get back up when they’ve been knocked down. To fight against powerlessness, we are to help ourselves and other people gain back power in the form of skill-sets and competence. Empowerment comes from building upon what God has given us. Just as David developed his skills God had given him and took advantage of the opportunities he had to hone his skills, so also we are to be aware of the unique experiences and skills we have that can develop us as individuals and be of value to our community.
This is not about self-help delusions where we focus on ourselves and forget about others, but rather we must actually develop something of value within ourselves before we can be of value to our neighbor. In order to sacrifice, we need to actually have built something up that can be sacrificed. This requires a certain amount of self-centeredness to invest in myself so I’m valuable to others. There is a risk of becoming self-absorbed, but the risk is worth it. We all should discover our superpowers that are often hidden because we don’t recognize the value of our own experiences and the things God has entrusted us to grow in.
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