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Greg Laurie - How To Be An Encourager

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    Greg Laurie - How To Be An Encourager
TOPICS: Encouragement

I heard about a group of frogs that were walking through the forest one day, and two of the frogs fell into a pit. All the other frogs looked over the side and they said, "Oh, you're as good as dead. You'll never get out of that pit". But those two little frogs didn't want to stay there, and they started jumping and jumping and jumping. And they couldn't make their way out, and the frogs on top yelled out, "You're gonna die. Just give up. There's no way". It was so discouraging, in fact, so discouraging that one of the frogs just gave up and died. But the other frog would not give up. He kept jumping and jumping. And finally, much to every frog's surprise, he jumped completely out of the pit. The other frogs said, "Didn't you hear us? We told us you couldn't get out of the pit". And then that little frog said, "Oh, sorry. I'm hard of hearing. I thought you were cheering me on".

You see, we live in a culture right now where there are so many discouraging words, so many people saying, "You're not going to make it, you're gonna fail". I mean, go online and look at all the internet trolls and the ridiculous, mean-spirited vitriol and comments they'll make. This is a discouraging time. Turn on the news, it's even more discouraging. So, what are we to do? It's actually affecting the mental health of our nation, especially young people. No wonder the rates of depression in 14- to 17-year-olds grew from 60% from 2009 to 2017. And it's even gone up more recently because of COVID and lockdowns and isolation, and all the rest of it. Suicide rates in young people have more than doubled in a decade. Forty-three percent of millennials and Gen Zs report being very concerned about their mental health. That's almost half of them.

And a recent survey found that half of Americans in general feel alone or left out, and over half feel that no one knows them well. Well, if you go on social media, as I've already mentioned, this is only going to make it worse. But it's not just young people feeling this depression. It's older people as well. They're feeling forgotten, left out, unappreciated, passed over. Many senior adults are seeking hope and a word from someone telling them that their lives matter. Some have lost their physical strength. Others have lost their mate, and they're struggling with loneliness. And suicide is up among older people as well. Men who are 65 and older face the highest risk of suicide. That statistic surprised me. And adults 85 and older are the second most likely group to take their own lives.

So, what do all these people have in common? I think what they all have in common is they need a word of encouragement. They need to know that they're appreciated, that they're needed, that they're loved, and they're cared for. And let me personalize it. You need to know that you are cared for, loved, and appreciated, not only by God, who loves you, of course, but other people who value you so much. But there are so many discouraging words out there today. It just seems to me like the whole platform of Twitter is just filled with discouragement. I mean, you post a picture of a puppy, and people will criticize it and fight with you, looking, I think sometimes, for a fight to get into. And so, words really matter. What we say really matters.

I've often said there's an acronym I wish we would apply before we speak and before we tweet, and the acronym is, of course, think, T-H-I-N-K. Are you impressed I can spell "think"? But T stands for, is what you're about to say truthful? H is for, is it helpful? I, is it inspiring? N, is it necessary? K, is it kind? Again, is it truthful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If not, don't say it. If not, don't post it. You say, "Greg, if I followed that rule, I wouldn't say anything". Good, do us all a favor and shut up. Stop discouraging people. Be an encourager instead of a discourager. So, before I tell you how to encourage others, let me first encourage you. Whatever you're going through right now, and I know I'm speaking to somebody going through a very hard time, a storm has come into your life unexpectedly and it's turned your world upside down.

So, here's what I want to say to you right now. You are going to get through this. There is an occasion in the gospels where Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and he said, "Let's cross over to the other side". Well, a great storm came, and the disciples began to panic, thinking they were going to die. But Jesus did not say, "Let's go to the middle of the Sea of Galilee and drown together, shall we"? If so, I doubt anyone would have boarded that boat. No, he said, "Let's go over to the other side". He did not promise them an easy ride, but he promised them a safe arrival. The same is true of us. Whatever you're going through, you're ultimately gonna get through it. God's gonna finish the work he has begun in your life because he is the author and finisher of your faith. And ultimately, we'll get over to the other side, which is heaven. That is a promise that God has given to every one of his followers. But here's some encouraging Bible verses for you.

Let's say you're thinking right now, "I'm a failure, and I can never change". Here's God's response to that from Philippians 4:13. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". No, you cannot do this on your own. And maybe you have failed, but God can forgive you, give you a second chance, and you can get up on your feet and keep going and do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Maybe someone listening to me right now would say, "Man, I'm just so afraid of the future". But here's what God says in Deuteronomy 31, "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God goes with you and He will not leave you or forsake you". We're told in Timothy, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind". And that word "sound mind" could be translated, a well-balanced and disciplined mind.

You might say, "I can't go on another day in this trial that I'm facing". But God's response to you in 2 Corinthians 12 is what he said to the Apostle Paul when Paul said, "Lord, remove this affliction from my life". And the Lord responded, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness". You might say, "I have no future, and I have no hope". God says in Psalm 38:15, "You, oh, Lord, are my hope. I put my trust in you". Psalm 130, verse 5, "I'm counting on the Lord, yes, I'm counting on Him. I've put my hope in His Word". That's where you're gonna find hope. You're gonna find it in the Word of God. You're probably not gonna find it online, for the most part. You're not gonna find it in the newspapers. You're not gonna find it on the news. You're not gonna find it in so many places, but you'll find it in the Word of God.

One of my favorite verses about hope, of course, is Jeremiah 29:11 where the Lord says, "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope". Okay, so speaking of encouragement, I want to introduce you now to a man that can be called Mr. Encouragement. He was always known for encouraging others up. He was not a guy who knocked others down. He was a guy who built others up, and his name was Barnabas. Actually, it's interesting, his given name was Joseph, but he was nicknamed Barnabas, and Barnabas means the son of encouragement, or as I would think of it, Mister Encouragement. I love that, Mr. Encouragement. If you were going to be summed up in one word, who would you be?

Again, Barnabas was Mr. Encouragement. Maybe you would be Mr. Happy or Miss Excitement or maybe Mr. Bible. Or would you be Miss Cranky or Mr. Critical? Or as I've said before, would you be Debbie Downer or Bobby Buzzkill, always seeing the negative, never seeing the positive, always there with a critical word, never there with a word of affirmation? Are you that person, always criticizing, always complaining? You might say, "Well, I think God has given me this gift to keep others humble". No, he actually hasn't given you that gift at all. You're just a mean person, and you're going about it in an unbiblical way. Maybe you should change your name to Karen. But whatever it is, we want to be more like Barnabas.

Now, having said that, there is a place for criticism, constructive criticism, and correction. We're even told in Proverbs 27:6, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful". So, we want to be that person who's a true friend and tells the truth to another friend, but don't be known for being a critical person. Be known for being an encouraging person. If you're gonna take the withdrawal of a person through criticism, make a deposit through a compliment.

Enter Barnabas, Mr. Encouragement, to help Saul along. And that brings me to my first point, an encourager sees the potential in others and cheers them on. As it turns out, Barnabas tool Paul, Saul, now becoming Paul, under his wing and encouraged him. They went to missionary journeys together. Effectively, Barnabas was more of the lead guy, the more mature guy, but he gave Paul more opportunities to preach. And Paul emerged as a powerful preacher of the gospel. So, Barnabas helped Paul reach his potential.

Acts chapter 9, verse 26 speaks of it when it says, "When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he had truly become a believer. So, Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. And he told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus". So, Barnabas had a lot of credibility in the church. He puts it all on the line for Saul. "Guys, listen to me. This guy's legit. He's really a Christian. He really knows the Lord, and I want you to embrace him". How important is that? Do you know a younger Christian right now? They need someone like you to be a Barnabas in their life, to encourage them in their faith because people cannot make it as a solo Christian. We need more people like Barnabas to step into the gap.

So, a guy named Mark did this for me. I became a Christian in high school. I was using drugs at the time. My life was going the wrong direction, and I had a radical conversion at lunchtime and heard the gospel and gave my life to Jesus. This was 1970. So, I didn't know what to do next. No one came up to me and said, "Hey, Greg, we have a Bible here, start reading this Bible". No one said anything to me. No one invited me to church. And so literally, I went off into the mountains after that 'cause I had already planned that weekend to go use drugs. And so, I went with my friends thinking, oh, cool. Now I believe in Jesus, and I'll get high too. And I was literally by myself sitting on a rock. And I pulled out a bag of weed, and I was getting ready to smoke some. And that same still, small voice that spoke to me on my high school campus only hours earlier spoke to me again, and it was the Lord. He said, "You don't need that anymore".

I thought, I don't even know where I'm hearing this or where this is coming from. It's not coming from me because I happen to think I do need this still. "You don't need this anymore". So, I said, "All right, God. I don't know anything about you, but I'll make a deal. If you're real, make yourself real to me. I'm filled with skepticism and doubt, but I'm open". And I took that bag of weed and threw it out, and I never looked back again. So, I went back to school and there was a little on study, or on-campus Bible study, which I went to. And they had kind of this weird guest speaker who was there that day, and I didn't feel comfortable in that group. I didn't understand these other Christians. There was a little too much "Praise the Lord" and "Hallelujah" for me.

And I thought, I'm just gonna be a solo Christian. So, I was basically right on the edge of falling away. And some guy that I did not know from Adam's house cat comes up to me, his name was Mark. He says, "Hi, my name is Mark". Okay, fine. "You're Greg, right"? "Yes, I'm Greg". "I saw you accept Christ the other day at school". I'm kind of defensive. "Yeah, yeah, I did". He goes, "I want to take you to church". I said, "That's okay, Mark. I don't want to go to church". "No, I want you to come to church with me". I said, "Mark, really, I don't really want to go". "What's your address"? Mark asked. "I don't want you to come get me".

Next thing I know, I'm in the car going to church with Mark because he was persistent. And that's when I walked into Calvary Chapel. That was right in the epicenter of the Jesus movement in Southern California. And I was surrounded by worshiping people, and I took a seat in the front row. By the way, I didn't want to sit in the front row. The place was so packed, I couldn't get in. And I was kind of relieved, but someone in the front row that went to my high school recognized me and said, "Greg, come sit up here". So, I'm in the front row. And Pastor Chuck Smith comes out and gives a message from the Bible, and I was hooked. And then I was going to church as many times as I could. Who made the difference? A guy you probably don't know at all, his name was Mark. He was my Barnabas. Can you be that Mark or Barnabas for somebody else?

Listen, we are all called to do this. This is not just for the preachers or for the missionaries. We're all, as followers of Jesus, called to go unto all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things that Christ has commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. And then Jesus says, "And lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age". Contextually, in the original language, the implication is he is with us in a special way when we are doing what he has asked us to do, when we're going into all the world and making disciples, taking people under our wing and helping them get up on their feet and grow spiritually. And you do it over and over again.

See, Barnabas did this for Saul, later to become Paul, and it made all the difference in the world. Do you know somebody maybe that stumbled spiritually, and they don't know how to get up again? This is where you come in. Be an encourager. James 5:19 says, "Brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone bring him back, remember this, whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins". Listen to this, when a person has stumbled and fallen, they don't necessarily need a preacher. They need an encourager. They need someone to help them along. They need someone to just be there. It's called the ministry of presence. Maybe you know someone who's suffering right now, maybe they're in a hospital, maybe they're in a convalescent home, maybe they're isolated somehow. They need you to be there for them. Even Jesus, when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, said to Peter, James, and John, "Will you just be with me"?

Sometimes just being with people and letting them know you love them makes all the difference in the world. And listen to this. Paul reminds us in the Book of Corinthians that the sufferings of Christ flow over in our lives in order that through Christ, comfort will overflow. The King James version puts it this way, we comfort with the comfort we've been comforted with. Listen, I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone, but God has given it to me as a tool to help other people who are going through rough times.

You know, my son, Christopher, went to be with the Lord in 2008. If I could bring him back, I would do it in a moment, but I don't have the ability to do that. As David said of his son who had died, "He will not come to me, but I will go to him". But here's what I decided to do. I decided to not waste my pain. When you go through a hardship, you have a choice. You can become better or bitter. I've chosen to become better, and I've chosen to use it as a tool. And hardly a week goes by when I don't talk to one or two people who have lost a loved one and have reached out to me. And I try to help them to the best of my ability. I don't have any great answers for them, but I've been down that road. I'm still going down that road, and I encourage them with the same encouragement that has come to me.

So, let me encourage you if you're going through a hardship right now. Because there's nothing as refreshing as an encouraging word or deed. It's like a fresh drink of water on a hot summer day. Proverbs 25:25 says, "Good news from far away is like cold water to the thirsty". I think encouragement may be the greatest need in our world today, and I hope that you've been a little encouraged from this message. Number two, if you want to be an encourager, help other Christians grow in their faith. If you want to be an encourager, then help other Christians grow in their faith. I mentioned that Barnabas took Paul under his wing to come on his missionary journeys. Paul emerged as, really, the better preacher of the two, the more well received of the two, frankly.

Barnabas and Paul had a little bit of a conflict. We'll get to that later in the Book of Acts, how they had conflicts and arguments and disagreements, even in the 1st century church, and they parted ways. But the key is they parted ways as friends still, but really Barnabas had done his job. What is our job? Again, it's to make disciples of other Christians and to take the young believer, get them growing, help them develop disciplines of Bible study and prayer and being involved in the church and so forth, and then go do it again. It's like, wash, rinse, repeat, preach, disciple, preach again. That's our job. Barnabas did his job well. So, here's one more instance of Mr. Encouragement in action from Acts chapter 11. So, as it turns out, God was working mightily. Lots of people were coming to Christ. They heard about it in Jerusalem. And the leader said, "Let's send Mr. Encouragement to go give them a hopeful Word".

So, we read in Acts 11:22, "When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. And when he arrived and saw the evidence of God's blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord". I love this little commentary on Barnabas. "Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith, and many people were brought to the Lord". What a great message Mr. Encouragement brought to the believers there in Antioch. He said, "Stay true to the Lord," and let me encourage you to do the same right now. Stay true to the Lord. Whatever you're going through, hold your course, continue on in your relationship with Christ.

Maybe you're feeling down or discouraged right now. I want you to know that God is here ready to step into your life, and he's bigger than your problem, ready to see you through, ready to walk with you through your valley. Psalm 23 is one of my favorite passages from the Bible, and David writes, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". Why, David? He goes on to give the answer: "For you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me".

So whatever valley you're going through right now, the Lord is with you if you are a Christian. Now, God is here and omnipresent in a broad sense for every person, but he is only involved actively in the life of his children. And how do you become one of his children? You think, "Do I have to be born in a Christian family"? No, you need to be born again. Jesus said, "You must be born again," and by the way, he said that to a very religious man named Nicodemus, and Nicodemus was born again and his life was changed. And your life can be changed as well. Maybe I'm talking to someone that is depressed and down; you've even thought of taking your own life. Let me say this to you: don't take your life, give your life to Jesus Christ, and now you're gonna find the life you've been looking for.
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