Wird Geladen

Lessons from my own bible study

Archive for the tag “encouragement”

The Encouraging Story of Joseph

I like the story of Joseph. I find it very encouraging in my current place in life. Working hard to move forward while keeping God in the center. Not sure of where I’m headed or what good it’s doing. Unconvinced that anything I do is the best option.

Joseph grew up out of a middle-class farming family to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. His leadership saved every Egyptian citizen, and most of the Hebrews, from dying of starvation. He was the hero of his time.

But it took him a long time to get there. And he never made any decisions that led him there, per se. Rule over Egypt and adoration were not lifelong goals he had been working toward. Joseph came to fulfill his destiny because he spent his whole life loving and working for God.

A few months ago when I moved to Berlin I went to talk with my friend Erika. She loves living in Berlin even more than I do. Now she’s getting her masters here, but before she could do that, she had to teach English in a little down in central Germany for two years.

“Was it what I wanted to be doing? No. But it got me here.”

It’s the same with Joseph. He went from shepherd to captured slave to head of an enormous estate to prisoner to savior of Egypt. Every step of the way Joseph’s work was good enough that he was promoted quickly. People trusted him and gave him enormous power and authority. It wasn’t the type of work Joseph was doing that gained him renown- it was just slave work. And the quality of his work wasn’t because Joseph was a particularly adept or enthusiastic worker. Again, he was a slave. Rather, Joseph put his hand into God’s and trusted His grace and goodness to bless everything he did.

It was God alone who was moving Joseph toward what turned out to be his great destiny and the salvation of all Egypt. Did Jo enjoy the work he was doing? Perhaps. Did he take pride in being very good and high up in his position? Probably. But what’s absolutely certain and most important to remember is that Joseph begged God’s help in all things. He had to have done. God doesn’t go to work for those who don’t ask for it. But those who work by love for the Lord, earn His wages.

Joseph put God and all of his heart into whatever work was before him. He moved forward toward God’s good blessings for his life by staying continually grounded in the Lord. No matter what unfortunate, unfair mistakes came into his path, or how down and out Joseph became, he never stopped serving first and foremost the Lord. And that’s what led to his ultimately coming into his own- the golden cup that was waiting for him.

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“I Have Crossed The Jordan With Only This Stick”

Jacob prayed: Oh God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies.
                                                                                                        Genesis 32:9 & 10

25-second context: Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, took advantage of him for 20 years of indentured servitude. In that time Jacob amassed vast wealth and a huge household. After getting tired of being scammed he fled with his wives, 11 children, slaves, cohorts, and vast herds back to Canaan.

This is my new favorite verse of the Bible! An encouraging prayer for the power of God even when we are unable or unwilling to accept it. He is in power, not we. And isn’t that a comforting thought; that we should reap the benefits of His goodness, steadfastness, wisdom, and love even though we don’t think we ought to.

Jacob’s feeling of unworthiness didn’t come from sin, or lacking righteousness. He’s talking about the feelings of inadequacy, doubt, unworthiness that come from being limited by our own lack of skill. I don’t deserve these blessings because I am not wise enough, smart enough, skilled enough, hard-working enough, nice enough, liked enough to go out and get them on my own. I don’t deserve these blessings because they don’t represent the achievements I’m capable of. I don’t deserve these blessings because I’m literally not good enough at life to earn them.

By myself all I have is this one stick. By your love alone, Oh Lord, it has become two companies of men!

We have a God who does not operate on the do-earn basis. He pays wages to his laborers based on the faith and love with which they do their work. Sometimes I think that God can see love the way moths see ultraviolet light. We have a God who happily gives out the prizes of our hearts based purely on His love for us, and the joy He expects us to get from it, and the trust that we will put our gifts to good use and do them justice.

Jacob was clearly not a savvy business man! He got cheated by his boss for over 20 years. But God saw that Jacob’s heart yearned to lead wisdom into control, and to feel his power gifted into his whole company. He took care of Jacob, knowing that his desire for such things came not for his own benefit but from their desire to see God worshiped.

Take heart! Go out into the world with just your stick in your hand! Do whatever it is that comes to you with all love and faith in God. Work hard and always let your life glorify God. If you do this, God will turn your stick into two enormous companies of men!

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Centering our Conversations on God

“Preach the gospel always, with words if necessary.”  -St. Francis of Assisi

I have not come to baptize but to preach the gospel. And not with eloquent words, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
                                                                                                                1 Cor. 1:13

The job and directive of a God-centered life is to proclaim the Gospel. But Paul says he preaches not with eloquent words. One does not have to be talking about God to have a God-centered conversation. Saying God’s name out loud is not the most practical way of communicating Christ by our speech.  Nor is it the most effective, really.  We say God’s name more times a minute simply by building others up.

Let no evil come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
                                                                                                              Ephesians 4:29

Consider that everyone has pain that they’re not sharing with the world- pain that’s hiding just below a fake smile. This is a pain we cannot reach, but which Jesus can most certainly heal. Whether they know it or not, they’re waiting to hear God’s name- as there is need. And whether we know it or not, our conversations are an opportunity for us to give grace to someone who’s hurting, even in the simplest way. Literally to bring Jesus to them.

We do this by encouraging one another. Be Loving. Patient. Kind. Inclusive. Polite. Constructive. Funny. Pleasant. Helpful. Build people up! Make them smile! Make them glow! God reaches the world through us. We convey His message when we build others up. The impulse to do this comes out of a heart full of the simple wish that everyone should feel the joy of God all the time.

We don’t have to fake smile in order to do this. We should never deny our own emotions for the sake of letting someone else have a good day. Paul tells the Ephesians “Be mad, but do not sin (Eph 4:26).” Whatever our mental state, we must first and foremost preach God’s name. And we shall be rewarded for this.

The wages of doing our job are that our hearts become God-centered. It’s a fascinatingly roundabout process (not to mention easy to the point of cheating). A mouth that worships God feeds the heart that worships Him. And the heart that wants to see God worshiped pours forth the words to get the job done. In what may be the most miraculous concept of the entire Bible, Jesus says:

The Word of God feeds you going in as well as going out.*

Short story: yesterday I rode my bike to meet a friend at a café. The place she chose was very far away. The long drive, cold wind, and bad traffic all put me in a terrible mood. In my anger I blamed her for picking somewhere so out of the way, along with a bunch of other things that were actually my fault. I rode along thinking how silly this girl was, imagining all the nasty things I would say once I got there. But then I remembered this sermon. “Saying something nasty to her won’t make either of us feel better,” I thought. “I don’t know what kind of hardship she had in getting here either. It just wouldn’t do any good to be negative. I wonder, if I bring God into our conversation by being encouraging, will my anger and pain disappear?” So I dug down deep, found what little positive vibes I had left in my heart, and poured them out onto her once I arrived. And you know what? It totally worked! I felt instantly better, and we had a great time! Both my heart and hers got filled by the Holy Spirit just as soon as I brought Him into the mix. It was extremely encouraging.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
                                                                                                Luke 6:45

The power of the cross of Christ is that our hearts would be filled with good. A God-centered conversation blesses both the speaker and the listener by building them both up. The Holy Spirit works through a quick, positive word of encouragement in ways we cannot fathom. He moves out from the abundance in our hearts to ease the pain of everyone involved.

Such habits of speech can have no other result than to center our hearts onto God. If we focus our conversations on uplifting whomever we’re speaking to, we’re actually focusing on achieving God’s will and spreading His name throughout the universe. Whenever we concentrate our efforts onto the actions of the Holy Spirit, in any capacity, we are praying. Conversations, hearts, lives- all three will naturally flow toward God as we pray for them to do so.

Encouraging words are the physical manifestation of our desire for others to have God’s peace, and to live a God-focused life. They spring into reality out of the spiritual universe burning inside our own hearts. They lay onto our listeners like a warm breeze on a cool day- a blessing from somewhere else.

Tip #4: Build others up with speech, and our hearts will center themselves on God.

*I was in a rush and didn’t have time to cite this, but I know it’s in there! If anyone knows please write it in the comments

Happy Lent today, dear readers. I hope you find a great church service to go to. Or a beautiful Bible passage to connect you to Jesus’s sacrifice. If you falter in your Lenten resolution, just remember NEVER to beat yourself up over it. Move on and praise God anyway. Amen.

This post has been the new addition in the “Putting God At The Center” Series, a project of learning how we can bring our lives to focus on God.  The three previous posts are: Mealtime PrayerWorshiping God By Worshiping Our Bodies, and We Worship Whatever We Sacrifice To.  Stay tuned for the final installment and please comment, like, and share!

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