You Can Do It! A Dose of Encouragement and Mercy
Several years ago I was a member at a church which was going through some challenging times. There was a lot of staff turnover a lot of voices striving to be the loudest when it came to determining immediate and long term priorities the remaining staff and elder board should be addressing. Unfortunately, the teens of the church largely became lost in the shuffle until the parents and adult volunteers were able to advocate for the right staff member to be able to step in and be their voice at meetings. It was a challenging season for everyone involved.
Just over a year into the chaos of the transition, the volunteers who had been working as a team to be sure the youth group kept going had the chance to meet with a member of the church’s oversight team for training and prayer. In the training portion, he called on us to dig deep and stay the course, to dream big and embrace the vision the church had for a growing youth group. I’ll never forget one of my fellow volunteers leaning over and whispering in my ear, “Don’t beat the sheep.”
While I do believe he was trying to be encouraging, what he failed to realize was how exhausted we were at that moment in time. We had approximately 50 or 60 youth who regularly attended each week. Within that group we had several who were in full time, outpatient treatment for eating disorders, multiple youth who had been in the hospital for self-harm or suicide attempts, two families who were grieving the recent loss of a parent, and two more families in the midst of less than amicable divorce proceedings. We had kids who were struggling with serious bulling issues at school and kids who were regularly left in charge of siblings as a family member needed to be rushed to the hospital as a chronic health condition suddenly became critical. All of the youth were still mourning the loss of a beloved youth pastor and we had been operating, largely, without direct support from church staff or leadership. We didn’t need to be inspired to dream big, we needed to affirmed for hanging on, for surviving, applauded for providing a safe haven for so many hurting kids and their families within our church despite the challenges the of the previous 14 months. We needed someone with the gift of encouragement.
This week I’m focusing on two gifts which we all have likely greatly appreciated when faced with the more difficult challenges in life: encouragement (also called exhortation) and mercy.
There are two primary expressions of the gift of encouragement. The first is seen in those who always seem to be able to see the best in any given situation. They have a natural ability to motivate others to persevere in their struggle again sin and in the midst of difficult times. To encourage is “to instill courage” and those with this gift are able to do this well. People with this gift are likely to see the proverbial glass as half full instead of half empty.
The second primary way this gift is expressed is through the focus those with this gift have in seeking out practical applications of the truths found in Scripture. They do this in a way which doesn’t just say, “this is the way you should go.” In seeing the way a person should go, an encouraging is the one most willing to come alongside and say, “I will help you go that way.” An encourager wants others to see problems and obstacles as something which can be overcome with God’s help, wisdom, love, and faithfulness.
Those with the gift of encouragement are vital when the storms of life are raging. For both individuals and groups, encouragers play a key role in reminding us that God is ultimately in control and will work all things together for His good. Returning to the story of the church, our rag tag group of volunteers was sent a great encourager. The finance person on the church staff had previously been a part of the youth staff volunteer team and, despite being away for a few years, he never lost his heart for the youth or their families. After about a year with no youth pastor, he was invited by the interim pastor to step in and be part of supporting the youth ministry program. He and his wife stepped in, coming alongside the staff and advocating for the re-hiring of a youth pastor as top priority to the church leadership. They affirmed the work we had been doing and were a much needed, clear line of communication between the youth program and the church leadership. They were a much needed encouragement to all of us after a long, hard year of ministry and stayed on as the new youth pastor who was hired a few months later adjusted and learned the ropes.
A gift which pairs well with encouragement is mercy. If you are anything like me, you often are your own worst enemy. When I have messed up, yelling at me doesn’t do much because I’m already yelling at myself way more. Often we are our own harshest critic. And even if we aren’t, there certainly seem to be a lot of critics out there who are more than willing to point out when we have messed up. Those with the gift of mercy are those who are more likely to react out love and with empathy and compassion.
Mercy isn’t just feeling bad for someone, it is putting love into action. It is showing compassion in our attitudes, words, and actions towards other people. A mercy-giver is known as someone who is kind and gentle who are especially aware of the emotional atmosphere around them. The gift of mercy uniquely equips people to reach out to people to who are suffering, it allows them to help without adding a burden of responsibility or shame to someone who is already aware of their shortcomings and failures. Their gift often leaves them feeling compelled to pray as a way to express and release their emotions and express what is on their hearts before God.
Both of these gifts are vital when we are seeking to reach a world often defined and overwhelmed by pain and suffering. The internet has made it possible for us to be more aware than ever before of the effects sin has had not only in our own lives, but in the lives of millions of others through the world. Both of these gifts, in their own way, inspire people to enter into the hardest parts of the lives of others to be tangible examples of God’s love for each person. They remind us that God is always for us, that God always wants what is best for us, always wants us live an abundant life.
- When have you encountered someone with either the gift of encouragement or mercy? How did their presence in your life help you through life’s challenges?
- If you know someone who has one of these two gifts, how can you encourage and support them as they seek to reach out to those who are hurting in this world?
- Dive into the story of Barnabas as an example of someone from Scripture with the gift of encouragement.
GotQuestions.org - "What is the Gift of Encouragement?"
AssessMe.org - "Grace Gifts: Spiritual Gift of Encouragement"
Institute in Basic Life Principles - "Exhorting: A Spiritual Gift"
Institute in Basic Life Principles - "Mercy: A Spiritual Gift"
GotQuestions.org - "What is the Spiritual Gift of Mercy?"