Have you ever felt out of place at church?
I know that I have. Too often we feel like we have to “put on a mask” before we walk through the doors of the building and pretend to be someone we are not. We are keenly aware of the struggles, the temptations, and the doubts that hold us back from truly being the person God created us to be.
If you have ever felt that way you are not alone.
In his book Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli wrote:
Sprinkled throughout our congregations are good people who have been paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, insecurity and self-doubt, insignificance and guilt, which are what cripples most of us who are trying to follow Christ. (p. 24)
Think about your church family.
If we are struggling with sin, temptation, doubt, uncertainty, guilt, loneliness, insignificance, heartache, and fear, then it would seem likely that other people we worship with struggle with similar things in their lives. In spite of this reality, there is an unspoken expectation that Christians need to have it all together. The result is that we end up hiding our true selves from one another.
This is what Mike Yaconelli got me to ponder: Followers of Jesus need to encourage one another.
Following Jesus is hard. It is especially hard if we lack a support group who will encourage us, help us, and support us through the ups and downs of life. Remember, the first thing God declared to be not good was the loneliness of Adam. We were created to be with other people.
In 2005 I was ready to throw in the towel and walk away from God, Jesus, and the Church. Guilt, doubt, and insignificance weighed me down and I wondered if following Jesus was actually worth it. I have been one of those people sprinkled in the congregation, but I wasn’t an occasional visitor I was the youth pastor. If I was struggling as the youth pastor, you can imagine how the occasional visitor must feel.
This is the reality of all of our church families.
The New Testament book of Hebrews was written to a church family in the midst of a difficult time. The persecution and doubts had them ready to give up. It is thought that these Christians had experienced one wave or persecution and lost most of their possessions. This new wave of persecution threatened their lives. You can imagine that a return to Judaism, which was a legal religion, appealed to them. This is why the author of Hebrews wrote:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV)
The writer called his readers to encourage one another, and the echoes of his call fall upon us today. Following Jesus isn’t easy and we need all the encouragement we can get.
How will we hold on to the hope we have in Jesus if we don’t have people on our side who will encourage us?
Encouragement is essential to remaining faithful throughout life’s struggles.
How can we receive the encouragement that we need?
Encouragement doesn’t find us by accident. We have to take initiative if we hope to be encouraged in our lives. The writer of Hebrews provided two ways for us to take initiative.
- We need to meet together. This requires that we make it a priority to regularly meet with other Christians. Sunday morning worship and weekly small groups are important because they provide us with the opportunity to create the Christian community that we need. On the flip side, if we isolate ourselves then we will not be encouraged. We need to take the initiative to meet together. Part of that imitative is to invite people to be part of our community. Without an invitation it is difficult to join a group.
- We need to follow faithful people. One way we can spur each other on in faith is through our example. We provide encouragement to others by living a life of faith. We also have to remember the people of faith who have gone before us. Hebrews 11 has a list of Old Testament saints who endured struggles and remained faithful to God. It was important for the first readers of this letter to be reminded that following God isn’t easy and there are people who have endured to the end. We need to be reminded of faithful examples. They could be ancient saints, modern day believers, or someone in between. These examples remind us what God can do through the most difficult of circumstances.
Following Jesus isn’t easy. In our church families their are dozens of people struggling with their faith. In fact, you umight be one of the people struggling. Through the dark times of we life we need encouragement, and that encouragement is found in fellow believers.
Questions to consider:
- How have you struggled with your faith?
- Why is it important to be encouraged when going through difficult times?
- Are you being encouraged? Are you an encouragement?
- What is one thing you can do to encourage a friend?