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All Christians want to be encouraged by their church family. Those of us who are blessed to be united to Jesus Christ live to be a blessing to others (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
The world lacks encouragement. Sadly, we’re often frustrated by the lack of encouragement in our relationships at church as well. While we’re unsurprised by our discouraging world, discouraging churches weigh more heavily on our souls. It’s easy to throw our hands in the air and just settle in with our current church culture. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Actually, God commands that we not settle for this.
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 10:24–25)
Three Ways to Serve and Encourage
Many people miss the main exhortation in these familiar verses. Yes, we are to stir up one another to love and good works. Yes, we are to meet together. Yes, we are to encourage one another. But none of those are the main charge.
The main command is to “consider” or “contemplate.” “Let us consider. . .” one another — think about each other, specifically about “how to stir up one another.” The exhortation is to take focused, intentional time to think about one another — how we will stir up love, how we will encourage, and how we will meet together.
God wants us to be thoughtful and purposeful in our gatherings, not lazy and aimless. It’s been said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And if you aim at nothing, you hit it every time. Sure, God’s grace compels and guides us to stir and encourage in ways we did not intend. But God’s grace also makes us intentional. He gives us grace not only despite our effort, but in our effort.Hebrews 10:24–25 compel us to actively consider how we might encourage and strengthen the particular saints we meet with each Sunday.
So how shall we consider one another in order to encourage and bless one another? Sunday is coming. How shall we prepare?
Pray for the members of your church family throughout the week. Use your church directory (or any list of members) to pray for people by name. Systematically pray for all of the members, even the ones you don’t know. You may meet them this Sunday, and you’ll be able to let them know you prayed for them.
Pause on Saturday night or early Sunday morning, and ask God to lead you in stirring up others to love and good works. Ask him to move other members to do the same.
Plan on attending this Sunday. Settle in your mind that you’ll gather with your church family every Sunday, barring emergencies or extreme circumstances. Half the battle really is showing up. God wisely designed your presence to be a critical present to the rest of the body. Bonheoffer writes,
The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. . . . It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day. . . . Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies” of the Christian life. (Life Together, 8–10)
Commit to being there this Sunday, for your sake and for the sake of others. Plan to get to sleep early and then arrive with plenty of time to spare. Plan on having your soul happy in God as you head out to meet on Sunday. Consider two or three specific people you think God might have you seek out to encourage.
Plan to bless others by serving and by what you say. You can serve others by smiling and giving them a warm, heart-felt greeting (1 Corinthians 16:20). Be prepared to give money, or to help someone with a tangible need. One tangible need everyone has is to be listened to, so plan on asking a provocative question or two that would draw someone out and reveal how God is working in his life. Relish the opportunity to do more listening than talking.
But be prepared to say something as well. Be ready to share what God’s been teaching you lately through his word and through trials. Bring up a thought God pressed on your soul from the sermon you just heard. Have a blessing, burden, or prayer request ready to share.
Not all of us are happy in God on Sundays, so we need to be willing to let others encourage us. If we would consistently encourage others, then we also must be honest and vulnerable about our need to receive encouragement from others too.
Once you arrive on Sunday, it’s time for you to stir up (“provoke” in the King James Version) others to love and good works. Be an instigator. Remember that before you were born, God prepared good works for you to walk in (Ephesians 2:10) — including good works of stirring up others. Enjoy the adventure of walking in those works with God when you gather with his people.
As you seek God with all your focus, and look for ways to serve, others will be encouraged to do the same. Concentrating on the sermon affects the preacher, and inspires those around you to listen. It’s provocative in healthy ways. It’s contagious. That’s one reason (among many) we typically get more out of sitting in a church gathering or conference than just hearing a recording.
Come hungry for God in all his glory and goodness. As you seek his face and provoke others to love and good works, be encouraged that your desires and your actions happen because God is actively working in you (Philippians 2:12–13). As you pursue your gladness in God, you’ll experience the joy of helping others trust and follow Jesus.
Imagine how our churches will increasingly grow as we intentionally build up and encourage one another each Sunday. Imagine the doubters and the discouraged flocking to the local church to have God’s hope instilled in them through believers.
When the majority of those gathered on Sunday are prepared through prayer and planning to provoke others to love and good works, then the broken and the brimming, the hurting and the happy, the encouraged and the discouraged will all experience more of God.