I’ll never forget the day when I first walked into my Sociology 101 class in college. It was 1973 and I was an 18-year-old, brand new, zealous, whistling-in-the-hall Christian. When I walked into class, I noticed this unusual-looking guy with long hair and a headband, sitting cross-legged on top of his desk. After about five or ten minutes of saying nothing, he finally began to open up, and we found out that he was the teacher. For the next six weeks, he refuted every textbook we’d ever studied and everything that we’d ever thought we believed about God and America.
It wasn’t long before he raised some doubts in my heart -- and the confusion in my soul began to grow. As a new Christian, I couldn’t answer many of his questions or defend his attacks, so I began to feel really discouraged. His criticism of God and the Bible literally took the whistle off my lips. Whatever joy I had been experiencing was now gone. Although his arguments weren’t strong enough to really cause me to question the depths of my faith, they were strong enough to keep me messed up most of the time.
Since then, my observation is that it’s only a matter of time before something or someone attacks our faith to the extent that it raises doubts in our heart and confusion in our soul.
Maybe you know some people who are experiencing discouragement right now. Perhaps they are in a work environment that makes them feel lower or smaller than others because they are believers. Or maybe their family or friends are constantly bombarding them with criticism about their faith.
How do we help and encourage those people whose faith is being knocked down? What does God want us to do to help lift up others to get through their “Sociology 101 experience”?
In 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul is writing to Christians living in the Greek town of Thessalonica whose faith is being undermined. To help them, he encourages them to remember. Why? Because there’s something extremely powerful about remembering.
Remembering God’s work in our past is the key to getting perspective to do God’s will in the present.
In his letter, Paul reminds them about what God did in their lives and the cost that was involved to deliver the Gospel message to them. Paul also reminds them of God’s motherly and fatherly love and how God used him and others to care for them.
"You know, brothers and sisters that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition." (1 Thess. 2:1-2)
"Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." (v. 7-12)
Just like the Thessalonians, we also need to remember. But what we tend to do is focus on our problems looming on the horizon. And as they get closer and closer, we lose perspective and lose sight of all that happened behind us.
To help others who are faltering to get perspective, we need to help them pull their problems back and see them in light of history, their experiences, and who God is. We also need to remind them about how far they’ve come, what God has already done in the past, and the people who’ve helped and encouraged them along the way.
This week, we’re beginning the series, Lift: The Awesome Power of Encouragement. In it, we will be looking deeper into 1 Thessalonians – the Apostle Paul's “game plan” for encouraging believers – and exploring the practical ways of bringing hope and love into the lives of those we care about most. My prayer during this series is that we will seek to become people who long to encourage and bring out the highest potential in others.
Keep Pressin' Ahead,
Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor
Living on the Edge