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How to Help Others Over Life's Humps, Part 1

From the series Lift

Encouragement - an affirming pat on the back, a brief comment of appreciation, even a simple little smile can spell the difference between a good day and a bad one. This message launches a series Chip calls, “LIFT! The Awesome Power of Encouragement.”

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Message Transcript

When you really talk about how to get over life’s humps there’s a number of things that you need. But one of the most powerful, powerful things that God has ever given us is speech.

The power of an affirming word given lovingly, authentically, as God leads, is absolutely beyond what you can imagine.

In fact, the Bible is replete with multiple examples of the difference just a word can make. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” What a picture.

Or in Proverbs 15:4, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life but a deceitful tongue crushes the Spirit.” One simple word really makes a difference.

How can we learn to speak into the lives of people that we love in such a way that it really encourages them? That it changes them.

And so we want to look tonight at four ways to speak life to those that we love. And our model is going to be the apostle Paul and how he did it to the Church of Thessalonica. We’re going to look at chapter 1, the first ten verses. I want you to get a picture before we read this, in one reading, of the people that he wrote to and how they felt and what they were going through. What were the humps that they needed to get over because then when you understand that, as we walk through the passage, you’ll get an idea that God really understands the humps you’re going through.

The apostle Paul, he’s on his second missionary journey and he’s heading where he thinks God wants him to. There are open doors, and open doors, and open doors and he keeps preaching and sharing, he goes to every synagogue.

And late one night he gets this vision, this dream, the Macedonian Call. And he hears from God to go toward Greece. And so he gets up the next morning and tells the guys, “Hey, there’s a change in orders.”

And so he travels over to Philippi, that’s in Macedonia, and there’s not even a synagogue there and so the practice in the day when there’s not a synagogue is the faithful Jewish people would go to a riverbank and have a prayer meeting.

You can pick up the story in Acts 16, if you want to read it later, and he shows up and there’s a lady named Lydia and, boy, she comes to Christ in a group of women. Paul lands in jail later. There’s an earthquake and he and Silas are singing at night and the jailer and his whole household, they come to Christ, the Philippian Church is born. And for about two months he’s there, or more, and things really take off.

He’s politely asked to leave that city, which happens to him a lot. He travels by the great Egnatian Highway that connected the Roman Empire, and he goes by two big cities but they weren’t the right ones, and he travels at least five or six days to Thessalonica.

It’s a harbor city, it’s got about two hundred thousand people; it’s one of the major ports; it is a political, strategic, economic, cultural crossroads of that portion of the Roman Empire.

Acts 16 and 17 we find he does what he always does, “To the Jew first and also to the Greek,” week number one he shares the gospel and they say, “Hm, interesting, we’re not sure. Come back next week.”

So he comes the next week and he teaches, and preaches in the synagogue that all the hopes, all the dreams, all the prophecies about the Messiah… He came! He died! He’s been resurrected and He’s alive!

And they didn’t go for that too much. A few people trusted Christ and he began to share with the Gentiles. By the third week, so many Gentiles were coming to the faith that the Jews got jealous and they said, “Get out of here.”

We know from this book that he stayed in Thessalonica for at least a few months because he received two financial gifts from the Church at Philippi, he was there long enough to develop his trade because he says, “I worked with my own hands,” but there was a lot of persecution.

You walk downtown Thessalonica, there are idols everywhere. These people came to Christ in the midst of a great persecution and when they came to faith, if they were Jewish, they were separated from their homes. So you had people whose moms and dads said, “Don’t bother coming home.” You had wives who came to Christ whose husbands said, “Hey, you know what? Don’t bother coming home. You’re disinherited.”

For Gentiles, they had friends and they would go to all these temples and were involved in all kind of immorality and worshipping all these idols, and when they came to Christ they turned from those idols to serve the living God, and all of a sudden they’re not getting invited to parties anymore. Not only are they not getting invited to parties but they’re messing up the economy. Now people are mad at them.

So they’re isolated and they’re alienated. In fact, Paul really gets beat up on this one. So he gets run out of town, Silas is sent back to Philippi to figure out how they’re doing and to encourage them. Paul gets run out of town and he ends up in Athens by himself, and we hear, in 2 Corinthians, he’s as discouraged and despondent as ever, finally he gets refreshed by one of the fellows he’s close to, Titus, and he ends up finally in Corinth.

He came through here about sometime in about 49 A.D. It’s about eighteen, twenty-four months max, when he writes 1 Thessalonians. By this time, Silas has made the circuit, Timothy has made the circuit to check on the Church, and they’ve met him back in Corinth, and he’s gotten a report.

And he’s writing this letter to a group of people that there’s a high price tag for being a Christian. That it’s tough. That life, economics, family relationships, social acceptability – it is all very, very difficult. And so he writes them a letter to encourage them.

Now just follow along, we’re going to read, not study it yet, just listen and imagine you being one of those people. Imagine what it was like, if this had happened to your life, and that little apostle guy – and of course you’ve got all this joy, and God has changed your life, and you’re forgiven, and you have peace – but day to day it’s tough.

And you haven’t seen him in about eighteen months, and there are probably a few days that you get so discouraged you start doubting. “You know, could this be true?” Other days you just think, “I can’t take it anymore.” Other days you say, “You know, what’s the use? You know? We’re sharing our faith, we’re doing what He said, but it’s not making any difference.”

Listen to what your mentor, Paul, would say to you. “To the Church of Thessalonica, from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for you, mentioning you in our prayers we continually remember before our God and Father your works produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you,” how? “because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.

“You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators,” or mimics, “of us and of the Lord, in spite of the severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia,” that’s Greece.

“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we don’t need to say anything about it for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell us how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

Would that be an encouraging word? Wouldn’t it be good to hear that when things get really, really tough? Now as I have looked at that and studied it and examined it, I think there are four clear things that the apostle Paul does to encourage people whose lives have lots of humps.

They all have to do with speech. And what I’d like to do now is go through and study it with you, and briefly look at each of these four things out of these ten verses. And we’ll use them as our example about how we’re going to talk to one another, how we’re going to talk to our mates, how we’re going to talk to our friends, how we’re going to talk to our bosses and employees.

We’re going to learn how to communicate, with our mouth in such a way, that every person that you and me get around, we’re going to encourage. So let’s look at verse 1.

First of all, I think we need to learn to bestow a blessing. Did you notice how he started it? “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now notice what he says, that’s the introduction. “Grace to you and peace.”

The root word for “grace” is the word “joy.” It’s God’s blessing and goodness that comes apart from our merit. And we think of peace as the absence of conflict but this word for “peace” means the wholeness of God, the shalom of God.

And so the very first thing he does, the first words out of his mouth are, “Hey, how are you doing? Are you hanging in there? You know, are you getting with the program?” Huh-uh. What is it? He bestows a blessing.

Grace – God’s unmerited, unlimited love for you – “Grace to you and peace,” His wholeness, His blessing. All of who you are in Christ, that’s what I want. Now, for us culturally, that fit well with Paul but I don’t know about you but don’t try this one.

Don’t go to work and say, “Grace and peace to you.” They’ll think you drank something, or ate something funny over the weekend. In fact, probably not even a good one to go home tonight and say, “My children, my wife, my friends: Grace and peace…” That’s probably not going to work.

So how do you bestow a blessing? I’d like to encourage you to think about blessing people whenever you leave them. When you leave your home, when you leave work, when you leave a friend.

Some specifics might be just a look in the eye that’s, and you say, “I’m praying for you. I’m praying for you.” Or you might express, “God’s going to use you today.” You know, they’re taking off or they’re leaving, and you’re leaving, “Hey, I want you to know, God’s going to use you today.”

Or even, “May God’s peace really reign in your heart. I’m going to pray that for you today.”

Another possible example that I’ve used in my house, just the blessing of – tell someone, “It’s a privilege, I want you to know, it’s a privilege to be your friend. It’s a privilege to be your mate. It’s a privilege to be your dad or to be your mom.”

See, it’s a blessing. What you’re saying is, “You matter. You matter to me and you matter to God.”

The second time I encourage you to give a blessing is not only when you leave someone but at bedtime. I say this primarily for those of you that are married and have children.

You know that old thing of tucking your kids in? If you’re not doing it, start doing it. Don’t send your kids to bed with TVs on and…sit on their bed, look them in the eye, pray with them, touch them with your hands, and ask God’s blessing upon their life. Do it every night. Bless your children, evoke God’s blessing, and favor, and grace on them. The security will be incredible.

The third is, you can bless people through notes, email. You know, it’s a blessing to say, “I’m thinking about you today. I’m praying for you.” It’s a blessing to say, “Hey, hey, as I was praying this morning Psalm 37:4, just want you to know, I’m asking God to give you the desires of your heart.” Do you get the idea? Have you got it?

I want to encourage you, this week, if you want to speak life into those that you love, bestow a blessing. But it doesn’t stop there.

Notice verse 2 and 3 – Paul’s appreciation. He says, “We give thanks to God always for all of you making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind,” notice this, “your work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ and the presence of God our Father.”

Notice the structure here: First of all he gives thanks. He lets them know, “I’m praying and when I pray you pop up on the screen.” It’s what he says! “When I’m praying, Thessalonians, you pop up on the screen. And it’s none of this vague, ‘God bless you. Aren’t you kind of nice people?’ I think of the specific things that I’ve seen in your life.”

He says, “I thank God specifically for three things: Number one,” he says, “your work produced by faith.” The word “work” here we get our word “energy” or “activity” from.

He says, “I thank God specifically for the activity and the love,” referring probably to evangelism, because we hear later how it’s gone out, and also of their good deeds and kind acts toward one another.

But that’s not enough. He says, “I thank God for your work, that is produced by your faith in Christ, but I also thank Him for your labor of love.” The word “labor” here, prompted by love, denotes extraordinary effort. It literally meant, “To cut, to toil,” it’s a picture of someone taking bread and hitting it and trying to get it in a certain form to be usable.

Ryrie says, “It’s toiling, to the point of exhaustion, out of affection for another person.” How would you like someone to pray and thank God that when they look at your life they see activity that is others centered, because of your faith in Christ, and they see you with a self-sacrificial toil because you “agape,” love God and love other people. That’d be pretty encouraging, wouldn’t it?

The third thing he says is he also thanks God for their steadfastness of hope, or really, it’s a patience or I like, the best translation is, endurance. The word is a compound word: Hupomeno. It literally has the idea of a man with weight on his back. It means, “holding up or remaining under pressure.”

It has the idea of when things get hard, when things get difficult, when everyone else cops-out you hang in there. It means to be aggressive, to be courageous, to not give up, to not fall into self-pity. You hang in there and keep on doing, when you don’t feel like keeping on doing, why? Because you’re inspired by the certainty of hope, Christ is returning, God is good, God is sovereign. And then notice the last phrase: “In the presence,” it literally means “before the face of our God and Father.”

He expresses his appreciation for who they are and for what they’ve done. Do you do that? Boy, I think about this as a father. I hope you have a different personality than mine, I really do. My personality is fairly analytical and when I see something, the thing that pops out immediately is what’s wrong, or how it can be improved.

You know, if you’re a kid, you know what you hear a lot of? “Oh, yeah, that’s real good except for…” Or, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but…” You know? Do you know how demotivating that is?

You see, people who are constantly expressing appreciation, thanksgiving, boy, those are people that motivate, and lift up, and build up.

You know what Paul basically did? He said, “This is what you’re doing right! And I thank God for it and I’m not being vague and I’m not blowing smoke. I’m talking about these three specific things.” And, by the way, it’s happening, you want some encouragement? It’s happening before the very face of God and He sees what’s going on too. Boy, wouldn’t that be encouraging?

Let me give you a practical application.

Ken Blanchard, he’s the author of The One Minute Manager and a number of other books. In fact, Raving Fans is one that would really flow right out of this passage.

And he says in that, “Tell people what they’re doing right. Wander around and catch people doing stuff right and then praise them.” And then he says, “Make it progressive. Don’t wait until they have it perfect. When you see people making little inclinations toward doing better, praise them and appreciate them for the progress they’re making.”

Some of us are waiting until people get it completely right. They’re never going to get it completely right because they’re a lot like us. Right? How are you doing at expressing your appreciation?

Have you told a friend that lately? Have you told your parents that lately? Have you told fellow workers, people that you do ministry with, lately, how much you really appreciate?