Community Encouragement

4578cd815ff7c7285250863a1e23cae9.jpgTherefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

How does encouraging others help them?

How does encouraging others help you?

What have you been building through this season of life, or rather, what has God been building?

We often think of encouragement as a personal thing. We send an encouraging note or someone says just the right words when we need to hear them. We think of encouragement as a moment or action, but it’s so much more.

Encouragement can become a habit, a characteristic, not just personally but in a relationship or across a community. Encouragement isn’t an individual task or accomplishment. It is intended to be given and received. Encouragement is shared. It builds community, and it can characterize a community. It’s how we build one another up. With each encouragement, we place one brick on top of another and build a bridge across which we can reach each other and take journeys into new adventures.

Encouragement reaches out to others, whether we are giving or receiving. It opens our hands and hearts. And it’s not always a pat on the back that makes us feel good. Encouragement is also challenging. It’s a dose of courage that speaks the truth in love. It can never be ill-intended or dishonest but it is also never overly sweet and sappy. It is authentic. It is equipping. It is inspiring, and it always spurs change and growth.

Pay attention today and share encouragement as often as you can. Sometimes encouragement happens with a moment, and sometimes it’s an investment over time. Either way, you can be characterized by it. Discern what you are supposed to say and do to whom and when. God will guide you. Refuse to take matters into your own hands, but don’t drag your feet and declare God isn’t encouraging you to encourage others. He always does!

The Mentoring Mess

lets-do-life-together-digital-hand-letteringWe all need each other, but it can be difficult to find someone who truly invests in our lives. On the other hand, it can also be difficult to set aside time to authentically invest in someone else’s life.

I wonder sometimes if we make it more difficult than it needs to be.

Are we too particular? Using wisdom in guiding us to the right people is important, but I wonder sometimes if we get too picky. Do we overlook people as possible mentors (or mentees) because of the differences between us? Or perhaps our self-doubt or insecurities get in the way. We don’t want to make the first move in case it’s the wrong move, or the first time we meet doesn’t work out well, and we give up too soon.

Are we too programmed? Do we feel the need for someone to set up mentoring for us? Perhaps we experienced mentoring done really well through a particular program or ministry, and we simply want someone to duplicate the same experience for us. Is that too much to ask? Well, yes, it just might be. Programs and ministries can help with connections, but it takes personal sacrifice and effort to keep them going. That’s up to you.

Are we too unwilling? We can try to justify our unwillingness by claiming we’re super busy, not the right fit, or a myriad of other excuses, but perhaps we’re simply not willing to give what is needed to establish and maintain mentoring relationships.

Mentoring puts us in a vulnerable position, whether we are giving or receiving. We have to expose our lives to others. That’s easy for some of us and incredibly difficult for others. Mentoring seems so elusive for some yet seems to come naturally to others. That’s frustrating or exhilarating, depending on the side you fall.

No matter what, mentoring is not easy. It’s messy, because it involves people sharing life with each other. That includes everyday situations, crises, and celebrations. Sometimes it feels as if we’re coasting down a hill as we ride bikes on a beautiful day. It is almost effortless. Other times, we get worn out as we struggle to make it up a steep hill of challenges. Both are part of the journey.

Both make mentoring worthwhile.

Truth be told, mentoring is really much simpler than we make it. We want it to be well-defined, because that makes sense to us. We think mentoring is a relationship between two women (or men), usually one older and one younger, where the older woman imparts wisdom into the younger woman. It is so much more than that. Often, the women are close in age. They both feel they get benefits out of the relationship; in fact, you will hear many say they get the best end of the relationship, that they feel as if they receive way more than they give.

We all need others. We need to find partners to help us through the relational, spiritual, emotional, and practical ups and downs of life. Of course, Jesus is our ultimate mentor, but God gifts us with community, people who surround us to cheer us on and challenge us. And we surround others. If we’re honest, at all times, we are being mentored and are mentoring. We need to be intentional about both. We need to recognize that others are not perfect, just as we aren’t. Other will let us down, just as we do to them. Relationships require sacrifice of time and energy, but God is the one who gives both, so it’s best to spend them His way anyway.

How can you find and maintain mentoring relationships?

  • Pay attention. Set aside your assumptions and open your eyes and heart to the opportunities God is placing in front of you. Relationships often begin with eye contact and a brief exchange of words. You don’t have to instantly decide how deep the relationship will go or how long it will last.
  • Persevere. Just because you hit a bump in the road doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. Be patient and diligent. Put in effort and be humble through the process.
  • Stay healthy. The best thing you can do for any relationship is to be the healthiest you can be. Determine to grow spiritually each step of the way. You might find you need to move on from a relationship. Yet you might find God sharpens you through one you’d rather set aside. Trust Him to lead the way.
  • Transition through seasons. Just because a relationship works well for a while doesn’t mean it will remain in your life forever. Growth requires changes. Saying goodbye (and saying hello) takes courage. It’s difficult. Yet it’s essential to healthy spiritual growth. Again, let God lead.
  • Accept the mess, but don’t be content to stay in it. Set aside your idealism about relationships. Know they will be messy. Be willing to work through the mess, admitting everything won’t ever be completely neat and tidy, yet as you work through issues, you can choose to rely on and get closer to God.

Mentoring might be more mess than magic, but when you invite others into your life and authentically invest in each other, the experience will help you grow in unrivaled ways. Give it a try!

Listen Without Expectations

God speaksThen He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.”

At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

God doesn’t always show up as we expect. He doesn’t always speak in a whisper or a whirlwind. If we want to hear Him, we need to listen, setting aside our expectations and paying attention.

Pay Attention. You Still Might Not Know.

I walked into Subway. An sixty-something man was in front of me. He ordered his sandwich, then his wife’s sandwich. For his wife’s order, he tried to hand the sandwich-maker a sticky note, but she couldn’t accept it. They politely went back and forth until they compromised: the man held the paper in a position so the worker could read the writing and make the sandwich. We continued down the line, and the man ahead of me ordered his cookies and drinks, then paid. He turned around to fill his drink cups and paused. I thought he was simply deciding what to drink. But he took a step toward me and quietly asked, “Could you tell me which one is the sweet tea? I can’t read.”

I would have never known. I wouldn’t have guessed. It reminded me to be willing to pay attention, listen, and help, because no matter what assumptions I make about the people around me, I never really know unless I interact with them. Neither do you. Resolve to pay attention.

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“Thank you for waiting.” Really? I just got here!

I sat in a busy drive through line.

Well, even though, technically, I was sitting in my vehicle, I was pretty much constantly moving. I paused  briefly to order, then moved forward in a steady stream of cars. After paying at one window, I pulled up to receive my order. I waited about 15 seconds before a friendly girl opened the door, extended my drink, and apologetically said, “Thank you for waiting! Sorry it took us a minute!”

imagesIt didn’t take a full minute!

I appreciated her desire to please a customer, but can 15 seconds really count as waiting? If we don’t have 15 seconds to wait on something, or we get agitated after waiting that amount of time, we have issues. It’s like the spinning wheel on our electronics. Sure, we might want it to spin a little faster and load a little quicker, but the work we do on electronics doesn’t even compare to the time it would take us if we didn’t have them. And when using the “shortcut” becomes the long way around, and time is of the essence, just take the long way around!

We need to slow down enough to process what’s going on around us. We need to notice people. We need to be patient with them and not train them to think we’re going to leave them in the dust or call their manager if they don’t move at an unrealistic, superhuman speed.

Yes, there are times we’re all in a hurry, but most of the time, we can slow down…a lot. Develop your patience. Extend grace to others. Encourage them along the way. Help someone even thought it would be faster if you did it yourself. Quit putting off that lunch with a friend because you know it’s going to take several hours to catch up.

Just like putting together puzzles, looking for the right fit and clicking details and relationships together takes time, patience, and perseverance. Enjoy the journey…even when you have to wait more than a quarter of a minute.

Walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love. (Ephesians 4:1b-2)