So, when we think of encouragement, we most often think of saying things to people – kind things, things that will make them feel good. That certainly is a part of encouragement, but there is just so much more to it than that. One of the really interesting things that I learned in my psyche studies in the last year is that there are various systems built into the human brain. I’ll give you an example of one. Back in the fifties, researchers began to study the way that human infants attach to their parents. What caused babies to love and trust their mothers and fathers? And amazingly they discovered that all human infant attachments could be placed in one of four categories. Now sometimes we have a spectrum. This isn’t how it works with attachment. There’s not a completely different style for each baby. There are four different ways. There are little differences in each one of those, but you can watch the way a little baby attaches to its mother, and you can fairly easily place that child in one of four categories. That leads us to the understanding that there’s an attachment system that’s designed into the human brain. We’re just constructed that way. God has designed that into us. And these brain mappers have discovered more about how that works – how the brain operates.
They’ve also discovered – to bring it back to our topic today – that there’s a motivational system in the human brain as well. They just keeping learning more and more every day about what spurs people to action – what motivates people. And this area of the brain – that has to do with motivation – if you look at the etymological meaning of the word encourage , it means to encourage, or add courage, to cause someone to take action. So this motivational area is also called the area of encouragement. It has to do with how we can be encouraged – how we can be moved to action.
They’ve discovered four primary aspects of encouragement. There’s four little areas within that area of the brain that fire when different things are stimulated – when we’re triggered in different ways.
If we think of encouragement as the ingredient that causes action, or motivates people, then it’s really important to understand it, isn’t it? Encouragement is important to parents, because they hope to encourage their children to love them, and to follow the rules of the house, and to live successful lives with man and God ultimately. Encouragement is important to anybody who helps or works with other people, because we always want them to move in healthy directions. Every day I have clients come to my office and I want to encourage them to overcome problems, change, to live happier lives. That young guy wants to encourage that special girl to like him. Employees want to encourage their bosses to give them a raise. General Motors wants to encourage us to buy their cars. (Good luck with that!) Sonic, based on their latest spate of TV commercials, doesn’t know how to encourage us to eat their food. Encouragement is important to us at LifeResource Ministries because we want to encourage the entire church to be more encouraging to kids. And certainly encouragement is important to God, because He hopes to encourage all of humanity to reconnect with Him in an eternal relationship.
We all need to know how to encourage people, don’t we? It’s in our best interest to know more about how to do that, isn’t it? There’s always times when we would like to motivate people, to encourage people to do something, or to change something, or move in a certain direction.
I believe that there are just four aspects of this that are really core to it. I think everything else that we see as encouragement, if you think about it, actually moves toward one of these four areas. I think, if we can skillfully find ways to activate these aspects in the minds of those we want to move, then we’re much more likely to be successful.
So, what are the four areas? Here they come. Trust – if we can cause people to trust us, or to trust in something – that something’s good for them. Competence – if we can cause people to have a sense of competence, then they’re much more likely to be encouraged to try it, or to do it. A sense of responsibility – if we can help people to feel a sense of responsibility toward something, that is much more likely to help them change. And also commitment – that’s the final one. Trust, competence, responsibility and commitment. Once people become committed to something, they’re much more likely to take action.
So, what I’d like to do for the rest of our time here today is to examine various examples of encouragement and highlight these four areas as we see them in the examples.
First of all, I’d like to tell you a story about a Levite – a man name Joses, or Joseph, as he was sometimes called. He was an apostle in the early church. No one ever really called him by his real name, though. Instead, they called him Barnabas. And that name means son of encouragement. Let’s go to Acts 4, and verse 36.
Acts 4:36 – Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles, which is translated Son of Encouragement, a Levite of the country of Cypress , having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles feet. He took his land that he had – that’s your inheritance, that’s your nest egg – so he took what he had, he turned it into money, and he gave it to the church. The church was just getting started. I’m sure they needed seed money.
What did that act say to the apostles? And to the church? One of the things it meant was that Barnabas trusted the church. He trusted God. And he trusted the men whom God had selected. He trusted the apostles. He wouldn’t have given all that money if he didn’t think that they weren’t going to do something good with it. So he thought that they were spiritually competent, didn’t he? So, there’s a couple of things right there.
He saw the people who were in charge of the church as responsible and committed. So he gave his wealth to the church. That caused all of those same feelings to be generated in the apostles, didn’t it? They felt all of those things. They felt a sense of responsibility to spend his money well. They knew that they needed to do their job well to be competent.
It probably increased their desire to become committed – to make sure that his money was spent properly. I’m sure they trusted Barnabas because of what he’d done and the trust he placed in them.
How do you think it affected the members of the church? In the early church? To see one of their leaders practicing what they’d been preaching? One of the true things about leadership is, there really is only moral leadership . You can’t mandate it. And when they saw this man giving his money to the church, it caused them to trust him that he was for real. That made them want to be sharp tools in God’s hands, which is another way to talk about competence, isn’t it? To become a more responsible part of what was going on – to commit more. It kind of pulled them altogether – just encouraged everybody – that one of their leaders would give his money to the church.
Let’s turn to Acts 11, and verse 19.
Acts 11:19 – Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia , Cyprus and Antioch , preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene , who when they had come to Antioch , spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was on them, was with them. And a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
So, here we have some Jewish people, who had been running for their lives from Jerusalem , and the Holy Spirit moved them to speak to these Gentiles, which is totally out of the norm for them. There, you talk about – whew! – out there – there they were! And certainly not knowing how they were going to be received back in Jerusalem by the apostles. So then it says in verse 22:
V-22 – News of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem …. That was big news! Gentiles coming into the church right and left. …and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch . And when he came and had seen the grace of God, he said, “You can’t do that! It hasn’t been approved by the central repository of wisdom and control!” No, that isn’t what it says, is it? See, he wasn’t thinking about what Peter or John might think about it. He was thinking about what God was doing. That’s why he went there. He didn’t go to clamp down. He went to see if something good was happening. It says that he was glad, and encouraged them all, that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.
Notice. How did he encourage them? His kind words and his open-heartedness caused them to continue with purpose of heart. Did he express trust in their competence, and their responsibility, and in their commitment? They were risking their lives to do that. Notice the net result of this gracious appraisal.
V-24 – For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – more concerned about what God thought than men – and a great many people were added to the Lord.
Now, how do think that increase in people – “great many people” – added to the Lord? How do you think that affected the church? What effect did that have on the church? Well, it made them want to be more competent at what they were doing. And it made them trust God more to realize that what He said was coming true – the church was going to grow and there wasn’t anything anybody could do to stop it. And all they had to do was talk to people and they would become converted. You see all those things starting to happen again all over in a cycle. And these areas of trust, of competence, and a sense of responsibility to spread the word, even at pain of death, and commitment to do that started to well up in the people of the church as they saw these things happening. Notice in verse 25:
V-25 – Then Barnabas departed to Tarsus to seek Saul. He’d heard about Saul and how he’d become Paul. And so he went to find him. And he brought him to Antioch . And so it was that for a whole year they assembled at Antioch and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch .
So God had turned Saul to Paul, but the problem was, you see, that the members were still terrified of him, because he had been killing Christians and persecuting them. And some of them didn’t know that he was now on their side. And some of them had heard that, but they weren’t sure enough to hang out with him to find out. So Barnabas went after him – very courageous act. And he brought him back to Antioch , and he introduced to the members and allayed their fears of him. So Paul was able to tell his story of his conversion on the Damascus Road . How do you think that affected the church? Saul was known throughout the entire Jewish world. He was a scholar and a member of the Sanhedrin – a Pharisee. That would be like a senior senator committing to God and joining Jim O’Brien’s independent Church of God congregation – one of the real liberal ones that are always trying to get at religion. Wouldn’t that be a boost to us if something like that happened? All except for those who would be jealous of it, it would. But why would that be a boost to us if something like that happened? What would it mean to us? Well, it would cause us to trust God more. It would cause us to realize that God can do whatever He wants. He’s ultimately completely competent to call whomever He wants. When we see somebody who’s a really sharp instrument come to us, and you see somebody like that find what we have to offer as valuable, it inspires us to do even better, doesn’t it? To kind of rise up to the level and become more competent. It causes us to feel the weight of responsibility to make the congregation the kind of place God wants it to be for those God has called.
Have you ever noticed, when we have some visitors, how our demeanor changes from when we’re all just here by ourselves? We want to put our best foot forward. It encourages us to act better. It causes us to become more committed for all of those reasons.
V-27 – And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch . And then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea . And this they also did and sent to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
So, when this man Barnabas, who was known to be a kind, fair, generous, converted man, shows up in Jerusalem with money to help the hungry church members – money donated by brothers and sisters that they had never met, and who had never met them – how do you think that affected them? Well, it caused love to well up in their hearts. It confirmed that they were with God and that God was with them. And there were many other people that felt the same way. And I’m sure that boosted their sense of gratitude. That raises your sense of responsibility, doesn’t it?
See how it works? It’s so natural to us, we don’t even think about these things. But those four elements – trust, competence, responsibility and commitment – when people have those focused toward a specific area, they’re much more inclined to take action. They’re encouraged. Courage is added to them. So the challenge is really – once we understand these things – the challenge is only to figure out how we can apply them to circumstances of our lives, isn’t it? The people that are good at that are the ones good at encouraging people. That’s what makes people encouragers. Barnabas was good at that.
Let’s look at another story in the Bible. In 1 Kings – I think it’s right around 16, 17, 18 – somewhere in there – there’s a story about a man of God. His name was Elijah the Tishbite. He lived in Israel during the time of King Ahab. King Ahab, according to the story, was the most evil king that had reigned in Israel up to that point. He had married a Sidonian woman who had turned him to foreign gods. And she was a real piece of work, let me tell you. Even to this day, her name is synonymous with sexual immorality. Her name was Jezebel. Ahab incited Israel to turn to Baal. Jezebel promoted Asherah. For a number of years, God, because of His displeasure with this couple – the royal couple – sent Elijah the Tishbite to Ahab to warn him about his sins. Of course, that made him immensely unpopular with Ahab and Jezebel. So it took quite a lot of courage for Elijah to do that.
Then He used Elijah – God did – to announce a drought in Israel . Have you ever known somebody that always brought you bad news? That one. That’s him. In fact, Ahab even took him to task one time about that. “How come you never say anything good? It’s always bad news.”
“Well, because you’re always doing bad things.” So He used Elijah to announce there was going to be this drought in Israel .
So Elijah was really unpopular with Ahab and Jezebel. They hated him. But he must have been a man of incredible courage. I know you know the story, but he proposed – Elijah did – that the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal and God have a contest to see who was the real God. And he suggested that they take two bowls, sacrifice them, place them on two piles of wood, and let them call down fire from heaven to see which one would light up. So, we’re told that the priests of Baal chanted and cried all day, and cut themselves, and did all that stuff that pagan priests do, and nothing happened. And then Elijah said a quick prayer, and zap! (And I think he actually asked them to pour a lot of water on the wood pile first.) And everything was just atomized and gone! Before he did that he gave that famous speech, where he said, “How long halt you between two opinions? If Baal is God, then follow him, but if God is God, then follow Him.” Certainly he was not somebody to shrink back from confrontation, was he? He was brave! So that was quite an amazing coup for the people of God, and for God, and for Elijah.
Well, in 1 Kings 19, verse 1, it says:
1 Kings 19:1 – Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. I forgot to mention that. After they had that little contest, the people were so angry with the priests of Baal that they took them down to the creek, and they executed every last one of them. So then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “Let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time!” I don’t know what it was, but it must have been something. Maybe it was the way this woman was – she was probably the princess of darkness to him – he’d probably been dealing with her for quite a long time – but this threat coming from this evil woman turned all of Elijah’s courage into mush. And he took off and ran for his life. Something happened there – that interchange – that just drained the courage out of him, and he was gone! It terrified him. So he ran.
V-3 – And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life. He went to Beersheba , which belongs to Judah , and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came back and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” “All I’ve proved to be, in the end, is a coward. I’ve failed you. It runs in the family. I’m a loser.” Then as he lay, and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head, was a cake, baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” “What journey? You mean you still want me to serve You after what I did? I ran like a dog from Jezebel. You still have trust in me? You still want me? You think I’m still up to the task? Still committed after what I did?” I mean, we can see what He did – of feeding him and taking care of him – tells him there’s value there, right? So He was, in essence, sending messages to him, and the message is, “You’re still My man. I’m still going to use you. I still want you to be involved. I’m still committed to you, and I still want you to be committed to Me. I want you to pick up your responsibility I gave you and finish it.” See how He’s talking to all those things? We don’t talk about that. We don’t think about it, but that’s where it goes inside us – to those four little places in our brains – and those things are activated when these things happen to us. When we’ve done something wrong, and God takes care of us, that tells us that He’s still working with us, and we can still trust Him, and He still wants us. So, we can see the elements of encouragement, can’t we?
V-8 – So he arose, and he ate and he drank – in verse 8 – and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, as far as Horeb, the mount of God. And there he went into a cave and spent the night in that place. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” So he said, “I’ve been very zealous for the LORD God of Hosts. For the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and filled your prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.” So he’s still thinking about all the things that had happened, and how, if Jezebel ever got him, she was going to kill him. He was fighting a lost cause. The whole nation was against him. He alone was left. So God put on a real show for him. He showed him wind that would break rocks. He showed him fire. He let him hear heavenly voices. He let him know how strong He was, so that Elijah would be encouraged. What was the upshot of all of that? Well, he was to be committed again, and to pick up his responsibility, and to trust God, and to become able – competent – once more to do his work.
V-15 – The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus . And when you arrive anoint Hazael king over Syria . And also you should anoint – listen to this – Jehu, son of Nimshi, king over Israel . And Elisha, the son Shaphat of Abelmeholah you shall anoint prophet in your place. And it shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill. And whoever escapes from the sword Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel , all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” You know, “You’ve done well. I’m sending in the reinforcements now. You’re not alone. And as we speak, I’ve put out a contract on Ahab and on Jezebel. And I’m giving you the honor of anointing the new king. And you’ll get to hand off the baton I’ve given you. You’re going to get to rest. You deserve it. Oh, and by the way, I know you feel isolated and alone, so I just want you to know that there are seven thousand people who are still faithful to me in Israel . You’re not alone.” Can’t we hear all four of those elements of encouragement in God’s talk to him? We can, can’t we? It’s there. He still considered Elijah competent to do His will. And He still loved Elijah. And He’s still taking care of him. And he’s still using him to complete the work that he’s been given to do. And that love and care encouraged Elijah to finish the work that God gave him to do.
God knew what to do to take care of Elijah, didn’t He? He knew how to take care of him. He knew what he needed. What He did encouraged Elijah to take action. It motivated him. It melted away his fear. It recharged him with spiritual energy and courage so that he could pick up his responsibility, and he could feel committed again, and feel competent to the task. He knew that God was trusting him to do that, so he returned the trust to God.
How can we employ these four factors in 2006 to motivate people to do good things in the church? How can we use it to help each other? I’ve been thinking a lot about how God encourages us today. It seems to me that, more maybe than in times past…. Because in times past, if God wanted to encourage somebody, quite frequently He just did it Himself. He talked to them. Had an angel bring them food, what not. But today, I think, we are His instruments to encourage each others. He uses us to encourage others.
I’ve been encouraged more this last couple of years – the last year and a half – than, I think, at any time in my life. When we left our position as a pastor with one of the smaller COG organizations, we told a few people we wanted to start a ministry to help families and congregations pass on the faith to the younger ones, to help them build a relationship with God. And before we ever produced a single presentation, we had several thousand dollars in the bank, sent to us by others – money laid at our feet – no strings attached – certainly expectations, but no requirements. How do you think that made us feel? It was so inspiring to know that others valued what we wanted to do. That they would give us money meant several things to us. It meant that they trusted us. We hadn’t produced anything yet. It meant that they thought we were competent to do something with that money – that we were up to the task of what we said we wanted to do. It said that they knew we would be responsible to use the money effectively. And it made us want to be responsible with the money that we received. And it made us committed enough to make it happen – to begin doing what we wanted to do. When we realized that all four of these things were in the minds of people, because of what we said we wanted to do, that created those same things in our minds.
There is this thing that I was taught in my psychology training – therapists use it. It’s called introjection . An introject causes people to feel the way we feel. It’s all unconscious. We just talk to people, and do things, that cause people to feel the way we feel. If your kid is really frustrated and angry with you…. I’m sorry. If you’re frustrated and angry with them, the chances are it’s because they’ve acted in such a way to make you feel that way because that’s how they feel about something. I believe that encouragement works that way, as well – that when one person treats a person that way, it creates those exact feelings that stimulate those same areas of the brain in us.
So, we were so inspired by that initial response, it made us more responsible, more committed, more determined. And we’ve been working so hard to become more competent within our own area of effort. We’re learning how to do things we never knew how to do before. We can now mass-produce CDs. We didn’t know how to do that. I have just recently learned what an MP3 file is and what the MP3 meta-data is. We learned how to do Websites. We’re learning more about counseling, and parenting, and all the things we need to talk about. And Elaine is learning a lot more about bookkeeping, and how non-profits work. She’s learned the ins and outs of tape and CD duplication, the operation of postage meters, and the ins and outs of bulk mailing, and on and on it goes.
So there’s a cyclical nature about encouragement. We said we were going to do a ministry to support children, and that intention encouraged people to action. It created a sense of trust. They had the competence. They had the ability to send money. That’s how they could participate. They felt a sense of responsibility to do that, and a commitment to do that. When we received their gifts, it created all of those things in us. They had entrusted us with their money. That reaction was just so profoundly effective in us. I believe that those areas are the areas that most impacted of all of them.
I’m going to tell you one more story about how I’ve been encouraged this year. This is, perhaps, the most profoundly effective one for me personally of all of them. Last year, on Memorial Day, I went to CEM’s Belarco Family Retreat in Arkansas . We had not been in the independent Church of God world very long at that point. My experience for the last thirty years had been in the world of organized churches. In the one that I had been in most recently – and that one before that even – they were in no-growth mode. Nothing was happening. They were just hanging on. I was fearing for the church – that it would die out if our children were not able to receive the faith and carry it on. We’d lost a lot of young people. I remember at that event telling Ron Dart that I was wondering if we hadn’t started LifeResource Ministries too late. He smiled at me, and said, “No, it’s just in time.” I didn’t know at that point, but since that time I have met so many young adults who are so fired up for God – so filled with spiritual vitality – centered on God and on doing the work of God. It’s so inspiring to me. There are lots of them in the Church of God community – more than I ever dreamed of. Their example of trustworthiness, and spiritual competence, and spiritual responsibility, and spiritual commitment are the things that have encouraged me more than everything else that’s happened in the last year. The job that I’ve set out to do isn’t going to be nearly as hard as I thought it was, because I think God has been working on that for quite some time through other people.
That has been so good for me. The Feast of Tabernacles was so great this year. I went to this Bible study where there were some young men and young women. I just sort of hid and watched. I didn’t say much. Nobody had anything planned. They just showed up to study the Bible together. Somebody came up with something to talk about. Bibles came out. People started looking at it, thinking about it, looking up other things. Pretty soon there was this amazing, high-level discussion about something really important to their lives. And they talked about it at a very profoundly spiritual level. Nobody was preaching at each other. They were just having a discussion like brothers and sisters that really cared about each other. Everybody got to talk. Everybody questioned and they all got to talk about different aspects of it. It was so inspiring to watch that happen.
There are a lot of young adults who are lost – they have lost their way. They don’t know why people go to church. They show up at the Feast, but they don’t know why they’re there. They stay up too late, and drink too much, and don’t get up in time to go to church, and they don’t see any reason, really, to be there for the spiritual things. They just go there to have a good time. But there are a whole lot that aren’t like that. I didn’t know those people. But there are lots of them. I think there are quite a few more of those people than there are of the ones who’ve lost their way. So I’m so encouraged by that. What it makes me do is, it makes me trust God that what He’s inspired us to do will work. And it makes me want to be more competent, because these people deserve the very best. It makes me feel a huge weight of responsibility. And it makes me want to commit more and more. Of course, those are the four things that cause me to do what I do, aren’t they? So that’s encouraging. Of course, what’s really neat about it is, when I talk to them, if they tell me that what I’m doing is encouraging to them, because it’s a cycle. We send it back around from each other.
So we’ve had a good year that way. We have up a big head of steam. We’re moving. We’re getting a lot of feedback from people. That’s so encouraging to us, too. People are wanting to support us and get more involved in what we’re doing. And they’re asking us to provide other services. It’s already exploded beyond the boundaries of what I ever thought I would do.
Talking to a number of young people over the phone on a regular basis to help them resolve personal issues – I never thought that would happen. I get feedback from those people’s parents about how much they appreciate that. And that’s encouraging.
All these stories I’ve told are just a few of the ones I could have told. I hope that in telling you about our encouragement this year, that you will be reminded of encouraging stories of your own about how God has encouraged you. It’s always so helpful to us to know that God has encouraged us, and it’s encouraging to hear stories from other people.
It also is, to me, extremely helpful to know that we are all designed to respond to certain things, and that we can be moved by them. These four elements – trust, competence, responsibility, commitment – that we, by living Godly lives, and intentionally extending trust, and intentionally providing competence and encouragement, and intentionally promoting responsibility and commitment to others, that that will encourage them to take spiritual action, which in turn extends the same encouragement back to us.