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We are living in the “age of accelerations,” says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Now “the pace of technology and scientific change outstrips the speed with which human beings and societies can usually adapt.” Whatever the causes, many of us would admit that our lives feel more frantic than they used to.

One tragic loss in this age of accelerations would be if our pace of life pushes out the space to really pause and observe God at work in others, not to mention taking the time and initiative to affirm it, as Paul instructs us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” So, we might ask ourselves: Do I have the margin, and default to a pace of life, that allows me to see evidence of God’s grace in others? And then, do I let them know, out loud, through the miracle of words?

Holes in Our Heads

It is amazing that we have these holes in the sides of our heads called ears. And what a wonder words can do with those holes. We can have a thought in our own heads and put that thought out into the world through words, to travel through the air, and enter the head of someone else, and in doing so, put courage into his soul.

You might think that the seemingly most courageous among us are the least in need of encouraging words. But in truth, we all need encouragement. We’re all leaky buckets of Christian courage. Including our pastors. And when a brother or sister in Christ observes God at work through such courage in the actions of faith, whether some good deed or well-spoken word, and then makes the effort to affirm it in words for my ears, that is a precious gift and blessing.

God means for our souls—battered and bombarded as they are—to feed, in part, on such verbal deposits of courage.

God means for our souls—battered and bombarded as they are by the world and its prince—to feed, in part, on such verbal deposits of courage, whether we ourselves speak or serve. “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”—and God often supplies the strength, the courage, through the carefully spoken words of our fellows in Christ (1 Peter 4:11).

Verbal Courage

This encouragement from the Apostle Paul to “encourage one another” is especially thick in his first letter to the Thessalonians. Track with me the progress and expansion of the gospel through the cycles of encouragement, as Paul tells and lives it. First, he and his team spoke words that built faith in the Thessalonians: “You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:11–12).

Then, after Paul had left town, he sent Timothy to check on them and to encourage them with his words: “We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and encourage you in your faith” (3:2). Next, Timothy returned to Paul and gave him the good report about them—and these words encouraged Paul: “In all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (v. 7; NIV).

That’s all before the letter. Now Paul writes to encourage them with his words (4:1, 10; 5:14). And the crowning gem: that they then encourage each other—whether by taking the information Paul shares about “the coming of the Lord” in 4:13–17 and “encourag[ing] one another with these words” (v. 18) or continuing to “build one another up” with words “just as you are doing” (5:11)—which in itself is more encouragement.

Stoke the Fires for Good

Such gifts of verbal courage, let’s hope, will flow from holy mouths far more often than just weekly. Our “encouraging each other,” is to be at least that. We gather “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” (Heb. 10:24–25).

How remarkable that God would bestow on us, as His people, such dignity as to be tailors of particular words, to breathe them into the air, and to stoke the fires of love and good deeds in the souls of others. In a world of sin that tempts us to be timid, we steward our words to shovel courage into the hearts of the right people, our fellows in Christ, Sunday after Sunday, and as much as possible in between.

Gracious, Seasoned Discourse

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From the August 2020 Issue
Aug 2020 Issue