Often we get caught up in and distracted by our own thoughts; whether positive or negative our thought-life exercises power to build up or tear down. It’s the difference between encouragement and hopelessness, inspiration and apathy. Time spent with God can produce encouragement and inspiration leading us to hope for more, regardless of whether we feel happy or sad about our circumstances.
Time away from God will eventually produce feelings of hopelessness or apathy, tempting us to find pleasure only in immediate gratification. Sometimes it can be hard to see beyond our current circumstances or feelings; it can be difficult to let someone else in. In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Mental clarity achieved by reading the Word of God, praying in the Spirit, and fellowshipping with other believers can help steer us back on the right path.
Here are 10 daily thoughts and actions to be encouraged and challenged by in the new year:
1. Remember that you are a created being, created by an ever-present Creator.
Though finite in nature and limited of days you have not been left alone on this orbiting planet. Surrounded by a universe so vast that your size is like a microorganism in comparison, remember that there is a Creator bigger and more powerful than all of His creation put together. This awesome and mysterious Creator has not removed Himself from the creation that turned against Him; rather He made Himself present and He works among us and through us — through you.
Genesis 3:15 is the first reference to God’s promise of His Son, Jesus the Messiah:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Before the expulsion from the garden, God had a plan to save mankind; He would not abandon His creation.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Be encouraged that you are never alone.
2. Remember that there is a beginning, middle, end, and then restoration.
This world is not made up of random connections and events; there’s purpose in this world. There was a beginning and in that beginning humanity fell into sin and death, there is a middle where God worked and works among the nations and during this middle God sent His Son to finalize His salvation plan giving hope to all, and there will be an end to this fallen world and fallen life as we know it. But when that end arrives, it will be followed immediately by restoration. God will restore this fallen earth and it will become a new earth, where we will live with God praising Him and worshiping Him without flaw forevermore.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
3. Remember that God is Sovereign over All. He is in control.
Through His sovereignty, God expresses His mercy and His justice. We may not always understand why things happen to us or do not happen to us, but in this fallen world God can use what man intends for evil for our good and His glory. There’s no better example of this in the Bible than the story of Joseph and his brothers.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Rest assured that even when we don’t understand why our circumstances are the way they are — outside of the fact that we live in a fallen world — we can trust that God is with us and that He is sovereign over everything. He sees everything, He knows everything, and He will direct your paths.
Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 5 Part I:
“God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
4. Remember that pain can sometimes do more good than harm in our lives.
This sounds paradoxical doesn’t it, a helpful pain? But it’s also logical; when you touch a hot stove you learn that it’s hot and it hurts and the likelihood of you touching a hot stove on purpose again is very slim. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, we never want to feel pain; we crave a life without pain, whether it be mental or physical because at our core we’re pleasure seekers and peace seekers. We’re seeking what we’re missing, and that is complete and unadulterated union with the Triune God.
No one likes to feel pain, but there’s one thing pain does better than anything else on this earth — it gets our attention. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.'” ―C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
If you cut your finger, you feel immediate pain but your body goes to work clotting the blood and healing what has been harmed. But when you feel emotional or mental pain, the body can’t heal it the same way it heals physical pain. You have to let it out, you have to confide in someone, you tend to feel the pain longer. It’s this type of pain that Jesus commands us to bring to His feet and find rest in Him from.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
J.A. Medders wrote on desiringGod.org,
“When we act like we can handle our suffering on our own, we commit idolatry — acting like we are God, capable in ourselves. Lamenting is relearning our humanity. Lamenting is admitting that we can’t handle it, knowing we need God’s power, mercy, and grace. If we could handle our sufferings, we wouldn’t need Jesus, his cross, his power, and his resurrection. Lamenting is how we grieve as those who have hope.”
5. Remember we have a God who can relate to our pain.
Not only do we have a God who can handle our pain, carry our burdens, and use our pain for our good and His glory, we have a God who can relate to our pain. In His desire to save humanity, Jesus submitted to the Father and was born incarnate as a man on this earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was fully man and fully God at every moment in His earthly life, and He is the God-Man today in His resurrected body. Jesus chose to feel earthly pain, He chose to live a life on this earth submitting His humanity to temptation. The Bible tells us He was tempted and tried in every way, just as we are but He did not sin, and He suffered more than we ever will.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It’s OK to not want to feel pain; it’s not a sin to not want to go through painful situations. How many psalms can we read where the psalmist cries out to God for relief? And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed:
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. —Matthew 26:38-45
What is a sin is trying to hide our pain from God; it’s a sin to hold onto the control and try to fix ourselves believing that we are enough for our problems and that we don’t need God. Submit your pain to God, and trust in His healing.
6. Remember to enjoy God and what He has given you on this earth.
Just because we live in a fallen world with a fallen state of man, doesn’t mean that there isn’t beauty in this world. Through God’s grace there is still beauty to see; though it might be a shadow glory of what it was supposed to be this beauty points to God — it points to its Creator and Author. We can be in awe of what God has created even in its fallen state, and we can imagine how glorious it might be without the stain of sin. The beauty in this world reflects the majesty and wonder of the Artist, the Potter, the Creator.
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Though we can’t be in full union with God on this earth, we can enjoy His presence in the here and now. We have the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers as a guide and comforter. I do not stop and wonder at the amazing nature of this truth enough!
The Westminster Shorter (and Larger) Catechism asks:
Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
On Ligonier.org Burk Parsons writes about what it means to enjoy God:
“Over time, I have come to see the wisdom of the words to enjoy God. They capture the all encompassing nature of our relationship with God; namely, being chosen by God, called by God, united to God in Christ, justified by God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, adopted by God, sanctified by God, and loving God and neighbor to the end that we might glorify God. And although we will not be able to grasp the full meaning of enjoying God until we meet Christ face to face, we can know and experience now in part what it means to enjoy God because the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has met us, has dwelt among us, and now dwells within us by the Holy Spirit. Throughout history, our covenant God has graciously dwelt among His people in various ways, and yet we eagerly look forward to that glorious day when God will establish His eternal presence with us in the new heavens and new earth that we might fully glorify and enjoy Him, coram Deo, before His face, forever.”
7. Remember to read your Bible every day.
If you’re like me, you may have trouble keeping a consistent quiet time or completing one of those Bible reading plans that starts out so well and then all of a sudden you find yourself days behind. If you’re not like that then God has blessed you with that ability, and in grace, you can encourage others in it. In the Fellowship of the Ring written by J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the characters, Bilbo Baggins says: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
The character says this in regard to his extended life after wearing the one ring for years. But I feel like this when I have spent too much time away from God’s Word or prayer. I pray every day, but not in the way I would like to with dedicated time sitting still before my God and meditating on His Word and His greatness. I think the Holy Spirit allows us to feel a type of uncomfortable detachment when we become too focused on ourselves. We need God and we need His Word, which is a type of nourishment and refreshment He has provided for us on this earth to remind ourselves who He is and what He is doing. It also tells us who we are and reminds us what we are called to do.
On desiringGod.org, John Piper advises:
“Read your Bible every day of your life. If you have time for breakfast, never say that you don’t have time for God’s word. Don’t get your Bible-reading pleasure from the fact that your conscience is clear when the Bible box is checked, but get your pleasure from the living, supernatural encounter with God-revealed reality in Scripture.”
8. Remember to encourage others and seek encouragement.
One of the best ways to encourage others is to share the gospel; we need to remind people (and ourselves) of the gospel every day, and we need to live out the gospel daily in love. Here are five Bible passages on encouraging others:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:14-16
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” —Hebrews 3:13
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” —Galatians 6:9-10
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” —1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” —Proverbs 12:25
Garrett Kell, pastor and writer for 9Marks, explains biblical encouragement:
“Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.
Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Col. 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points a person to God’s promises that assures them that all they face is under his control.
The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Rom. 15:4), unity (Rom. 15:5; Col. 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Heb. 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thess. 2:12), perseverance (Heb. 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:18).
Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.”
We need to be encouraged and we need to encourage others. Encouragement from God’s Word, from prayer, from others, and from our church points us to Christ and keeps us moving forward.
9. Remember to pray in the Spirit daily.
How privileged are we as a race of believers, the bride of Christ made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, to have the Spirit with us continually as a constant companion and helper? But how often do we ignore a prompt to pray, or roll over trading a few more minutes of sleep for time that we could have spent with God before our rushed morning routine begins?
On desiringGod.org Jason Meyer explains,
“Praying in the Spirit has three aspects: (1) admitting our inability, (2) enjoying the creation of a living communion with God, and (3) pleading the promises of God with boldness and assurance.”
He also tells this personal story of how the Holy Spirit can prompt us to pray:
Once I was driving home from working at UPS. I worked the night shift during my doctoral days and never seemed to get enough sleep. I was driving home very early one morning, around 4:30, and falling asleep at the wheel. I tried everything to stay awake. I turned up the radio and tried to sing along. I even slapped myself. The next thing I knew, I woke up in my driveway. I was more than a little shaken. I didn’t know how I got there.
I walked inside the house now eerily wide awake, and as I walked into our bedroom I noticed the strangest thing: my wife was wide awake, too. She would normally be asleep, but instead, she was sitting up in bed waiting for me.
She said, “Hi, honey, how was your drive?”
I said, “It’s funny you should ask. I really struggled to stay awake on the drive home. In fact, I don’t know how I got here.”
She said, “Yeah I figured. . . . ”
“Okay,” I said, “please continue!”
“Well,” she said, “I woke up at about 4:30 very suddenly, and felt this intense prompting to pray. I figured you must be struggling on the road since that is around the time you normally come home. So, I prayed for you.”
I think I am still alive, and typing these words, because my wife did not quench the Spirit in that moment. She obeyed the Spirit’s prompting to pray. I hope this story gives you a greater sense of what is at stake in prayer. Our tendency to quench the Spirit is not a small and inconsequential problem. Let us give ourselves to the reality of praying in the Spirit and renounce the temptation to try and pray in our own strength.
The Holy Spirit is with us and He is for us! May we lean in closer to Him, praying for discernment and wisdom in everything we do.
10. Remember to be present wherever you are, whoever you’re with.
Being present is not overrated. I don’t think people realize what an encouragement it is for pastors and fellow believers in church to see people show up and be present. When you join a church the best thing you can do, even better than giving and volunteering for ministries, is to show up and be present on Sundays and any other event days. The same goes for your family and friends, be present with them. Put down the phone and listen to your kids’ stories even when you’re busy and frazzled; show up to their events and be the encourager in their lives. When you know someone is present, you can count on them and you can rely on them; they become dependable and trustworthy in your eyes.
God is the best example of someone who is present. God is always present; He is reliable, dependable, and completely trustworthy even when things seem confusing. We cannot be present 24/7 like God is, but we can choose to love better, to share more openly, to communicate more gracefully, and to be present more often emotionally and physically.
Being present can be a real struggle though. There are some Sundays you just don’t want to move and you have to fight against insecurities, fatigue, and apathy. There are some days you don’t want to hear that long story from your friend or help your kids with their last minute project. Being present can be exhausting for finite human beings; you can’t be present like this in your own power. Our finiteness makes us weak, but God is strong and He lends His strength to us when we rely on Him and trust Him faithfully. In order to be present, we need to depend on God; we need refreshment from His Word and strength from praying in the Spirit.
Tom Nelson, pastor of Christ Community Church and council member of The Gospel Coalition, writes:
“Sociologist James Hunter has thought a great deal about cultural change and the Christian’s faithfulness in the late modern world. Hunter reminds us that, first and foremost, Christ is faithfully present to us. He then makes an important point when he writes, ‘Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it.”
In all of these remembrances and actions, we need God’s grace. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul states:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We should be under no illusion about our weakness. If we think we have any strength of our own, any ability outside of God’s grace we are grossly mistaken. To remember these things and to act accordingly means depending on God completely. The Bible is clear about our need for God and our need to rest in Him.
“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’”
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’”
May we reflect on these ideas this new year, may we draw closer to God by reading His Word and praying in the Spirit, and may we encourage others with these truths in grace. Here’s a prayer to close:
You are my almighty Father, the Creator of heaven and earth; Your majesty is amazing and unparalleled. May Your Kingdom come quickly; restore this earth and redeem Your people to Your glory. Help me to do Your will; help me to be faithful in reading Your Word and praying in the Spirit. Please give me what I need to accomplish the opportunities you place in my life; Holy Spirit comfort me and grant me strength when things don’t turn out the way I would like or when harm comes my way. Help me to be an encouragement to the people in my life and to the new people I meet. Help me to stay humble enough to receive encouragement from others and from Your Word. Jesus, intercede for me when temptation comes my way; when my old self tries to pull me toward self-righteousness remind me what You have done for me, remind me that You are with me until the end of my days and into eternity.
When evil tries to tempt me or harm me, speak Your truths to my heart and let your Word be ready for battle in my mind and on my tongue. Let Your light shine through me and around me when I walk in the darkness. Never let me believe the lie that I am alone. Grant me peace in the midst of trouble, motivation when I am exhausted, and faith in all situations. Help me to lean on your understanding, to desire to learn more of your ways. You are my strength, O God; there is no one like You. I know what love is because you have chosen me and called me Your child; You gave Your life for me and made Your sinless record my own. Thank You for giving me life and for rescuing me from my sinful self. Your grace is sufficient for all my days. Your glory will reign forever and ever. In Your wonderful name Jesus, Amen.
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