My heart, O God, is steadfast; my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I remember exactly where I was sitting when I prayed the prayer that changed my life. On a friend’s ranch in southwest Arkansas, watching the muddied waters of the Saline River pass in front of me, I told God I was bored. It was rainy and cool, but lightning did not strike me. In fact, my prayers were met with deserved silence.
There was no reason for my stupor. My pastoral work was challenging and rich with relationships. The church where I served was reaching the lost, growing really fast, empowering leaders and giving me opportunities to serve all around the world. It seems selfish, now, for that prayer to have ever escaped my lips. God responded a year later by sending me to Colorado, on the adventure of my life. I’ve never prayed that prayer again.
We’re called to be faithful in the ordinary, but we’re not meant for lethargic living. Instead, we are Hobbits needing an adventure. When Tolkien wrote his masterpieces, the Hobbits were cast as a careful tribe of people, pious in their work, committed to their privacy and suspicious of anything that seemed disorderly or unpredictable. They were comfortable, well fed and far from any enemies that might disrupt their worshipped routines.
Bilbo Baggins is the most famous of the Hobbits – middle-aged, fond of his pipe and in love with leisure. He was certainly not thinking about killing dragons, and recovering the lost treasures of Lonely Mountain. The wizard, Gandalf, invited him out of his boredom and to the surprise of everyone, Bilbo followed him and discovered giant spiders, angry Orcs, and a Middle-Earth that he never imagined existed.
Today, I’m the pastor of a thriving congregation in one of the most beautiful cities in our country. The economy is booming, our team is fun and my family is on the front row every Sunday, serving the imperfect church and loving God with me. One recent Sunday morning, the congregation seemed sleepy and the sermon flat. It seemed we were getting bored with the same success that had stymied the Hobbits.
One of my favorite scenes in the Tolkien sagas, is Gandalf arriving at the retirement party with some fireworks. With a wave of his wand, fire-inspired Dragons went flying through the air. A predictable and safe party was suddenly upended by the uproar of pyrotechnics. I’m not for fireworks in church and I’m certainly not advocating hype to serve as some kind of false fuel. It seems, though, the role of pastor is to sometimes awaken the congregation, like a Gandalf, with some well-timed fireworks.
We can never berate, but we should correct, rebuke and encourage. (2Timothy 4:2) We should awaken the sleepers! We cannot allow boredom to seep into our souls. If pastors are shepherds, we should often guide the flock to green pastures and sometimes over troubled waters. Bored pastors lead bored churches, and bored churches are the Shire, where adventure and faith take a back seat to the status quo and a debilitating comfort.
The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
I grew up in churches that were always praying for revival. We had “Revival Services” every year which usually meant a guest preacher came to town and we went to church every night for a week. We spent hours singing, kneeling at the altars and we anointed ourselves with enough olive oil to start a forest fire. If revival tarried, it was not for a lack of praying, attending, repenting and fasting. For some reason, the revival we were hoping for never seemed to last. It was always “close, but not quite here.”
Maybe it was our definition that was a bit off. The word ‘revival’ was never used by Jesus, Peter, Paul, James or John. They certainly saw a church that was prone to lethargy and they prayed for a renewal of the Holy Spirit. I suspect the early church fathers were constantly fanning into flame the gifts of the Spirit, but what they really wanted was Christ. They instinctively knew if Jesus was central, the Holy Spirit would always be near.
They encouraged people to make room, every day, for more of the Holy Spirit. They wanted daily rains, not torrential floods. They wanted to be full, but not gluttonous; hungry, but not downcast. They wanted the gentle rain of the Spirit to fall every day.
Today, in our self-focused, experience saturated church culture, we seem to want a revival that may not be good for us, or even Biblical. We want the book of Acts experience, minus the 20-plus years of waiting. No, the book of Acts did not happen in a week’s worth of church services. Luke’s stories happened in multiple cities over a 20-year span, marked by the immeasurable suffering and perseverance of saints who cared little about the personal experience, but longed to be counted faithful.
At 50 years old, I’m more aware than ever of my need for the person, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m aware that I can grow cold and stale in my efforts to follow Jesus. I need constant renewal and a constant infilling of God’s power, grace and mercy. But, I’m also weary of chasing the mirage of a modern revival, probably created by own imagination or even spiritual boredom.
Maybe I’ve been chasing an experience that’s not good for me. What I need is daily bread and less hype. What I need is more silence and less noise. What I need are listening ears and fewer ultimatums. What I need is to meet God on his terms and less demands that He meet me where I want to find Him.
For the past 20 years, in the multiple cities where I’ve lived, I’ve witnessed the sick be healed, sinners find salvation and the poor being rescued. I’ve been in countless gatherings where the Holy Spirit has been miraculously present. Maybe, I’ve been living in revival all along, but am just now getting the eyes to see it.
We’re really excited to announce the launch of what we’re calling the “Essential Church Podcast.” For years now I’ve been wanting to create a platform to talk regularly and openly about all of the massive, important issues that local church ministry leaders face on a daily basis—things like worship, preaching, creating a discipleship culture, ministry to our communities, and much more.
Well, now we’ve got one: The Essential Church Podcast. Each week we’ll be sitting down with ministry leaders both inside and outside of New Life to talk about what we’re learning about church life and leadership. We’re doing this NOT as “experts”, but as fellow practitioners in the ongoing kingdom effort that is the local church. Our desire is that your own ministries will be helped and strengthened through it.
We hope you’ll listen in each week. You can follow us on Twitter (@essentialchurch) and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (look up “Essential Church Podcast”). You can also go to our website: www.TheEssential.church where we’ll post episodes, show notes, and all kinds of other cool resources.
If you find any of our conversations helpful, please share them around the web and/or leave a good review for us on iTunes. It will help more leaders just like you find our podcast.
And of course, if you have any suggestions about topics you’d like for us to cover or people you’d like for us to interview, please let us know!
Can’t wait to share this with you.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ten years ago, Pam and I loaded up a car with our two kids and a few pieces of luggage, and left our families and close friends for a two-day drive to Colorado and New Life Church. Three weeks later, we were chosen through a vote to be the new pastors of a church that needed healing.
This week, two close friends jokingly questioned my mental aptitude when I chose to leave a great church in Dallas/Fort Worth for a messy one on the Front Range. I told them the biggest miscalculation in the move was the loneliness. My first Sunday, I stood in front of thousands of strangers, preaching a message to a people that wanted to trust me, but in time. Pam and I were alone in a sea of people we were called to lead, wondering if we would ever feel at home. The risk was not failing in front of everyone, but succeeding while all alone.
The two friends who were needling me this week have stood alongside me this entire time, encouraging me when I wanted to quit, and helping me when the way forward was not certain. As I’ve reflected on the past decade, I could talk about the churches we have helped plant, the Dream Centers we’ve opened in our city, and the new congregations that have flourished in the past few years. But all this happened because of the miracle of relationships.
Unity is the unicorn of our culture – often discussed, but never seen. People divide so easily, so it’s an enigma for the world to see the people of God form into a tribe, church and a family. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit these past 10 years that has allowed New Life to thrive.
It was not a tricky leadership model, a charismatic personality on stage, or strictly following a systemic church growth model. New Life is making disciples today because a group of people made a decision to stay steady, to love one another, forgive one another, overlook one another’s faults, and encourage one another.
For the past 520 Sundays, we have met to pray, to worship, and to hear the Scriptures. We have chosen simplicity over gimmicks and relationships over personal preferences. Along the way, we have fallen more in love with Jesus and his sometimes flawed church. We have chosen the path of sincere relationships over the quick fix, a long obedience in the same direction. Now, we are ten years into the journey, alone no more.
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken notes when someone is teaching me. It started in high school, was sharpened in the college classrooms at Louisiana Tech and continued when I was learning to be a journalist, where my first beat was the local commissioner’s meetings. I would sit in hours of parliamentary discussions, looking for one 30-second sound bite to be used on the evening news. Taking notes and paying attention was not optional.
When I became serious about learning the Scriptures, a pen, paper and my Bible were always with me in church, because I knew I would forget most of what I heard by Wednesday morning. If Sundays were going to be valuable, I had to write things down to really grow up. So, no matter who was teaching me, I took notes of all that was said. I wrote down every Scripture passage and tried to go back and read those Scriptures again the following week.
In Luke’s gospel, mentioned above, Jesus described the four types of soil that represent the common conditions of the human heart. The path, the rock, the thorns and the good soil are all mentioned. The seeds that fell on the good soil are the only ones that produced a good crop.
Verse 14 describes us if we do not take notes – “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”
The Message Bible says “who seize the word and hold on no matter what.” I confess that I’ve heard some amazing insight that I’ve not written down and I’m certain I’ve forgotten most of it. Good seed had been sown, but I didn’t seize it and hold on, no matter what.
Today, I still take notes for three very good reasons:
1. Taking notes helps me have conversations with others about the sermon. This is the essence of discipleship – the speaking words of Scripture have to become embedded in our listening ears and spill out of us in unhurried conversations with others. In these Spirit-formed conversations, we challenge, encourage and shape one another. Discipleship is a lifelong pursuit of wisdom.
2. Taking notes helps me focus. There’s so much competing for my internal space during sermons and writing notes disciplines me to pay attention to what’s most important. This is why I usually do not take notes on my smartphone. It’s too easy to get distracted.
3. Taking notes shows respect for the teacher. I know how hard it is to preach and I respect anyone who has prepared and prayed so they can teach me. Taking notes shows my teacher that I’m ready to learn. I promise, teachers teach better when people are leaning in with pen and paper in hand.
Let’s not sit in the crowd with our arms folded, assuming that we’ll remember everything that’s being said. Let’s hear the word, retain the word and by persevering produce a good crop. Let’s grow up together by paying attention to what’s being said, right in front of us.
Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers …
1 Corinthians 4:15
This morning I sat in a local cafe, eating breakfast with my son, who has just finished high school. We talked of future college plans, the challenges of his first job and pancake choices. Over his shoulder, in a private room, was a group of elderly veterans chatting loudly, laughing at familiar jokes.
There was an American flag in the middle of two round tables that had been pulled together. Most of the men wore black baseball hats with military insignias. The youngest was a man in his late 50’s, I suppose. He seemed like the guardian/leader of the group, interrupting the chatter only once to read some minutes of last month’s meeting. What else he said, I do not know.
Watching them, I was reminded that long life is a real blessing. I hope their families cherish them and not take them for granted.
This afternoon, I attended a funeral for a very good man in our church. He died at 51, leaving behind a wife and two teenagers the same age as my own. Cancer came early to his body and robbed him of his old man years. His wife is strong and brave, and their two teens are sturdy, steadfast. They will miss their dad and husband.
Long life is not a guarantee. As we walk into another Father’s Day weekend, let’s be thankful for aging fathers. Let’s remember to call them and linger in unhurried conversations. The Scriptures tell us that old men dream dreams. Let’s listen to them as a gift.
Sitting in the cafe this morning and in a funeral this afternoon reminds me of the important role of honorable dads in our lives. Every minute is a treasure and every moment is an inheritance. God bless dads!
This is a portion of my sermon notes from a recent message at New Life. Many asked for the list of confessions and prayers I gave in the message.
To listen to the entire message or any in the series, go here.
Ephesians 6:10-17 NIV
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
This is not a laundry list of things to do, but truths to declare!!
Belt of Truth
I believe God will lead me into all truth with the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.
Breastplate of Righteousness
I believe God is setting things right in the world because He’s setting things right in my heart.
Feet fitted with Peace
I believe God has given me peace and I want to tell others about this peace.
Shield of Faith
I believe that no weapon formed against me will prosper. (Isaiah 54)
“God never said the weapons would not form; He said they would not prosper.”
Helmet of Salvation
I believe I’ve been saved by grace and I’ll be kept by grace.
Sword of the Spirit
I believe praying the Scriptures is powerful because it’s the very breath of God.
2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed …”
It is not about what we can do, but what Jesus has already done!! What we believe is always more powerful than what we do.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a peculiar people …
It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called
you out of darkness into his amazing light.
1 PETER 2:9, 10
Christ followers today are in a quandary. We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in a me-too tailspin in which we devote our attention, our energies, our money, our very lives to fitting in with the world around us, even as we are left unfulfilled by the pursuit time and again. There in the tailspin, we fall prey to the beliefs that if we can just get that role at work, that leg up on the competition, that admission of wrongdoing from the person who harmed us, that coveted car or primo-neighborhood house, that “in” with a certain influencer, that thing—whatever it is—then (and only then) will our search be concluded. Then, we will be satisfied.
At last, we will be fulfilled.
In our quiet moments of solitude, rare though they are, we suspect there might just be another path to the deep-seated satisfaction we seek. But it’s only a suspicion … we’re not entirely sure the alternate path will pan out … and so we plow ahead, heads down, hearts racing, hair pretty much on fire, climbing and clawing, declaring and demanding, refinancing and remodeling, determined to get there—wherever “there” happens to be this time.
Soon enough, we’re exhausted … again.
Soon enough, we’re frustrated … again.
Soon enough, we’re contorting ourselves once again in a futile attempt to scratch the soulish itch that still we cannot reach.
WE’RE HARDLY THE first culture to wallow in this wearisome, demoralizing mess. Down through the ages, in every culture and era the world has ever known, our temptation in this life has been to see how much we can get, and also how much we can get away with. This two-pronged pull is what motivated the world’s most powerful governments to fight for more power still. It is what spurred on the slave trade—in ancient Egypt, in the Roman Empire, and in North America alike. It is what has been behind every war that’s ever been waged around the globe. It should come as no surprise that when the human heart is itchy, entire people groups live itchy too. Is there any relief to be found?
Long before this predicament presented itself, this issue of our chasing something that could never be caught, God had in mind a solution—a way that would lead us to long-sought satisfaction, a way that would get that annoying itch scratched. He would rally a people to himself and ask them to live “set-apart” lives. He would declare them beloved sons and daughters—whole, holy, handpicked. He would empower them with his Spirit, equipping them to live lives of impact and patience and grace. He would plant a craving for divine light in their hearts, which defeats darkness in all its forms. He would give them a mission to change the world with these traits and would accompany them each step of the way, along the path he himself said he’d make straight. A “peculiar people”—that’s what he’d call them.
Belonging exclusively to Jesus Christ.
Deniers of self.
By definition, ones who don’t fit in.
These are my shaping thoughts for a new book I’m planning to write soon. The working title is Peculiar, Embracing the Oddities of a Christ-Oriented Life.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
He wore his shame like a weighty overcoat—understandable, given all he’d been through. A “moral failure”—that’s what it’s called in church circles, which essentially means you’ve been unfaithful to your marriage vows, and also to the rules that church staff are supposed to uphold. He’d been let go from his ministry position but still kept coming around, Sunday after Sunday, eager to engage in worship, desperate for the heaviness to lift. The weekend I last saw him, he looked overtired—dark circles underneath his eyes, shoulders slumped a little, a distinct lack of spring in his step. As soon as the service ended, I made a beeline for the guy, sticking out my right hand as I approached. “I’m glad to see you,” I said, meaning it. “Listen, it’s tough right now, but it won’t always be this hard. I believe in you. I care about you. You are going to get through this … you will.”
He met my gaze in hopes of responding, but before he could choke out a word, he broke down. My best guess was that in light of the long road toward healing and restoration this man faced, he was under the attack of some pretty disparaging self-talk: “Give up. It’s not worth the work you’re going to have to put in. Nobody is going to trust you again, anyway—at least, not your family … and that’s who really counts.” His tears held a question: Should I give up?
I stood there silently for what felt like forever, my hand on his shoulder, and then I repeated my earlier remark: “It won’t always be this hard.”
What is Encouragement, Anyway?
To “encourage” someone is to momentarily replace thoughts of despair and pain with thoughts of courage and strength. It is to equip them with useful weapons for taking down the fear and frustration that is presently running their mind. It is to remind them that their efforts toward wholeness and holiness are worth it, regardless of what has them questioning the effort in the first place. If you were to net out the apostle Paul’s letters—and his contribution represents nearly half of the New Testament—you would find this central theme: Don’t quit! Don’t give up! Keep going. Keep trying. Keep giving the effort. You have everything you need, in order to overcome this difficult thing. In short: encouragement. Paul knew the value of an encouraging word. The question for us is: Do we?
A handful of weekends ago, a mounting frustration regarding our nation’s ever-shifting immigration policies bubbled up inside of me, culminating with what I thought was a pretty measured comment during my Sunday-morning talk. The subject that day was compassion, and at one point, I looked upon the congregation before me and said, “If our priority is that of becoming more like Jesus, and one of the hallmarks of Jesus’s treatment of people was a thoroughly compassionate bent, then we may need to rethink our country’s laws regarding how we welcome strangers to our land.”
During the week leading up to that talk, I had posted to my social-media sites several comments I felt were worthy of propagating, especially for those who also follow Christ. Nothing venomous or angry. Just a few things to consider. And both there on social media and also to my face that Sunday morning, I was lambasted as a result. People questioned my salvation. People questioned my patriotism. People questioned my leadership, my wisdom, and my rights. I was shell-shocked as I absorbed all the vitriol: have we entered an era in which we can’t even promote food for thought?
At the close of the service, as is customary for our church, the thousands of people who had gathered for worship filed by one of several communion stations, where they could gather the bread and the cup before heading back to their seats. I was sitting with my own thoughts when I caught sight of an old friend there in line, one of the first people I had met ten years ago, when I became the pastor of this church. She is in her eighties and is one of the sharpest, classiest, wisest people I know. What did she think of these divisive issues? What did she think of what I had said?
As if reading my mind, once she had the communion elements in hand, and in one of the greatest demonstrations of the incarnation I have ever seen, she turned and walked right toward me. She bent over so that her mouth was near my ear and whispered, “Pastor Brady, you’re doing good.” She then kissed my cheek, straightened her posture, grinned at me, and strode back to her row.
Now, listen: I may be completely off-base in my immigration concerns. (I don’t think I am, but perhaps I am.) But in that moment, my friend’s support of me was more about her desire to strengthen me than it was a play for nitpicking political ideals. Here’s what her comment did for me: it took a downward-moving spiral of self-doubt, self-recrimination, irritation, frustration, and pain, and it totally reversed it. It halted the downward momentum and actually made the thing start climbing up.
Just before I took the stage again, in order to lead our congregation in receiving the communion elements together, I thought, “Hey, if she thinks I’m doing good, then all is right in my world.” I’d been encouraged. I’d been refilled with optimism and strength.
No Better Way to Use Words
To be alive in this day and age is to be keenly aware that things aren’t as they should be. I’m not sure our world is in worse shape than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago, but we sure are more aware of the issues now than we were then, given the explosion of social media. If a political decision is being weighed in Washington, D.C., we know about it. If an Amber Alert has been issued on behalf of an abducted child in Oregon, we know about it. If two Hollywood A-listers file for a divorce, we know about it. If a police officer oversteps his authority in Mississippi, we know about it. If we wish to know it, we can know it these days, and we can know it—snap!Just like that. But if we’re not mindful, all this knowledge will bring us down. We’ll start meditating on discouraging things. We’ll start talking with others about discouraging things. We’ll start focusing only on discouraging things, to the point where we’re cynical about all of life. We’ll grumble, we’ll grips, we’ll rant, we’ll rave, and at the end, what will we have accomplished, apart from further stirring the pot?
Certainly, I’m not advocating for sticking our heads in the sand and pretending all is well in the world. I’m not suggesting that we eschew information in favor of believing that ignorance really is bliss. It’s important for us—especially those who follow Christ—to be present with those who are suffering, to include those who are marginalized, to seek understanding where there is division, and to provide resources for those who are in need, and how else will we know of all these travails unless we’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world? No, what I’m pushing for here is simply a resurgence of encouragement, wherein we choose to use our words to focus on the positive instead of the negative, to accentuate the timeless instead of the fleeting, to build up instead of tear down.
Three Encouraging Things to Say
Over the years, I have worked to keep three important truths in mind. I tell myself these things over and over again, and I speak them out to others who may be feeling deflated, demoralized, and weak. If you are in need of a little encouragement yourself, latch onto one of these phrases. If those around you are in need of the encouragement, now you can be the one to provide it.
Truth #1: This pain will not last.
The first encouraging truth we can convey—to others and ourselves—is the reminder that whatever pain we’re suffering in this moment will not be with us forever. The pains of this world will pass. Just like I told my friend in ministry: “It won’t always be this hard.”
Eugene Peterson rendered a powerful section of Romans 8 this way: “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times” (vv. 15-18, MSG).
We could stack up all the pain we know today on one side of the scales, and regardless how weighty it is, weightier still is the stack of goodness that’s coming our way. We just can’t outweigh God’s good plans, which brings me to point 2.
Truth #2: God’s promises will come to pass.
Throughout Scripture, God promises his children that we can know comfort during our trials, that he has a plan for our life that is good, that we can be transformed into his likeness, that we can have every spiritual blessing through Christ, that he will finish the work he began in us, that we will know peace whenever we pray, that our needs will be met in him, that when we come to him we will find rest, that we can live a life that is marked by abundance, that we can never be snatched out of God’s protective hand, that from our ashes beauty will rise, that he will return for us one day, and dozens and dozens more. In fact, somebody sat down one day to count all of God’s promises and logged more than five thousand entries on his list. But better than the fact that God made these promises is the fact that he will keep them. God cannot not keep his word.
When you encounter someone who is feeling down, (even if that someone is you), remind them that the good stuff God has set in motion will one day come to pass. We may not see it yet. We may not feel it yet. We may not fully believe it is near. Which is precisely when our faith takes its cue, bridging the chasm left by our doubts. It was by faith that every spiritual giant overcame, and it is by faith that we overcome too.
Truth #3: Encouragement resides inside of you.
A third truth to remember: if you are a follower of Christ, then there is an Encourager available to you, every moment of every hour. When Jesus left the earth after his days of incarnational ministry were done, he promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone, that he would leave a Comforter with them who would operate like a friend. It’s “so that you will always have someone with you,” Jesus said, a friend named “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:16, MSG). The implications of this indwelling are mind-boggling. Because of this Friend—the Holy Spirit—we never have to walk alone. We never have to live discouraged. We never have to cave to fear, doubt, or despair. No, because of this Friend, whenever we are feeling hopeless, helpless, or weak, we can simply turn to the Spirit and ask for assistance—in effect “building ourselves up,” as Jude 1:20 tells us to do. “Carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit,” that verse begins, “staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21, MSG).
When we are feeling discouraged, we can encourage ourselves there on the spot, which means that no person, predicament, or situation can leave us discouraged, unless we invite in that discouragement ourselves. This is a game-changer, I hope you’ll agree. It is worth noting that in the ancient world, when Roman officials first persecuted Christians—this would have been sixty or so years after Jesus ascended back into heaven—they could sic rabid dogs on those Christians, allowing them to tear the believers apart; they could light Christians as human torches, letting them burn for all to see; and they could murder them en masse, in wild displays of ungoverned power. But there was one thing the Romans could not do, and that was take away the Christians’ joy. That one fact drove the Roman guard nuts. “How can these people remain so happy,” they must have said to themselves, “when we’re ripping them to shreds?”
It was actually this posture of constant courage and strength that caused those inside Rome to begin investigating “Jehovah God.” If this God could spawn such steadfastly joyous followers, the thinking went, then they wanted to know more about this God. And here’s a truly encouraging fact: we have the same opportunity still today. You and I can stay apprised of the world’s goings-on without letting ourselves lose heart. We can face financial downturns and housing crises and job lay-offs without letting ourselves lose heart. We can absorb buckets of vitriol for holding fast to our beliefs without letting ourselves lose heart. And we can help others learn to do the same. We can use our words to build people up, encouraging them as best we can. What’s more: each time we make the choice to refresh another, Proverbs 11:25 says, we ourselves will be refreshed.