Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. I Thessalonians 5:11
On Wednesday, we discussed enthusiasm and optimism. Yesterday, we talked about what to do when doubt creeps in. Today’s reflection is on encouragement. Encouragement is the manifestation of optimism. When I see the good in someone else, or even the potential for good in someone else, my response ought to be to encourage the good, or the development of what can potentially be good.
Over the past few years, I have come to believe that encouragement is one of the missing links in our society. Encouragement is all about the other person—it contradicts our contemporary societal norm to be all about ourselves. Encouragement is all about building up someone—it contradicts our contemporary societal norm to tear others down. Encouragement can literally be the difference between life and death for some people. Building someone up with encouragement generally pushes them towards something positive. Discouragement and even indifference make people feel isolated and alone. The result becomes either anger or sadness. It is probably safe to say that lack of encouragement is at least a contributing factor to school violence as well as self-destructive behavior.
Encouragement is something we all need, something no one gets enough of and something we can all give. The proper ratio of encouragement to discouragement, I heard recently, is supposed to be 5:1. That means we should hear five words of encouragement for every word of discouragement. If our ratio is 1:1 or even 2:1, we are at a deficit. I’m sure you would agree that hardly any of us gets a 5:1 ratio of encouragement to discouragement. Think critically of your own life for a minute, in terms of how encouraging or discouraging you are. Do you say five positive things for every one negative thing? To your spouse? Your children? Your friends?
Encouragement is something we can all give. It doesn’t cost any money and costs little time. It costs nothing to say “thank you” or even smile at someone. Of course, going a little beyond this costs little but can have great impact. Telling someone “you matter,” or “I appreciate you,” or “I’m really grateful that you’re in my life,” or “you are really good at what you do,” these small gestures go a long way in building someone up. Think about how you feel when someone says these kinds of things to you.
Encouragement is also a necessary ingredient that each of us should bring to our participation in the life of the Church. Encouraging others should be a regular part of what we do in our Church community. Encouragement in the context of the Church community can take on many forms. Here are a few:
Encourage others to attend services and activities. A simple invitation goes a long way. Identifying those who have not attended in a while to come back with words of encouragement (and not judgment) can be very effective. “I’m glad you are hear,” or “I’m really glad you came,” is a lot better than “Where have you been?” “Let’s do this together,” or “I’d really love for you to come,” are great ways to invite someone to something.
It is important to encourage others that God loves us even when we fail. For the person who has fallen away, or the person who has done something wrong, or even something that they perceive is wrong, it is important to let people know that there is still a place for them in the Church and that God still loves them. A recent conversation with a newly divorced person comes to mind. This person said “How can I go back to church? What will people think?” And I said “Church is exactly where you need to be. This is a time in your life when you need prayer, worship, Communion and support even more.”
We’ve all been in spots where we didn’t think we could go on in life. Whether it’s a financial crisis or a health crisis or a kid crisis, you name it, we’ve all been there. Building someone up to say “you are a great mom,” or “I’ll be here to help you,” or “how can I help you?” and most important, “I’ll be praying for you,” or “Can I pray with you right now?” are awesome ways we can encourage one another.
Confession can be a form of encouragement, at least the way I understand it. I recognize that some priests are more doom and gloom in confession, and some have made people feel worse rather than better after confession. I hope that those are exceptions. When I hear confession, and in encouraging other priests who hear confession, I am quick to tell people “God still loves you, despite your sins.” I love the feeling after I go to confession, when I walk out knowing that God still loves me despite what I do.
Encouragement should be a ministry of all members. If the greater community is filled with words of discouragement, then church members should go out of their way to encourage one another, to put positive things into one another’s emotional tank. So that people go away from church on Sundays not only with a good spiritual message but feeling good emotionally, having received some kind of encouragement from their fellow members. Smiles, warm greetings, and kind words should be part of the coffee hour. “Nice to see you” or “I’m glad you came,” or “Have a great week” or “I look forward to seeing you next week” need to be things we all learn to say.
Belonging to the Church is not an individual journey. It is not made with the sole goal of individual good. Belonging to the Church is about belonging to a community. It involves caring about people in the community and knowing that others in the community care about you. An easy way to know that others care for us as well as to show that we care for them is to offer encouragement. In fact, no community can survive without encouragement. No member can be in the community for many years without some encouragement. After all, who would want to belong to a church community filled with discouragement and indifference? Our participation in the church community, I dare say, requires us to be encouragers, because encouragement is an essential part of any church community, and outside of church, of any healthy relationship, and any complete person.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, Who forgives all your iniquity, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from the Pit, Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, Who satisfies your with good as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities His children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments. The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word! Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His ministers that do his will! Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my Soul! Psalm 103
Encourage someone today!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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