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, 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
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.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. I John 4:18
In this verse on esteeming others highly, I Thessalonians 5:12-13, we encounter the word “respect.” This is significant because the basic building block to any human relationships, well before we get to love, is respect. In fact, the order of building blocks for a relationship is this: respect, then finding things you have in common, spending time, building a rapport, earning trust, and eventually love.
Today’s Scripture verse from I John 4:18 reminds us that fear and love cannot co-exist. Because encouragement is an expression of love, one cannot be fearful and feel encouraged at the same time. Being stressed out and encouraged is possible, but fear tends to shut down our other positive feelings, so it is difficult if not impossible to feel encouraged and afraid at the same time.
From the standpoint of the encourager, one cannot encourage and put fear into someone at the same time. For instance, a boss cannot threaten to fire an employee and say something encouraging in the same sentence, i.e. you are doing a decent job but if you don’t improve I’m going to have to fire you. “You are doing a decent job” on its own may sound encouraging, but placing it beside a threat of termination it will not sound encouraging.
Thus, in establishing encouragement in relationships and in environments, one basic step is making sure people are safe, and making sure they feel safe. (I qualify this using both “are” and “feel” because one is truth and the other is perception and many times, perception is more important than truth, because perception is what people believe. One could have a safe environment but if it is perceived as not safe, that’s what people will believe.) And what we’re talking about here isn’t a place where it is safe to be vulnerable, we’ll get to that much later, we’re just talking about a place where one feels safe.
There are many instances in life where we’re not thinking about whether it’s safe to be vulnerable, we’re thinking about whether it’s safe to even open our mouths. We’re not talking about deep conversation, we’re afraid to say even one word. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being nervous making a phone call, or seeing someone’s name on our caller ID because we are afraid of someone. We all know someone that when they walk into the room, our blood pressure goes up, and we try to avoid contact. I hope that I will never be classified as one of those people—someone who makes people nervous, someone people want to avoid, someone whose name strikes fear if it pops up on caller ID.
The basic building block of any relationship is respect. That means that a person feels safe around you, and you feel safe around them. You feel physically safe, you don’t worry that some physical harm is going to come to you. The back alleys of the inner cities are not places of encouragement because one doesn’t feel safe walking them. When walking in a bad part of town, the only thought I have is, let me pass through here safely.
One has to also feel emotionally safe in order to feel encouraged. Encouragement can’t mix with insincerity or sarcasm, any more than it can mix with a threat. If the person who makes me the most nervous suddenly offers encouragement, most likely I won’t hear the encouragement, because I’ll be so nervous based on past experience that I won’t hear it, or believe it is sincere.
Creating environments and relationships based on safety is a necessary pre-cursor to encouragement. Again, referencing my experience at summer camp, the number one rule is safety first. What good is a great program, or even a great lesson, if it is not done in a safe environment? There have been a few Sundays during my ministry in Tampa, Florida, where we cancelled Sunday services because a hurricane was coming through Tampa and it wasn’t safe to go out on the streets and come to church. No one would be thinking about praying in peace in the midst of a storm threatening to damage cars and people who ventured out in it.
Lord, protect me today in all that I do. Protect me from anyone who wishes to harm me. Protect me from myself, from thoughts I have that might harm other people. Help me to create environments where safety abounds. Give me wisdom to see the safe way through the day and all the challenges this day will bring. Allow me to serve others in a way that keeps them safe. Amen.
Safety is a necessary precursor to encouragement. So esteem people first and foremost by making sure they are (and feel) safe.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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