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
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9: 25-27
Another great sermon I heard years ago was called “The Signs Have to Match”. The priest who gave the sermon had made a bunch of signs. And as he gave the sermon, he would place signs around his neck. The gist of the sermon was that each of us wears a sign over our chest, which is an invisible report card. While the “sign” you wear might not be a physical sign that is visible to the world, what written on that “sign” most certainly is.
If a person gets drunk and drives, as an example, their sign says “I’m irresponsible.” If a person is abusive, their sign says “Don’t trust me.” If a person is a narcissist, their sign says “I’m all about me.” If a person is always taking risks and putting others in harm’s way, their sign says “I’m stupid.” And the list goes on and on.
Everyone who is a Christian wears a cross over their chest. When this priest gave this sermon many years ago, he put a large cross over his signs that said “I’m stupid,” “I’m irresponsible” and “don’t trust me.” And said, this cross is incongruent with the signs that are behind it.
Now, we don’t all wear a large gold cross on our chests, but whether we wear a cross or not, if we identify as a Christian, our identity needs to match our behavior. The invisible signs of our behavior have to match the invisible sign of the cross.
As encouragers, we too wear a sign that says “I’m an encourager.” That sign also says “I’m safe” and “I’ll lift you up when you are feeling down.” If we are going to be encouragers, our signs need to match. We can’t wear a sign that says “I’m going to lift you up” and a sign that says “I’m a gossip-mongerer.” We can’t wear a sign that says “I’m safe” and a sign that says “I love risky behavior.” We can’t wear a sign that says “I offer a sympathetic ear” and one that says “I always get the first and last word in.” The signs have to match.
The words of St. Paul from I Corinthians come to mind when we think of the signs we wear. Being an encourager involves many things, including self-control. If we are seeking to build people up, we can’t at the same time be making a habit of tearing others down. As Christians, we are not competing against others, but rather racing with them to the kingdom of God. Earthly competitions, whether they are in the classroom, on the athletic field, or in business are races for an earthly reward—a grade, a trophy, a paycheck. Christians compete with one another (as opposed to against one another) for the heavenly crown. Encouragers compete with others for things that money can’t buy—confidence and joy. Fortunately, a person doesn’t need to steal or win confidence over someone else. Confidence and joy are things we can all have, they come in endless supply. There might be only one valedictorian in a class, one champion on the field and one boss of the company. In the world of encouragement, everyone can be built up, and everyone can build others up.
Saint Paul writes “I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air.” (I Corinthians 9:26) His faith and his work was purposeful, not chaotic. Encouragement follows the same path. It is purposeful and intentional.
Saint Paul also wrote “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (9:27) Saint Paul was intentional in writing that he lived a disciplined life, making sure that his signs matched, making sure what he was preaching about Christ was congruent with all the other aspects of his life. This is important for us as Christians. It is also important for us as encouragers, that our encouragement is intentional and that we are disciplined to encourage others. It is important that the encouragement we offer is congruent with the rest of our lives. It is vital that the signs we wear match.
Lord, there is no doubt that life is a struggle. It is a struggle to make all the “signs” I wear in life match all the time. One sign may say “encourager” while another sign says “sinner.” Help me to have the discipline to make the signs match. Give me the vision to see when they don’t. Help me to be intentional and purposeful in both my Christianity and in my encouragement of others. Amen.
Make sure what is written on our signs all match.