We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Romans 15: 1-7 (Epistle of Seventh Sunday)
The word “encouragement” finds its way onto the prayer team quite often. That is because it is something that is very needed in life and many times, very lacking in our lives. At summer camp recently, I asked the campers who the voices of discouragement were in their lives and I was appalled to hear that the leading voice of discouragement for some of them is their parents. I’m not throwing stones at parents. I am a parent. It made me a lot more cognizant of being a positive voice in my son’s life and will make me measure my words, making sure that in the times I have to correct him or admonish him, I do it in a way that is constructive and encouraging.
In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he tells us that we are to “bear with the failings” of people. (Romans 15:1) We are supposed to look out for the good of our neighbor. And one of the easiest ways to look out for our neighbor is to encourage him or her. It costs no money and hardly any time to be a voice of encouragement. And we don’t have to wonder whether our neighbor needs encouragement because everyone needs encouragement.
There are times when we feel alone and discouraged, and St. Paul reminds us that encouragement can be found at any time in the Scriptures. He says that “by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Saint Paul ascribes a divine quality to encouragement when he refers to God as “the God of steadfastness and encouragement” (15:5) and that this Christian principle of encouragement is one things that will allow us “to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” (15:5)
At our recent summer camp, there is a teambuilding element called “encouragement.” It consists of a large maze filled with ropes and trees. A bandana has been tied to one of the ropes somewhere in the maze. One of the campers is blindfolded and placed in the maze (usually someone who has not been to camp before and therefore doesn’t know what is going to happen). The camper is then told to find the bandana. When they go in the right direction, people clap to encourage the camper that they are doing the right thing. When they go in the wrong direction, there is silence. Eventually, the camper figures out that clapping is for encouragement and once they figure this out, they can find the bandana. There are two elements at play here. First, the camper must realize the need for encouragement and use the cues they are given in order to be successful in their task. Second, the people clapping (who are spread out around the outside of the maze and are not allowed to talk or strategize) must figure out how to clap appropriately and consistently so that they clap “with one voice” (15:6). When the clapping campers offer encouragement in a consistent way, and when the blindfolded camper accepts the encouragement, the task is quickly solved. Failure to do either – be consistent, or humbly accept encouragement – will not allow the task to be completed.
In the ideal Christian world – in the church and outside of it – encouragement becomes a way of life. Offering encouragement with one voice and in a way that glorifies the Lord will help people get to the bandana in the various mazes of life — surviving high school, having a successful marriage, raising children, doing well at work, and growing in faith. When no one encourages us, or when we do not accept encouragement from others, we will not be able to make our way out of the maze nor find the success in life and in the faith that we seek.
Encouragement is a serious thing. It is something we all need. It is oftentimes the thing that keeps us going when life gets hard. And encouragement is something we can all give. It’s just a matter of being consistent in giving it.
One other important aspect of encouragement – when we want to discourage bad behavior or correct something that someone is doing wrong, there is a way to correct or even admonish in a way that is encouraging. And that is to be gentle about it. To gently correct not only gets a behavior to change but preserves the dignity of the person you are trying to correct and many times preserves the relationship you have with them. Encouragement is not a modern concept. Saint Paul encouraged encouragement to the church in Rome. Through his Epistle, he continues to encourage us in our modern-day churches and lives to be encouragers, both for things of this world and for matters of faith.
When the angelic powers appeared at Your grave, the soldiers guarding it feared and became as dead. And standing by the sepulcher was Mary who was seeking Your immaculate Body. You devastated Hades, not afflicted by it. You went to meet the virgin, and granted eternal life. You resurrected from the dead. O Lord, glory to You. (Resurrectional Apolytikion, Tone Plagal Second, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be a voice of encouragement 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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