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
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
Jesus said “I have said this to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Good morning Prayer Team!
Ok, ok, we got it, we need to be encouraging. But what about the things that perpetually discourage us? What about the crosses we carry that never seem to go away? What happens when we are consistently praying to God for something and that thing never happens?
In the midst of our desire to be encouraging and have a positive outlook is the reality that there are certain crosses that some of us bear that seem like they are never going to go away. And in some cases, perhaps they will never go away.
I wrestle with this one. There are times when I pray fervently for months and even years for certain crosses to be lifted, and they aren’t. I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost favor with God. I know many people wrestle with the same thing because I’ve talked to lots of frustrated people over the years, including many people who are faithful in their Christianity. So the next few reflections are going to examine how to remain encouraged even when life’s challenges seem too difficult.
We’re all familiar with the scales of justice. There are two scales and in the case of the scales of justice, the goal is to have them balanced. In our lives, we hope to live in balance, if not tilted towards joy and towards God. There are bad things that happen in every life that tip the scales in favor of the negative. If this is the case in your life, there are two ways to balance the scales—remove the negative or add the positive.
Sometimes we can work to remove the negative. A failing grade in a class can be reversed with studying more. A bad day at work can be made up with two good ones. But what about the big ones that aren’t so easily removed—losing a job, illness, a difficult marriage, challenging children, consistent financial challenges.
There are two things that can keep the scale balanced. One comes from God and one comes from our neighbor. From God we get “grace”, the mystical but strong quality that completes what is lacking in us. Grace heals spiritual wounds and provides spiritual strength. Grace is found in prayer, worship and the sacraments. It is our greatest expression of God’s love towards us, continual grace. Grace is what keeps us going when we are frustrated. Grace is what gives us the strength to meet big challenges. Grace heals the soul even when a life situation cannot be healed.
And grace is our greatest expression of how we love God. We trust Him and keep leaning on and receiving His grace. The weight of God can balance a scale that is out of balance. God doesn’t necessarily take away the bad things of our lives, but His grace is enough to offset them.
The second thing that keeps our scale balanced comes from our neighbor, and that is encouragement and empathy. Encouragement to keep carrying the crosses, and sometimes offering help to carry someone else’s cross. We’ve all had moments in our lives where we wanted to give up on something. Without some empathy and encouragement, it is much easier to give up. With support and encouragement, it is much easier to keep going. When the scales of life are tilting to the negative, even a little encouragement can tip them the other way.
This is a very serious subject. Some people reading this message carry very heavy crosses. One short reflection cannot give all the answers. Today’s encouragement is to continue seeking God’s grace, even when the crosses are heavy and the road is difficult. We will continue to address this topic further in the next encouragement installment on Monday.
Lord, I thank You for Your blessings in my life (name some of them). Lord, there are also things I struggle with in my life (name them). You know these struggles. You know how they affect me. You know how they discourage me at times. Give me the strength to carry whatever crosses I bear. Give me the grace to carry them with dignity. Give me grace so that they are manageable. Let me continually be defined not by my crosses but by how I carry them. Give me strength to bear whatever challenges come my way today. Give me the strength to meet them in ways that show my own dignity and witness for Your glory. Amen.
Don’t get discouraged if your crosses are heavy. Ask for grace from God. Seek help from others.
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