Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Sure Foundation for Encouragement

The other day I mentioned some of the things that we have found encouraging about our ministry this year. And we truly are thankful for the ways that God is moving on campus and in peoples hearts, and we have much to be grateful for in every area of our lives. But our thanks is to God and we give our praise to God because he alone is the sure foundation for our encouragement, comfort and hope.

Since this past summer I have been drawn to Philippians Chapter 2. Paul writes a whole slew of amazing things in that chapter, but I love the way he starts out; “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love…” He goes on to exhort us to be imitators of Jesus who perfectly exemplified humility. But Paul begins essentially by inferring and acknowledging that being united with Christ should be encouraging and there should be a true sense of comfort from God’s love. This is foundational, and it is in light of these realities, and because of this truth we are able to contemplate, and imitate Jesus’ example.

So often I allow my encouragement to be based on my circumstances. We all know that that’s a pretty shaky thing to build anything on because circumstances always change and are virtually never predictable! But I find myself seeking comfort in all kinds of places and things, when I should be resting in God’s love.

Again, there are many things on campus and at home that are going well, but there is plenty of struggle and trial as well. Life is difficult, and the reality is there is never a time when everything is going good.

So what do you do when things are going bad, or when there is hardship and disappointment? What do you do when you are feeling down or discouraged? My default is to “count my blessings” and “focus on the positive”. I think those are generally virtuous options, but sometimes the math doesn’t add up and the negatives are actually outweighing the positives! (Circumstantially speaking that is.) Merely having a positive attitude and trying to focus on things that are going well doesn’t always cut it. And, that isn’t a Christ-centered approach.

No matter what is going on in life –even if we are bound with chains sitting in a jail cell for no good reason as Paul was when he wrote this- we can be encouraged. We can be comforted because present circumstances are not eternal, but God is.

So, here is a very simple example from our life. We were bummed to be here in Ithaca separated from our families for Christmas. It is disappointing not to be able to spend the Holidays with our relatives, for our kids not to be able to be with their grandparents for Christmas. It is unfortunate that we could not afford to fly to New Mexico or Colorado to celebrate with those we love. It was kind of lonely actually, to be chillin in our house for days. So, to combat my discouragement, I can do a few things. I can be positive, (and as an optimist I generally am.) I can acknowledge that we have a wonderful little family right here, and that it was great to have our friend Larry spend Christmas day with us. And I do consider it a blessing that we are all healthy and none of us is in chains in some dungeon! Those things are encouraging, and are evidences of grace that we are grateful for.

But what truly ministers to me is this reminder from God’s word that I am united with Christ and his love comforts. I wish I could have been with extended family in the southwest for Christmas, but it was just not feasible. But I AM with Jesus, and He is with us. It would be great to be munching green chile enchiladas and enjoying some warmer weather; but even better than that, I can know and experience the personal love of our great God.

There is encouragement because I’m united with Christ.

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