There are times in our lives when we simply don’t know what to do. Those times seem even more troublesome when we find ourselves in a position to lead or mentor others. We want to have all the answers and we want to help, especially when we see that our mentees are hurting and going through hard things. I’ve found myself on the giving and receiving end of good intentions and emotions of comfort, only to have the person leave my presence in the same defeated condition, or to find myself under the same weight as before my mentor spoke words of encouragement to me.
Let there be no doubt, there is a desperate need for people who are struggling to receive words of encouragement. The New Testament speaks a lot about the encouragement we receive from Christ, his Word, and the community of believers. My favorite verse about our motivation for encouragement speaks about the compassion and comfort of Christ. It reads:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:3-5 NIV)
There you have it. Our motivation for showing comfort, compassion, or encouragement to others is because we have received this same care and benefit from Christ. Since we have freely received these gifts from Him, we can freely offer these priceless gifts to others in need.
These verses also remind us of a deeper concern and reality:
The suffering of Christ flows into our lives, and our lives are plagued with trouble.
This is a hard truth I have learned in my personal life, and this is one that is most difficult to get mentees to understand. After all, much of church popular culture has convinced us that we come to Christ to live a better, happy, healthy, and wealthy (or prosperous life). And I’m not saying that God does not want these good gifts for his children. What I am saying is it is problematic when this is the carrot we dangle for people to come to Christ, because they are easily disillusioned when these “promises” don’t manifest in their personal lives immediately or over long periods of time. Seeking after these gifts of God, is not the same as pursuing God for who He is in this fallen world. It is in this world where Jesus spoke about the grief and scattering of his disciples that would accompany his coming death, where Jesus said to those he mentored and called friends:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
And there is the truth of God for the people of God. The truth and Word of God can give us peace even when things are hard, when we are grieving, suffering, or scattered. And we can embrace this peace and be encouraged because of the truth that is greater than our present reality—and that is, Christ has overcome the world! Even when times are so hard that they blind us from seeing rightly, Christ IS victorious over this world!
I recently had a conversation with one of my mentees who was bewildered about how prayers can be offered consistently over a long period of time, and she still find herself in a hard situation. And I shared the difficult understanding that had the prayers not been offered the situation could easily be much worse. In Jesus words and in our present realities, we don’t have to search hard to see a deeper truth (that we will explore further in the next Mentoring Monday post), and that is the spiritual elements that rage against us in this world. The Apostle Paul writes:
For our struggles is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:11-13)
When things get hard for our mentees and ourselves, we need more thna words of encouragement and comfort. We also need to acknowledge the truth that we will have trouble in this world. People will die. Sometimes we will feel alone. Our feelings and egos will get hurt. People, yes even in the church, will disappoint us. There will be suffering and lost. And some of this trouble has little to do with the gravity of our own sin, or the boxes we did or did not check. Some of it is a result of other people’s sin, or trusting or entering into unhealthy relationships with the wrong folk. Some of it can be a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Much of it is just the reality of living in a fallen world—a world that is tainted by numerous years of unconfessed and unrepentant sin. That’s trouble for everyone—the old and young, the rich and poor, the unjust and just. Christ has overcome it all, and he says we can live at peace in the midst of this trouble. And I believe at least part of living in peace and pursuing that peace, is learning from the instructions of Paul, and teaching ourselves and our mentees to stand our ground against the schemes of the evil one. (More on that next week.)
How do you persevere and encourage others to persevere on our faith journey when things get hard?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015