Friday, August 3, 2012

True Encouragement

Friendship. It is one of the Lord's greatest gifts, isn't it?

But let me ask you...
  • What type of a friend are you? 
  • What do you enjoy doing most with your friend? 
  • What is the highlight and foundation of your friendship? 
  • What draws the two of you together?
These are usually pretty eye-opening, and sometimes gut-wrenching, questions to ask yourself. What are your answers to them?

Alright, now hold onto those thoughts, and let's transfer over to another point I want to make.

A couple days ago, I was reading through 1 Samuel 23 and was impacted by something I found in verse 16. (For context purposes, both verses 15 and 16 are posted below.)

"Now David became aware that Saul had come out to seek his life while David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God." (1 Samuel 23:15-16 NASB)

"Encouraged him in God." I had never heard that phrase before in the Bible and it begged for me to stop and ponder its full meaning. 

Well, what do other translations say? I wondered.

So, I started by looking up the same verse in a couple other translations, to see if I could unbury some treasure there. Here's what I found:

New International Version (NIV) - "...And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God."

English Standard Version (ESV) - "And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God."

Looking at all three translations together paints a beautiful picture, doesn't it?

Saul, the king of Israel, pursuing David for his life, even though (and I think especially since) he had been anointed by Samuel as the future king. Jonathan, the king's son, betraying his own father and risking his neck to visit his best friend in need. 

But why did he visit David? Was Jonathan lonely? Did he just need some "man time" with his friend? What was his reason for going on such a dangerous mission?

"And Jonathan...encouraged him in God...strengthened his hand in God....helped him find strength in God."

That was his mission. Those were his reasons.  

What a beautiful example of a Christ-centered friendship! And oh, what a convicting message!

How do I react when I know my friend is in need? When she is hurting? Or doubting? Or fearful? Or discouraged? Am I an encouragement or a further discouragement? 

And if I am seeking to encourage, what type of encouragement am I giving? Just typing in "Christian encouragement quotes" into Google proved to be quite an eye-opener. The below quotes are supposed to encourage the struggling Christian. Here they are:

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

"We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival." ~Winston Churchill

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do any of you distinguish a problem here? The first thing to be noticed: Why is there no mention of Jesus Christ at all?

Yes, those statements might be true to a certain degree, but where is the strengthening encouragement in looking at what "lies within us"? According to the Bible, my heart is
"more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick." (Jeremiah 17:9) And how do we find inspiration from suffering itself? Suffering alone does not bring inspiration.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know that strength lies in Him and not me. I know that my friend doesn't have the strength to overcome fear, doubt, or depression on her own, so why would I point her to anything or anyone other than the only One who promises to be her strength, shield, and help in trouble? 

I must point my friend to Christ.*

And that is exactly what Jonathan did. He pointed David to the Lord. He encouraged and helped him find strength...not in himself, not in the strength of his men, or in reminding David of his incredible victories. Those two little words at the end of verse 16 make the difference between true Christian encouragement and its worldly counterpart: "encouraged him in God."

So, my dear reader, may we seek the Lord and ask Him to make us into people who are striving towards Christ-centered friendships. And may He give us His heart to love our friends with His love and His wisdom to point our friends to Him and the glories of His precious promises.  

*One word of warning though. When I say here that you're supposed to point your friend to Christ, I'm not referring to your unbelieving friends. Yes, we should point them to Christ with the Gospel, but not encouraging them with His promises. The promises of God do not pertain to unbelievers. 

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