(Scroll to the end for the video.)
I've been a Christian now for over twenty years, and I think it's time I share something that's been weighing on me for several years now.
I am weary to death of encouragement that gives us the warm fuzzies at church on Sunday, and ends there. We sing in varying degrees of passion according to how the message spoke to us, and then the doors are thrown open and the people stream out, into their cars, on to lunch and naps and chores and soul crushing marital dysfunctions and sex addictions and alcoholism and anxiety and depression and doubt and mind-boggling consumerism and food disorders and on and on and on.
We've got real problems, and no solutions
When did encouragement become soft and weak? When did we redefine it to include a Facebook post or a polite, “how are you?” or a pat on the back?
We like to paint Jesus as an encourager. Soft, gentle. Humble. But. I can’t find a place in the gospels where Jesus sang a song to someone. Or gave someone a side hug and said, “glad you made it to our women’s luncheon.” Or cupped the face of an adulterer or prostitute or reprobate in his hands and said kindly, “I love you, just the way you are.”
We've forgotten what "encourage" really means
Jesus looked at the woman, maybe undressed, certainly terrified and helpless before a crowd with murder in its heart; he looked at a woman he shouldn’t have been talking to at a well on a scorching hot day; he looked at a puny, despicable man clinging to the branches of a tree like a child; whether these people knew they were at the end of their ropes or not, Jesus did, and he looked at them like he knew them and with his words he said,“I know where you’ve been. I know what you need. Would you like a way out?”
If you google “encourage,” you’ll find the word means to give support, confidence, or hope. If you keep scrolling, you’ll see it comes from two French words that mean “in” and “courage.”
At it’s root, encouragement is about courage. There’s something really lion-hearted about true encouragement, and we’ve completely lost sight of that.
Real encouragement gets its hands dirty
Real, actual encouragement is not just sunshine and pretty bows and it’s not always “positive.” It's giving a priceless gift to a person. It's what you're doing when you see a friend headed towards destruction, and you grab her face in your hands and say, “YOUR CHOICES ARE KILLING THE WOMAN I LOVE.”
A life of talking without the actions to back it up holds no water--American Christianity has done a lot of been there, done that. But not talking at all is another ship that can’t float. St. Francis of Assisi said famously, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve chosen to shut up, only to realize later how necessary the words were.
It says, let's get you out of here
In a world that’s desperate for healing and hope, let’s stop hiding behind platitudes and smiles and encouraging Facebook posts and Instagram tags. Let’s look at our brothers and friends and coworkers and strangers and inlaws and Instagram friends, and with all the empathy and compassion and hope and humility a bunch of sinners saved by grace can muster, let’s say, “I know where you’ve been. I know what you need. Let’s get you out of here.”