Of course encouragement isn’t only for those who are devastated by failure. But encouragement sure is important for those people, in those moments.
I want to tell you about Peter.
I enjoy preaching. I think that sometimes I may actually do alright. But, as any public speaker will tell you (or maybe it’s just me…) there are some talks or speaking engagements that will just bomb. I think particularly of a sermon I preached a few years ago. I remember thinking halfway through, as I seemingly struggled for the words to speak, “this sermon sucks”. It didn’t help that I felt as if I was falling asleep while preaching the darn thing. Falling asleep during your own sermon is never a good sign. I remember turning off my lapel mic, walking back to my seat feeling completely reassured in my thoughts and feelings while I preached. It sucked. It really did. Veteran pastors often tell me that they have had similar experiences only to hear from people listening later that it blew their minds.
Nope. Didn’t happen with this one. It sucked. Bad! The worst part about preaching a bad sermon is the next 12 hours. It lingers and debilitates me as if my soul is broken with the disappointment of a missed opportunity. It was like this on that fateful Sunday. I felt like a failure.
On that Sunday, as per usual, my wife, brand new son and I went out to visit family. We came back fairly late, and upon entry into our little house we noticed a message on the answering machine. I pressed play. It was Peter. Peter is an older fellow, with an old voice, who sometimes loses himself in his sentences, but it didn’t matter. I remember my wife almost in tears because of the beauty of his words. Then the answering machine cut out, the message went too long. Disappointed I pressed play for the next message… it was Peter. He called back to finish his message. It was as if his words dug my soul out of the depths of despair into a place where I could continue on. Peter is the most empowering encourager that I have ever met.
The best encouragers speak into the depths of the soul with words or actions that seemingly transcend the paralyzing debilitation of failure and empower the journey forward. They don’t just make us feel good about ourselves. If you’ve been courageous you know it doesn’t always feel good. Encouragement sparks a courage to continue knowing that it is not a lonely journey, but one that is taken together.
Some people have this gift, Peter is one of those people, and I will be eternally grateful. When you encourage don’t be ‘wussy’ about it. Use words or actions that move beyond cliché. Use words that search for the soul and empower the journey in the midst of their failure. Most importantly, let them know that they are not alone in the journey.
It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”