The Power of Encouragement (Hebrews 10:19-25)

I’m sitting on a stool today because this past month has left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. As I said in the vision video, we came here to minister out of weakness, not strength. I definitely feel like I am at that weak place in need grace. I’ve feel like a marathoner who, at mile 19, has proverbially, “hit the wall.” We all know what this feels like to be exhausted. Parenting can be exhausting. Academics can be exhausting. Owning your own business. Working two jobs. Working on a strained relationship. And overseeing a fundraising campaign. Don’t get me wrong! There has been a team behind Ground for Grace, and one of our elders, James Daniel, has thrown his heart into this effort. So, on one hand this month has been exhilarating, considering the possibilities of what land would mean for our future as a church. But on the other, it has been mentally exhausting. This may be what climbers on Mt. Everest experience. They see the summit. The dream. But they still have to make the climb, knowing that several sections of the journey will push their physical and mental endurance to the limit. But the same is true with almost any worthy endeavor. No worthy summit is easy to attain

So, what is it that empowers and motivates us to keep climbing when we are exhausted and ready to quit?  It may be you are ready to quit as a ministry volunteer? Or you are ready to give up the pursuit of the degree, give up on marriage, or maybe even give up on life altogether? What is it that empowers and motivates us to keep climbing?

In Hebrews 10:19-25, God tells us that the divinely designed prescription for those of us at the place of mental, spiritual, emotional and physical exhaustion—the prescription that empowers and motivates is the power of encouragement

It is this power of encouragement that the author of Hebrews challenges us to dispense to each other.  However, before we dispense encouragement, we have to receive it, which is why this message only has two main headings: receiving encouragement and dispensing encouragement.

I. Receiving Encouragement from God (vv. 19-23)

19 Therefore…since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

The most holy place was the central and most sacred space in the Jewish temple, set apart from the rest of the temple by a thick curtain. Only the high priest could enter behind the curtain, and that, only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to mediate between God and the people with sacrifice and prayer. To draw near to God for a Jew would have been to go behind the veil into the most holy place to stand in the very presence of God. The problem is that the Psalms tell us that only he who is blameless may enter into and dwell in the presence of the Lord. Otherwise, it would be like walking into a wedding after participating in a mud wrestling tournament.

The encouragement of God to us in this passage is that we who were unclean, have been made clean by the blood of Jesus. He is the ultimate sacrifice to which all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed. On a cross, Jesus was considered unclean and justly deserving of the penalty that God’s law demands. He was defiled for me so that I could be declared clean. This is the encouragement of grace, where the gospel now exhorts us to draw near, to go behind the curtain into the very presence of the Lord as those whose souls, which were defiled, are now perfectly clean. Blameless. In Matthew 27:51 we read that at the death of Jesus, as he bore the penalty for our sin, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.” God was saying, “The final sacrifice has been made. You may now draw near without fear.”

The author of Hebrews makes this point even more specific in 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

This is the kind of encouragement that enables us to keep taking steps forward as disciples, even when, in our sinfulness and stupidity, we continue to fall on our face. When I fall back into the mud, I want to run away out of shame and fear. But the Father says to those who are his, “Draw near. You.Are.Clean. Hold unswervingly to that promise!”

When we hold onto that promise, we are filled with gospel encouragement. When we have received this encouragement from God, we are equipped to dispense encouragement to others.

II. Dispensing Encouragement to Each Other (vv. 24-25)

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Did you notice a phrase that was used three times in those two verses? “Let us.” The author knows the importance of community for living as a disciple of Jesus. We don’t climb the mountain alone. We need a group of spiritual friends who are able to dispense the grace of encouragement when we are exhausted, because encouragement has the power to strengthen, motivate, inspire and energize. It can bring us back from the ledge and renew our spirits with a restored hope.

When we are exhorted here to “spur one another on,” it makes me think of a swimming meet or track meet. I mean, can you imagine a father at a track meet watching his daughter coming around the final turn in the 800 and yelling, “You look so sweaty and tired. What’s wrong with you? Why are you running so slow! Why you can’t you be as fast as Mike’s daughter?” No! Her father would cheer her on in her exhaustion, helping her through the pain and struggle with words of encouragement. Not with jeers, but with cheers.

Do you know someone who needs a friend to cheer for them? Maybe it is a spouse, a mother, an employee, a child… or a pastor. 🙂

Of course, we are talking about encouragement, not simply compliments. Telling someone that you love their hair is a compliment, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is a place for complimenting folks, absolutely. But telling someone that you love, not just their hair, their heart is encouragement. Telling them the way they look people in the eye and listen inspires you to be a better listener, or how their generosity reveals a deep and beautiful work of God in their lives. Or simply how much you appreciate them serving you, whether a waitress, the guy who cuts your grass, a nursery volunteer, a worship leader, or a child who helps clean the dishes after dinner. Even simple words of appreciation can be deeply encouraging because they confirms that their sacrifice of service is noticed, valued and appreciated. That it is making a difference.

You see, encouragement is what spurs one another on to love and good deeds.

Beyond the deeds, the second “let us” urges us to relational depth through meeting together. Certainly, our Sunday morning gatherings are in view here. But also, and maybe even more are smaller gatherings where we really can share our hearts and get to know each other in deeper, more personal ways. Our K-Group ministry is designed to fulfill this need, as well as men’s and women’s discipleship groups. The goal of this meeting together is to go beyond the surface. There is nothing wrong with surface conversation. I love talking about sports and politics, and every relationship pretty much starts there. However, if we stay at the surface, we may compliment someone, but it is only when I know someone’s heart, their struggles, fears and sins, that I am able to apply a word of encouragement to their soul as a life-giving, soul restoring word. I believe that this is what it means for Christians to be agents of grace to each other, by how we refuse to tear down, but continually work to build each other up… through encouragement.  Encouragement is what empowers and motivates, and the most fertile soil for this to take place is in the context of deepening spiritual friendships. Therefore, let’s not give up meeting together. Value Sundays. Value your K-Group community.

The third “let us” emphasizes that encouragement is what God has designed to help us persevere as disciples until Jesus returns – the author calls it simply, the Day—which is why we can think of encouragement, in its essence, as grace. Grace dispensed. Words of encouragement are grace words, that build us up and keep us moving up the mountain.

But how we can put this into practice? How can this become a real part of our lives? Let me share 3 suggestions about how to become an encourage

  1. Look for opportunities to encourage. Part of our problem with encouragement is that we are typically more prone to see what is wrong than what is right; what is bad rather than what is good. Sadly, we tend to jeer more than we cheer. What if we reversed that tendency? What if we were actively looking for ways to encourage others? I think this simple application could set a marriage on a new course, or heal wounds between parents and children. It could affect the culture of an office, and even alter the way people experience a church family. So, look for opportunities to encourage.
  2. Practice the 10 to 1 ratio. Meaning, for every one word of critique or complaint, make sure you’ve spoken ten words of encouragement. The 10 to 1 ratio. This suggestion comes from advice that the 19th century Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne, gave his congregation, saying, “For every one look at yourself (sanctification), take 10 looks at Jesus (justification).”  The reality is that, as far as rebuke and correction goes, people who know you are for them and have received heavy doses of encouragement from you are much more likely to receive rebuke and correction as a gift rather than merely the words of an antagonist. So, practice the 10 to 1 ratio.
  3. Don’t just think it; say it. Many of us think good things about folks all of the time, but tend to keep it to ourselves. Maybe it is because what we are thinking about someone feels awkward when we say it out loud. It feels like you are exposing a vulnerable part of your heart. For some, going beyond the compliment to encouragement is just too personal. But personal is exactly what we need. Personal is how encouragement moves from the surface and strikes at the level of the heart – the level that has the power to strengthen, motivate, and inspire. So, take the risk and make the call. Or send the text or the email. The methods of encouragement are as limitless as the potential impact. Don’t just think it, say it.

Some of you know that I have an email folder called “Encouragements.” I open those messages on a regular basis to remember that what we have done and are doing in planting and growing Creekstone is a worthy endeavor. Although right now it feels like we are in a somewhat awkward stage –like middle school. We are not where we were, and not what we will become. Leadership to develop. Community to deepen. Equipping to be done. But there is so much potential. So much grace ahead. This is a worthy endeavor, a glorious endeavor! It is the climb of my life! Sometimes the climb is exhausting. But it is so worth it. I really want you to know that when I am exhausted, it is your personal encouragement that fuels me with fresh enthusiasm and motivation to press on. When you encourage me, you become an agent of grace in my life, and I am so grateful. I especially love hearing stories about how God’s grace is impacting and changing your life. That is rocket fuel in my soul.

So, this is my challenge for us as a community: Let us be agents of grace in each other’s lives by sharing the powerful, soul-strengthening gift of encouragement. Let us outdo one another with this gift!

Yet, we know that before we can dispense grace, we must receive grace – the grace that says though Jesus you have been cleansed from a guilty conscience. That your soul has been cleansed with the bleach of Jesus’ blood. It is this grace that God offers to each one of us. Today. In this place. In this moment. Right now.