Sunday, November 23, 2008

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The Heart of an Encourager

A small-group leader is part teacher, part facilitator, part cat-herder ... but a very large part encourager. Among the most startling books I've read on the topic of encouragement is Larry Crabb and Dan Allender's, "Encouragement: The Key to Caring." What separates this book from the pack is that Crabb and Allender go to the heart of what keeps us from being truly good encouragers--our failure to understand the deepest needs and sinful patterns of both ourselves and those we seek to encourage.

Let's begin with one simple passage out of Genesis. After disobeying God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam is hiding from God. When God seeks him out, Adam explains his actions: I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself. This simple statement reveals much about Adam's condition, and ours as well. The authors explain:
  1. I was afraid: Adam's core emotion
  2. because I was naked: his core motivation
  3. so I hid myself: his core strategy
We can draw much from this, because Adam is our father--when he fell, we fell with him. Adam's fear is ultimately our own. We fear that we are dying; that we are less than we pretend; that we will fail; that if people really knew us they would reject us; that ultimately, God will reject us because we are not worthy of acceptance. Down deep, fear permeates our inner core. We are afraid, because we are naked.

Adam's nakedness was not a problem until he sinned. God's response is telling: Who told you that you were naked? Adam had no reason for fear until he rebelled. Now suddenly, his nakedness was evident because he stood before God covered in sin. In the same way, we fear to really confront what is deep within us, because to do so would force us to confess our fundamental flaws: What a wretched man I am! And then what if others really knew us? We dare not find out, and so we hide ourselves.

Each of us hides behind different cloaks (or "layers", as the authors say)--the man who is the life of the party is not necessarily hiding less than he who is quiet and reserved. We all find strategies that work for us, so that we find some comfort zone in which we can operate. The problem is, these strategies only mask our core fear of being discovered for being less than we pretend.

The solution is the perfect love that drives out fear. God's unconditional love frees us from the bondage of our fear and gives us the confidence to reach out to encourage others. To the extent that we are open before Him (a lifelong process), and to the extent that He is our true hope and confidence--our streams of living water--we find ourselves able to encourage others. To the extent that we seek to satisfy our deepest needs for love, acceptance and significance in broken cisterns such as man's respect, career success, financial freedom, human intimacy, etc., we deal with our core problem with foolish, sinful, idolotrous strategies.

Encouragement involves a heart of love speaking directly to another's heart of fear. This involves time, patience, commitment, caring ... but before any of this it requires the encourager to have confidence before God. To the extent that I remain fearful, hiding behind self-protective layers, I cannot possibly encourage other fearful, self-protective souls in any deeply meaningful way.

Read the whole book!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Jailer! I have a new perspective on Adam's sin (and our sin too.) "The solution is the perfect love that drives out fear." I guess if we forget just how much we are loved, it is easy to fall into several different kinds of traps.

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  2. "Encouragement involves a heart of love speaking directly to another's heart of fear. This involves time, patience, commitment, caring ... but before any of this it requires the encourager to have confidence before God."

    Now, that's a powerful thought, Jailer! Thanks for referring me to this post!

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