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:
- I was afraid: Adam's core emotion
- because I was naked: his core motivation
- so I hid myself: his core strategy
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!