I think encouragement is something that goes hand in hand with ministry. Inevitably, someone that I am leading in ministry is hurting. It is just a fact of life. We are in a fallen world and there will always be people that are in need of an encouraging word. I heard my husband quote Charles Spurgeon once, “If you preach to a hurting soul, you will never lack an audience.”
So, my aim in ministry is to always include the acknowledgment that someone may be hurting and to empathize with that hurt and then remind them that although we will have many afflictions, the Bible says, “The Lord will deliver us out of them all.”
But what do we do when we are the ones who are tired or discouraged? What do we do when we feel like we are the candle that is burning the wick on both ends and yet the needs of those we serve are still there?
This time of year, in particular, many of us are expending ourselves more than normal because we are preparing for our Easter ministry season with much more added demands on our ministry calendar. I was just talking with a peer in ministry and both of us confessed a feeling of drowning in our to-do list and looking forward to May, knowing that there is margin in life coming then that is not available now.
So how can we be an encouragement to others when we feel we are operating on fumes?
I love how Jesus models how do this in Matthew 14. Jesus had just heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. He tried to get alone with the Lord, but the crowds kept finding him, and when he saw the huge crowds he had compassion for them.
Even when the disciples wanted to send them away Jesus met their needs and fed over 5,000 people. That alone is an incredible story. But I love what I see right after that. In verse 22 it says, “Immediately” he sent the disciples on to the other side of the sea and dismissed the crowds. His intention all along was to get alone with the Father and minister to his own hurting soul.
The next part of this story is the walking on the water in the midst of the waves crashing on the disciples’ boat. Mark’s account of this story says (Mark 6:48) that Jesus would’ve passed by them, but they were scared of Him, thinking He was a ghost and He had to calm them down and reassure them that it was He, and He got in the boat with them.
These two parallel accounts teach me so much about how to encourage even when I feel the world is pressing in on me. I see Jesus’ longing to hide away with the Father and get refueled. He recognized His need for space. That is not a bad thing when we as leaders need space. After all, Jesus needed space too. It can actually be a bad thing when we don’t recognize our need for space.
But there are times when, inevitably, the crowds press in and the need is too urgent. We need to give encouragement right then and there. The key is to do it and be present in that moment with those to whom we are called to and then “immediately” get back to the most important business at hand – getting alone with the Father.
As we press into the needs of those we serve, let us never forget to press into the Father even more and get the fuel and power it takes to impart grace and compassion to those around us.