If I was sat opposite you right now, in an unnamed generic coffee establishment, my parting line to you would go something like this...
‘I want you to walk out of here with the truth of who you are ringing in your ears; you’re truly amazing; you’re utterly phenomenal! I love what you do. I love what you’re about. You’ve got talent and conviction in bucket loads, bubbling up and running over...’
And even though you’d probably be half way to the pay and display before I’d finished, you need to know that I would have meant it. Every. Single. Word. Not because I think you’re perfect, but because I spent most of my 20s and 30s crippled with self-doubt and I know how tempting it was to translate every discouragement into evidence that I’d got my calling wrong.
Nothing kills the confidence, peace, joy and hope of a leader quite like discouragement. So I would have let you have it, because I would have wanted you to feel overwhelmed by the fact that God is relentlessly optimistic about you. You work with young people. You invest in the spiritual, social and emotional landscape of their lives. You know that deep within each one of them exists profound potential that needs to be lifted up and aired out so that they can become more like their God-shaped selves.
The same is true for you and for me. Within us exists the fragile little seeds of ideas, projects, campaigns, solutions, passions and longings. If amazement is the soil in which the first shoots of new growth take root (Pete Greig) then encouragement is the... um... oops… horticultural imagery fail… possibly something to do with photosynthesis?
The point is, anyone of us can critique and compare and find ourselves wanting. Anyone of us can feel overwhelmed at the limits of our qualifications, job title, budget, local church, safeguarding issues or line management. It’s so easy to allow stress and stuff going wrong to shrink us, stifle us, limit us and put a lid on us. You might even have found yourself telling God that he must have got it wrong in thinking that you could play any part in reaching and discipling this marvellous generation of young people.
An encounter with true encouragement is transformational - it can inspire us to see and act differently
What’s incredible is being in the presence of those people who love lifting that lid and limitation, and stretching our vision; those who are fluent in the art of ‘you can do this’. What’s transformational is experiencing how an encounter with true encouragement can inspire us to see and act differently.
In Genesis, we’re told the saga of Joseph’s life in a fair bit of detail: obnoxious favourite son, resented brother, abused slave, forgotten prisoner, trusted dream-interpreter until finally, history-shaping leader. But then his brothers stand before him, desperate for help from the boy they harmed and Joseph chooses to be big rather than small, generous with the blessing rather than withholding. Why? Because he’s faced his limitations and, with God’s aid, has stretched beyond them. When he says, ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,’ (Genesis 20:50) he’s acknowledging the God whose design for our lives is always to do immeasurably more in and through us than we can ever imagine.
Incidentally, our English word ‘intended’ comes from the old French word for ‘to stretch out, to extend’. When leaders like us reach out and encourage each other, we do it in the name of the one who’s plan is always to stretch us, expand our vision and enable us to see something more of what he sees and feel more of what he feels. Not so the need will overwhelm us, but so that his power and love will overwhelm us all the more.
We can be generous and vocal in our support of each other because God is generous in his view of us. Encouragement is meant to be encouraging, it’s meant to do you good. It’s meant to build you up, and it’s spiritually, emotionally and socially necessary because being forged into the likeness of Jesus isn’t an easy journey.
So listen up! You can do this. You will get there. You have a future and a hope. Imagine what it will look like as God takes the more you long for in his name, and makes it even more and more and more than you can dare to ask for?
And next time an encourager takes you out for coffee, listen. And allow yourself to believe and receive God’s narrative about who you are and your calling. From where God stands, the horizon of your life looms large. So let him stretch you, extend you, encourage you. He always means what he says.