From Tim Hunt:
As we continue the long slow process of returning to some measure of “normal” in our gathered worship, it is easy for us to allow some of the “noise” in our hearts to override and control our outlook and perspective (what we are thinking), which then influences our words and behavior (our actions).
The voices may sound something like these things:
“It’s taking too long!”
“Why can’t the health experts be more consistent in their assessments?”
“What if I get sick?”
“Is the government overreaching?”
“Have I been too silent or ignored the evils of racism?”
“Will my job or my business ever come back?”
“I feel so alone and isolated from everyone.”
These are just a sampling of the kinds of voices we might be listening to, but when one or more of these “voices” takes over or dominates our thinking it can produce fear, worry, anxiety, frustration, discontent or discouragement. And that can often result in grumbling and complaining over many things, even good things like gathering together. I want to meet face to face, to draw near with a handshake and a hug as one body, in unity to sing the Bible, to preach the Bible, and to pray the Bible to each other. These things done in this manner are a great encouragement to the hearts of each one of us.
But now we are enduring a different challenge. How do we encourage each other from a distance or with a mask? How can we still help each other, from afar, quiet the “noise” that competes for our attention?
That is exactly what Paul does in most of his letters by pointing his readers to the God of encouragement. Romans 15:1-13 is filled with encouragement and hope especially in the context of how we are to respond to those who are weaker in conscience and faith. Here Paul shifts the focus from our own selves and our own concerns to the needs of others for their good, and by doing so we are imitating Christ. But this is not a matter of simply applying some sort of behavioral modifications, but rather a change of heart brought about through the indwelling word of God administered by the power of His Spirit. The instructive Word of God was not given to weigh us down with more “rules” of behavior but for our hope through perseverance and encouragement of its beautiful promises. This is granted to us by the God of encouragement. If you were to ask me to name the attributes of God, I’m not sure how far down my list you would find encouragement, or if it would even be on the list.
Verse 4 reminds me that if I am considering a passage of Scripture carefully and I come away still feeling frustrated or discouraged, I am not yet done with the passage. Or better yet, the passage is not done with me. Nothing that was written to us is detached from the intention of God to cultivate hope and encouragement in His people. Notice that in verse 8 it is Christ’s condescension and humiliation in taking the role of a servant to his people that confirms the promises of a redeemer, a new covenant, eternal life, life the way it was meant to be lived. All of which is sufficient reason to praise God for his mercy. When our minds are set on these realities our soul is encouraged and filled with hope.
The same encouragement from the Word of God can be found in Hebrews 10:19-25. Notice the repetition of “since we…”
Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…Since we have hearts that have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
You can feel right away that things are building, that there is a movement towards something. Here are these massive pillars of gospel grounding realities that never move and are never shaken.
Therefore, in light of these truths, let us draw near, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds not forsaking our “togetherness,” but rather encouraging one another...
So when these passages and others like them cease to be just words that we read but which leap off the page and become operational in our lives it is going to change the way we interact with each other. It will sound more like, “I know you have struggled with temptation this week, I know you are weary from sin, I know you are suffering, I know you are discouraged and frustrated. But there is great news! We have a savior that has provided refuge and refreshment for your soul.” A hope that is rooted in His great gospel promises and provisions and we never get tired of telling this story. It must be told often for it is the only story that is sufficient to bear the weight of our sin cursed lives and our need for mercy.
Michael Horton writes –
“When it comes to our standing before God we need a report more than a new resource. Everyone is born into this world as God’s image-bearer with a consciousness of being created for God’s glory. However suppressed it is an inescapable fact of our existence. When we hear that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, our conscience is pricked, we have fallen short of God’s glory and our chief end seems more characteristically defined by enjoying ourselves, perhaps with God’s help. We need to know our purpose in life but we should be under no illusion that we are pulling it off. At this point the only message that qualifies as good news is that Christ has fulfilled his purpose as our representative and has made us sharers in both his justification and resurrection life so that one day we will also share in his glory.”
Brothers and sisters we cannot OD on encouragement. You need it and I need it. So whatever noise is troubling you this COVID season, remember David’s answer to a troubled soul:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not lifted too high,
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me;
I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. (Ps 131)