Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ministry of Exhortation

There is a reason the scriptures tell us to edify and exhort one another. We can make a difference in someone’s life simply by verbally affirming them.  I recently conducted a little experiment with my students that gives evidence of this.
I teach 6 classes of 6th grade math each day. Of course, I have one class that is “my best” class. These kids work so hard for me. They have the best grades and they want to do well. I began to wonder why this class as a whole was better than the rest. Naturally, some of the kids are “the smart ones,” but even the trouble makers in that class did their work, put forth effort, and made decent grades.  I realized that because they were excelling, I was constantly giving them positive feedback and encouragement. I told them how smart they were and how proud I was of them.  In my other classes, I did not say these things as much, and sometimes got frustrated when they did not “get it” for the umpteenth time.
So, I decided to experiment. I began offering encouragement to my “lowest performing” class, and really meaning it. I had to find smaller victories to commend, but I made a big deal out of them, individually and as a class. After a couple of weeks of this, the strangest thing happened. More kids began bringing their homework, and they started paying attention in class.  Now, they have not caught up with my “best class,” but they have surpassed the other classes with their effort!  I couldn’t believe that I had not realized how my different relationship with each class affected my students’ “want to.”
So, what it is the significance of this experiment? Think about all the people in your life that you could exhort! Wives, instead of nagging our husband maybe we could exhort him to empower him to become more Godly. Parents, maybe our kids need a little more exhorting and celebration of the small victories that may seem very big to them. Or, perhaps you have a friend that is trying to kick an addiction, who could use a word of exhortation spoken into their life. Surely, we all could minister to someone by encouraging them.
We can learn a thing or two from the Apostle Paul. He often included words of exhortation in his letters.  He knew exhortation is a powerful thing! Encouragement builds people up, just as a sharp criticism can tear a person down.
Please, allow me to interject few disclaimers here: First, it must be authentic and personal. Just saying any old thing because you want to encourage someone does NOT work. It must be authentic. Inauthentic encouragement is very often translated as pity, which usually only further hinders a person. Also, I am NOT referring to shallow compliments. Girls, sometimes we confuse “I love your hair” or “I love that outfit” with exhortation. True exhortation is  really knowing someone and speaking a word of encouragement that is specific to them.  Second, it is hard. For those of you who are like me and tend to see the glass half empty, this is real work. I have to prepare my heart each morning to be ready to encourage/exhort some of the kids I teach, and I am FAR from having this thing all figured out.  Third, we still call sin, sin. Exhortation and encouragement does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin, for fear of discouraging someone. We should still "see sin as God sees sin" (to steal a phrase from Fred Luter).
So who can you exhort/encourage? Maybe, like me, you need to spend some time in prayer asking God to help you in this area. I believe there is someone in your life who needs a little encouragement; I encourage you to extend the grace of God to them through an authentic, personal word of exhortation.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

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