Gifts of the Spirit- Exhortation

This week we are continuing to look at the Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As Christians we are all members of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ has a mission to serve God in the world, and to that end the Holy Spirit has given the members of the church special gifts or abilities. When all of us learn our particular gifts and use them, then we become particularly powerful in our service to God and the world.

This week we are looking at the gift of Exhortation. If you have the gift of Exhortation you are particularly good at encouraging people. You know how to touch someone’s heart. If someone feels like they want to give up you know what to do to help them stand up and dust themselves off and keep going. We read about the words of the encourager in Proverbs, 

“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up. … Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Prov 12:25; 16:24).
 As an encourager, you help them find hope.

If you are an Exhorter, when you are able to impact someone’s life for the better through your encouragement that is the best feeling in the world, for you. You want to make an effect in people’s lives. You want to teach people to lead better and more meaningful lives. Usually people seek you out and ask your advice, especially when they have a problem. You are driven to build people up- to help them have full and meaningful lives- to help them reach their full potential. Like a coach, you feel thrilled by the success of those you have helped. People experience you as positive and uplifting. They seem to always find the strength to carry on after being with you. Their troubles seem a bit lighter, and they feel a bit stronger. You help them see that God is with them, and is strengthening them, and they feel that God has something good in store for them.

This is actually one way to read the Beatitudes, which we encounter in our Gospel reading today. This is in contrast to have we have usually read the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12), which is to say something like this: We read “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, so we should find a way to be poor. Either I should be literally poor by giving away all my money, or I need to be spiritually poor and recognize how deeply sinful I am in the depths of my soul. When I can become poor, then I can inherit the kingdom of heaven. And we do that all the way through, so if I want to benefit from what is promised, then I need to find a way to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, and to be persecuted.

There is value in reading it this way, but a more convincing way to read this was taught by Dallas Willard. This is the encouraging way to see the beatitudes. He thinks the Beatitudes are saying something like this: “So you think you are abandoned by God because God hasn’t blessed you with riches? Well, let me tell you that you can inherit the kingdom of heaven. You think you are outside of God’s love because you are mourning the tragic death of someone close to you? Well, there is comfort for you. You think you have no place in this world because you are so meek that people are always pushing in line ahead of you? I say, you can inherit the earth”. Willard thinks that the Beatitudes are encouragement for those who would have thought they were excluded from what God was doing in the world. Being poor in the first century was evidence that God had abandoned you. Dealing with tragedy that leads someone to mourning might be considered evidence that they had been abandoned by God. And so on all the way through. The overall message is that the kingdom of God is close, and no matter who you are, or what your situation is, you too can be a part of the kingdom of heaven. That was an encouraging message to those who thought there was no hope for them. An Exhorter wants to help people see the way forward, and Willard thinks that is exactly what is going on in the Beatitudes.

Exhorters also want things to be practical. They don’t have a lot of time for abstract truths that don’t seem to touch the ground. Exhorters are always looking for the “so what” in a sermon. If you are an Exhorter, you aren’t so interested in the historical details or the theology. What you are really interested in is what difference this teaching makes to people’s lives. How does this affect us here and now? You appreciate a “how to…” kind of sermon. How to pray. How to love your neighbour. How to bless those who curse you. … You might find it even more helpful if this is broken into practical steps. 3 steps to loving your neighbour. … And that tends to be the kind of advice you give when people come to you. If someone comes to you overwhelmed by their money problems you might say, “Well, first, let’s sit down and look at your spending habits, then we will look at your income, then we will get you on a budget to help you control your spending and pay down your debt, and then we will see if there is anything that can be done to increase your income”. An Encourager often makes a natural coach or a counsellor.

If you are an Exhorter people are everything to you. You love being around people, and working with people. The idea of working alone feels like it drains the life out of you. But, managing a shop full of employees and customers walking in makes you feel alive.

Encouragers want to help everyone reach the potential God has for them. They want them to be spiritually healthy and serving God with their gifts. They want to see movement and growth. … in the Bible, Barnabas is a perfect example of an encourager. After Paul’s conversion he went to Jerusalem to see the disciples, but they were still afraid of him, who had been hunting them. They thought it was trick. It was Barnabas who helped Paul come into conversation with them. I can imagine that Barnabas encouraged Paul by how he spoke on his behalf- he saw his potential. … Exhorters seem to have the gift for seeing people for who they could become, rather than judging them for who they seem to be at the moment. He saw Paul’s potential, and we are blessed that Barnabas was there to encourage him. He helped change human history.

Exhorters face certain temptations, too. They are usually good communicators and writers and that is usually how they will get themselves into trouble. They might talk too much, maybe even gossip, or they can interrupt people out of a desire to share their good advice. They can sometimes be a bit too quick to give advice, even when it isn’t asked for. That means they can sometimes come across as a bit opinionated and bossy. To correct this they should work to tame their tongue- listen more than they speak, and try not to give advice that isn’t asked for.

We all feel better when encouragers are around. They make us feel like we are better than we think we are. They encourage us to take risks and do things we wouldn’t normally do. They help us make our lives better and more meaningful in real and practical ways. They encourage us to work together, to our full potential, to do something beautiful and practical for God. They energize us to build homeless shelters. They look deeply into a teenager’s eyes and see their potential, and show them practical steps to become who God is calling them to be. They help us get up off the floor, they smile at us, hug us, and help us to walk again. We need Exhorters in our midst. AMEN.


Popular posts from this blog

Fight Club and Buddhism

Healing Prayer- feast of St. Luke

Psalm 23- freedom from anxiety