Acts 19 reflects a near riot situation in Ephesus. There was much confusion. Acts 20: 1 records that after “the uproar had ceased” (NASB), Paul called for the believers in Ephesus and “exhorted them.” It is recorded that he went throughout the area, for a period of 3 months at least, and encouraged those in the faith. Truth is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is the “gift” of encouragement. Whether our role is a friend, coach, mentor, parent, or some other position with another, we can give others encouragement.
That is exactly what Paul did as he traveled throughout the area on his way to Macedonia. The impression I have from reading this account is that Paul was completely unhurried, taking as much time as was needed -- never rushing. Luke, the author of Acts, expresses it this way: "and finally [Paul] arrived in Greece.” He writes this almost as if he was wondering if Paul would ever arrive at his destination. There is the picture for me that Paul, the servant of the Lord, took TIME to meet the needs of others in the ministry of encouragement.
Look around you today! You will encounter persons in your life and their greatest need for today may simply be a word of encouragement. That simple act of taking the time to exhort them could make a world of difference!
In recent days, my path has been “interrupted” with people experiencing life. The illness of loved ones (sometimes more serious than others); the death of a mother; perplexities about “next steps” in ministry decisions; anxiety about problems, pressures, and situations in their lives; whether they should speak out or remain silent on issues within their church, etc. etc. I could have taken the lead and given my counsel – and there were situations when/where I did, or I could LISTEN, encourage them to remain faithful/trust the Lord, and pray with them. Taking the time—being there for them—LISTENING to them—and praying with them seemed to be what they needed most. The ministry of encouragement goes a long way in helping people go forward in obedience to God.
In addition, I have discovered (been reminded) of a couple of other things while doing this “ministry of encouragement.” First, there is a real blessing to the encourager by being faithful in this ministry. When we STOP and listen, it not only encourages the one seeking our counsel, it helps us to realize how God can use us in His ministry. In other words, it serves as an encouragement to ourselves as we experience the faithfulness of God in our sharing.
A second discovery – a real significant reminder - in order to REALLY encourage someone (not superficially); it's critically important to focus and clear out all distractions. My life is FILLED with distractions – smart phone reminders of upcoming appointments; telephone calls and emails that need to be answered/addressed; pressing decisions that need to be made and programs/trainings/sermons that need to be prepared, BUT what is needed most is that I “drop everything” and minister to the need of this one person that is in need of the Lord’s touch at this moment through me. In this passage, I see Paul taking the time to encourage---there were pressing needs in Macedonia, but there was the pressing need of encouragement to burdened souls as he went. As we go, there are people who need us to give them words of encouragement – the precious gift of our time!
How do you handle your opportunities to encourage others? Are there people you know right now who could use some time and attention? Will you pick up the phone? Will you clear from your life the distractions that keep you from being a blessing to others? Will you allow God to use you today in the ministry of encouragement?