A Lesson in Encouragement

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I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

(Ephesians 1:15-19)

There was a time in my life – after coming to know the Lord a little bit, but before joining seminary – when I was living something of a double life. With one group of friends I was fully invested in growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ, and with another friend or two I was compromising my dignity as a son of God. I was aware of the contradiction, but had no real desire to stop either way of life, so I let it continue. Then one day I received a letter out of the blue from a friend. This friend thanked me for being such a good man of God, the kind of man who pursues virtue and lives with integrity. A day or two later I was out to eat with some friends and one of them said something similar to, ‘That’s what I like about Bryan – you just know he’s going to strive for holiness.’ Following these two encounters, I was convicted to stop living the double life and do all I could to live only for Jesus Christ and his glory. These people, without even really being aware of it, were calling me on to greater holiness by their words of affirmation and encouragement.

St. Paul does two things in this passage: he encourages the Ephesians and he tells the them of his regular prayers for them (and it’s safe to say he actually does pray for them). Through his words of encouragement he is calling the Ephesians on to greater holiness, and through his prayers he is trusting that God will aid them in the pursuit of holiness. Not only this, but he also reminds them of the greatness of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, mentioning the glorious inheritance of the saints and the immeasurable greatness of his power in those who believe, as if to say, “Don’t lose sight of this, especially when the world wants you to think otherwise.” His words transformed the lives of the Ephesians and still transform the lives of disciples to this day. Our words, too, are meant to transform the lives of those around us!

In your prayer, ask the Lord who he wants you to encourage and pray for. Often times we want to have great and powerful messages for random strangers on the street, and we expect these great and powerful messages to transform the most hardened of hearts. Most often, though, simple words of encouragement to those most familiar to us are the most powerful and transformative words we can speak, because those closest to us will know of our sincerity and genuine good will towards them. St. Paul typically would form a relationship with a community before calling them to believe in the Gospel, and this is no exception. We ought to see our relationships with people as the greatest possible occasions of bringing about the glory of God. So many disciples slip through the proverbial cracks in the Christian life because no one has encouraged them to keep their eyes on the prize. If the Lord puts someone on your heart, he’s probably asking you to reach out to that person and encourage him or her, and so build up the community of believers. At some point we all need to be reminded of the glorious inheritance of the saints.

The Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

There is something hidden in this passage that the modern day reader doesn’t grasp at first glance, or perhaps even at second or third glances. Of course, there is the obvious mission given from Jesus to the disciples to go out and make more disciples, but that is right there in the text. No, this hidden message requires the reader to place this passage within the entire context of the Gospel.

The passage is comprised of the final five verses of the Gospel of Matthew. After it, there is nothing more written by this Gospel author. Before it, though, is where the hidden message is revealed: Before this passage, Jesus is dead. This isn’t a figurative death, no. Before this passage, the disciples watched as their leader was arrested, scourged, mocked, forced to carry his own cross to his place of death, crucified, and lifted up for the all the world to see his final breath. Finally, his dead body was placed in a tomb and a huge stone was placed in front of the entrance so no one could get in or out.

We can try to imagine what was going through the minds and hearts of the disciples when they saw their King for the first time after his resurrection, but one thing is certain: they finally understood everything. They witnessed their King give everything for their sake, and now he was asking them to go and tell people about it. The hidden message from Jesus is this: Your King has given everything for your sake; now you must give everything for the sake of his Kingdom. This radical new way of life they were to proclaim to the nations was sure to lead to further persecution, mockery, beatings, and martyrdom. They were to imitate Jesus in giving everything they had so that more people might come to know the Good News.

The hidden message in this passage wasn’t meant only for those eleven disciples. It was meant for all disciples of Jesus Christ, even those of us who live in the world 2000 years later. We, too, are meant to give everything for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, too, are meant to pour ourselves out just as Jesus poured himself out on the cross. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). St. Paul was a martyr for Jesus Christ. He gave everything for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps we won’t be killed for our faith, but our lives ought to be filled with little “deaths” sprinkled throughout the day. Above all, it means keeping a mentality which seeks to give myself to others rather than to take things for myself, and to do this as a way to love as Jesus loved. Many probably know what this looks like – staying up late with the sick child, patiently working through miscommunications with the spouse, waking up earlier so everyone in the house has time to get themselves for school, work, etc., acknowledging a wrong and seeking forgiveness when pride would rather stick to stubbornness, missing the big game on TV for the sake of spending time with friends or going to Mass, the list can go on and on.

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.”

Giving everything is hard and tiring. It can be easy to throw in the proverbial towel and give up on the fight. After all, a person can only give so much. Well, fortunately for us, Jesus also gives us a great blueprint for sustaining a life of self-sacrifice: check out the first part of Matthew 14:23 (the quote above). Jesus knew that prayer would help sustain his life of self-sacrifice. St. Paul knew the same thing. Countless other saints – all of the saints, in fact – knew the same thing and would often spend significant amounts of time in prayer. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” St. John Paul II had a great line:

“If the path becomes difficult at times and you are overcome by fatigue, rest in the shade of prayer.”

Make disciples. Give everything. Imitate the saints. Rest in the shade of prayer.

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