Do you appreciate encouragement? Isn’t it nice to hear words of thanks and know you have made a difference in someone’s life? Does positive feedback give you an added boost of energy to continue in the task at hand? Are those silly questions? Of course they are, because appreciation and encouragement are universally positive. Gratefulness and encouragement are both common themes in the Bible, and should be significant qualities in the life of a Christian.
In his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul frequently urges his readers to encourage one another, and in Hebrews 3 he even adds “daily” to his instruction to encourage other believers. The church would benefit greatly from more gratefulness and encouragement. I know I can do more to encourage others, such as writing letters to thank those who have helped shape my faith and my walk with Christ.
Recently, I was blessed to receive such encouragement. It came in the form of a message from a younger woman who had been a faithful member of a Bible study group I help lead. Now on the women’s Bible study leadership team in a church plant, she is unable to attend our weekly Bible study. She thanked me and wanted me to know that, “Your investment in my heart is now being poured into a new group of young mothers.” Wow! I was (and still am) so excited to see discipleship in action, exactly as the church is supposed to function! How thrilling to see God at work through this godly younger woman. How delightful to be part of that work. It makes me want to roll up my sleeves, study my heart out, and go explore God’s Word with these faithful women. What a recharge! Who knows what may come of it?
Then another thought followed. What if NOTHING came of it? What if there were no grateful updates, no new leaders launched, no visible results? Would I be so excited to study God’s Word, prepare lessons, be at the church every Wednesday morning? Could I see myself doing the same thing year after year without encouragement until God redirected me? Could I approach each study session with equal enthusiasm? Or would I eventually suffer discouragement and burnout? And maybe even drop out? Such a thought is sobering, because I know how easy it is for me to become discouraged over slow growth or no growth in people I am pouring into.
So what’s the answer? Focus. The object of my eyes determines the state of my heart, regardless of circumstances. If I am focused on results, I have set myself up to be discouraged. Serving the god of results is a sure path to burnout. But if I am not focused on results, what is to be my motivation? Who is crazy enough to work hard for no visible results? I’ll tell you who. It is those who know the living God as Father. It is those who serve Him simply for the joy of obedience to Him. There can be no higher motivation than to return the love of our gracious, merciful, loving, heavenly Father by obeying His commands.
Obedience is an overarching Biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation. In the New International Version, “obey” is used 143 times, and “obedience” 34 times. That doesn’t include all the biblical synonyms for obedience such as do, walk, follow, heed, keep, fulfill, or observe! That’s a lot of obedience! Scripture shows us obedience comes with blessing (James 1:25; Luke 11:28; John 14:23) and disobedience comes with cursing (Deut. 11:26, and the entire Jewish history found in Kings and Chronicles). But the threat of dire consequences does not bring about heartfelt obedience. No, it is love that moves a heart to obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 ). Even Jesus said His obedience showed the world that He loved the Father (John 14:31). A heart moved by gratitude and love finds joy in obeying the object of its affection.
In 2 Chronicles 29 and 30, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, the Jewish kingdom of Judah finds great joy in heartfelt obedience to God. Immediately upon taking the throne, twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah led the nation to return to faithful obedience to the Lord their God after years of apostasy. He opened the long-shut temple doors, and repaired them. He gathered the priests and the Levites and instructed them to first consecrate themselves, and then to set to work purifying the temple. In just sixteen days, the work was completed. Early the next morning, Hezekiah gathered the city officials and went up to the temple to offer sacrifices to God according to the Law of Moses. As offerings were being made, cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets, and voices filled the air with praise to the Lord God. The king and his officials, the priests, the Levites, and everyone present knelt before the Lord in worship. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people, because it was done so quickly (2 Chron. 29:36). Then Hezekiah issued an invitation to all of Judah and Israel to come to the temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover as the Lord had commanded. Scripture tells us a very large number of people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. All the preparation, sacrifices, and travel to Jerusalem had been a lot of work and expense. But after the prescribed seven days of offerings, celebration, and praise to God, the people weren’t ready to stop. So they decided to celebrate for seven more days! Obedience had brought long-lost joy to Judah and to those who had come from Israel. “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30: 26-27). God’s people found great joy in simple obedience. Not in promises of what the results might be, but in faithful execution of the Lord’s commands. Their obedience was its own encouragement.
I want to obey and serve my Lord just for the joy that comes from obedience. Christ has set me free to obey. He set me free from the bondage of sin to be able to say, “Yes, Lord” to whatever He asks. Just to live in obedience is it’s own joyful reward, to be pleasing to God, simply available for Him to use me, whether to bring results in the lives of others, or only in my own life. It would be an added bonus to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In our feedback-centric culture, I need to remember that “well-done” does not imply “highly productive” or “well-received.” It just means I did exactly what my Father asked with a happy heart and left the results up to Him.
Yes, I do appreciate the gratefulness and update from my Bible study friend. It IS a recharge to be able to see the results of service to the Lord. But I pray, in the presence of gratitude and encouragement, no matter how much or how little, that my motivation, my hope, my joy, will never be transferred from obedience to results.