Every school year I give my students an opportunity to give me a bit of advice. This week, I assigned my “last word” project asking the students to tell me some things I might do better to help them succeed in Spanish, and to mention some things they enjoy about my class. I have about 150 students. Yesterday, I read their words of advice. About 148 of the notes were full of appreciative nods for a good class with only the occasional mention of too much work. Some made my eyes fill with tears as students thanked me for “caring” and told stories of how I brighten their days. Others made me laugh out loud at their “take” on the way I do things. But then, there were the other two. These two notes included criticisms and harsh suggestions. I took each of these two notes to heart and began to think about things I could work to change. Last night and this morning I continued to think about those two letters. I want to provide the best learning environment for all students, so I have been strategizing how to do that. This afternoon, it occurred to me that I have given little thought to the 148 notes which were accounts of great learning experiences. I had spent an enormous amount of time considering the other two.
Life lesson: Be encouraged!
It can be the same in ministry. No matter how powerful the message and ministry is, even if hundreds of people testifying as to God’s faithfulness to give them a great word in due season…if a couple of people are angry or condemning the encouragement can be overcome. It is difficult to focus on the good testimonies, and not be drawn to consider and reconsider the negative, wondering what could have been done differently. While it is great to be open to being sharpened by a friend, it is very hard to be condemned or criticized by a protagonist or an enemy. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called TODAY, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Twice the scripture mentions the idea of TODAY. The time to encourage is NOW!
A great way to guard against the enemy is to work to encourage others, and refrain from condemning or criticizing. A critical spirit can be destructive like a fire out of control. Encouraging others is a personal safe-guard to protect from being hardened or blinded to the truth. We should strive to build others up every single DAY. Of course sometimes constructive criticism is helpful to produce change (that is why I ask for the students’ advice) but, if you have a person in your life that is critical or condemning, it can be a tool of the enemy to sway your mind toward deceit or blindness to the truth. The enemy wants us to believe the lies he tells. You are not good enough, you can’t do this, you will never accomplish God’s will, why don’t you just give up? One of his favorite tools is discouragement from the mouths of others.
Consider the scripture found in I Thessalonians 5:11-13, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, we ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” Such power exists in encouragement! Accept encouragement from others, focus on the good gifts from others. Remember it is essential to take time each day to encourage those who work with us, serve with us, and minister to us. Don’t skimp on praise, skimp on criticism. If you define yourself as a “critical person” ask God to give you a new identity. Memorize Hebrews 3:13. Understand, your words are powerful and choose wisely. Our loving Father, wants us to be tools of encouragement so that we don’t “quench the spirit” (I Thes. 5:19.) Perhaps right now you need to call or message someone to encourage them. Think about it. After I send a few of my own emails, I am off to reread some letters...well at least 148 of them!