2014-09-23 - The Impact of Encouragement
Originally Published 2012-02-08
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
When I was thirteen, Mom wanted me to get involved with the youth group at our new church. I didn't want to at first; I was very shy, and a lot of the other teens were older and seemed so outgoing and confident. Most of them already knew each other. I started attending events, but often felt uncomfortable. After a little while, though, I began getting to know people and enjoyed the activities, like going to concerts and retreats, and doing group Bible studies.
We talked about things that were interesting and relevant to my life, as well as doing fun stuff. I gave God complete control of my life and started really growing spiritually. I began making reading the Bible, prayer, and church activities priorities. I told God I wanted my time on Earth to be about what He wanted me to do, and about showing other people the difference that knowing God can make in a person's life. I joined the church and was baptized.
As I got more involved with church and youth group, God began showing me some talents He wanted me to use, to share Him with other people. One of those talents was writing. I'd been writing short stories and poetry since I was very young. Soon after I began doing things with the youth group, an opportunity came my way to write the "Youth News" column for the church newsletter. I wasn't sure if I would like doing it, but decided to give it a shot. I got so much positive feedback about that first piece, that the choice to keep doing it was an easy one. I wrote a brief piece about what our youth group had been up to every month, throughout high school and up until I left for college.
I received a lot of encouraging feedback about it from people at the church. I felt proud that I could help church members to know more about the youth group, and the kinds of things we were up to. I felt like I was helping us (the teens) stay connected to the larger community we were a part of. Being able to contribute in a tangible way felt really good.
A few months after I started writing "Youth News," I was given a part in a musical our youth group was working on. I didn't think I could sing. To me, my voice was little and squeaky. Apparently, other people disagreed with me, though. Singing that first solo scared me to death, but once again, I received words of encouragement from people at church. They told me my singing really blessed them, and encouraged me to keep doing it. I was asked to sing more solos - and began to do so on a regular basis. I joined the adult choir for a Christmas presentation one year, and was welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm.
Both of these activities made me feel that I could contribute something meaningful to our church. The people at the church didn't seem to care about my age. They seemed excited to have me using my gifts and talents there. They seemed appreciative that I would give my time to write the columns, and to practice songs to share during worship services. They shared words that built me up and helped me grow.
I felt as though I was considered an important part of what went on at the church, not just a kid being humored by kind adults. I felt as though I had a unique place there. This did a lot to help me work through my shyness and self-consciousness in a safe environment. If church members hadn't been so enthusiastic, I doubt that I would have come out of my shell much.
Once I was really comfortable sharing my writing, and singing in the smaller and more familiar church setting, I began doing those things at my high school, as well. One of my English teachers encouraged me to write about how I was growing in my faith. Another teacher invited me to audition for the school talent show. I was asked to participate in other school-sponsored events where I could sing or recite poetry. I felt that my talents gave me opportunities to share, with my peers, the hope I experienced through faith in God. It seemed to me that not very many other people at my school were doing that, so I took the opportunity as a calling to be a "light in the darkness."
I'm so thankful for that supportive church family. The sense of identity and validation of things God wanted me to do came directly from my experiences there. I learned that I am a valuable part of His family, and that there are specific things I can do as part of that family. I know I would be a different person if I hadn't had those opportunities and the loving encouragement of adults who wanted to see me be more and more open to how God was working in my life. They believed in me and in how God wanted to use me, even when (at least to me) my potential was far from obvious.
Dear Lord, Thank You for the people You sent to encourage me and to help me understand some of the things You wanted me to do. Help all of us to be aware of those who need such encouragement, especially younger people or those young in their faith. Help all of us to always use our gifts and talents for Your glory.
All scripture references are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.