Men’s Discipleship Director
Maybe what’s bothering you is not being able to go out and see a friend – to shake a hand, give a hug, and have lunch. Or maybe it’s the fifth Zoom call of the day that takes just a bit more energy than a face-to-face conversation.
Regardless, we all feel it. This just doesn’t feel right. As much as we want to make it work, something is off.
We all know we need connection. We need other people. But what’s especially been revealed (at least in my heart) during this season of “distancing,” is that we don’t just need to be physically present with people, we need to actually be present with people. There’s a difference.
It’s not that we didn’t understand this before. Some of us have always known we need relationships that will take us deeper than the “Hey, how are you?” questions. But our situation is revealing the longings of our hearts even more.
Why do we need real connection?
1. We are prone to unbelief
First, we need others because our sin nature hardens our hearts naturally, pulling us away from God.
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Sin is deceitful. We are drawn inward to think about ourselves, what we most want, and what will serve us. The natural disposition of our sin nature is inward.
Because of this disposition, the writer of Hebrews instructs the people of God to pay attention to one another, exhorting one another every day.
So, we can’t just assume all is well. This is always true, but especially in this season of fears, doubts, anxieties, and increased conflicts. There is an enemy prowling around us, seeking to devour us (I Peter 5:8). We need others for encouragement – we simply cannot make it alone.
2. We are prone to lose hope
Second, we forget the hope we have in Jesus.
In the midst of trials, the writer of Hebrews tells the church to hold unswervingly to the hope they profess.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” This hope is that we can draw near to God with full assurance of faith because we’ve been forgiven by the blood of Jesus (v. 19-22).
We don’t remember how much we’ve been forgiven. We are all prone to forget the gospel of grace – especially when we see our own hearts.
In Psalm 103, David writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What are these benefits?
“He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-13)
As we speak gospel truths, our hearts soften. But we do forget, and we do lose hope. So, what is the call to action? We see it back in Hebrews 3:24-25:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Two principles are clear from these passages: There must be high frequency in connection, and there must be intentional encouragement in that connection.
How Can We Connect and Encourage Well?
We feel the need to connect frequently. But how we connect now is going to make all the difference.
We can tend to shy away from depth, especially over a video conferencing platform. However, to encourage our brothers and sisters, we must press in to get below the surface, to truly be present with people.
In this season, here are a few ways we can encourage one another well:
1. Listen well to others
In order to understand what is really going on with someone, listening is the first step (James 1:19). We pay attention to the person, to his or her body language, voice inflections – we simply notice them. We seek to understand.
2. Ask Questions
Often in conversation we ask predetermined questions that we think the person needs to be asked because we think we know what he or she needs to hear. However, in these times it could be that we are sharing more of what we need to hear than what they need to hear.
Remember this: Good listening will lead to good questions.
Pay attention. Get in their shoes. What are they experiencing? Imagine yourself as them experiencing the same circumstances. Then, pray for the Spirit’s help, and ask a relevant question.
To help get beneath the surface, ask the second question.
Don’t just stop with, “How are you doing?” Go further and ask the second question: How are you really doing?
It could look something like this:
What emotions are you experiencing relating to what you just shared?
What thoughts have you had recently that have been surprising to you?
What behaviors have you seen in yourself that point you back to the need for a Savior?
What do you really hope God does in this situation, and what does that say about what you long for?
What does repentance look like in this situation?
3. Remind them of the Hope in Jesus
When we listen well and ask questions, this allows us to encourage and speak the hope of the gospel to a particular need.
This opens the door for questions like, “What about Christ’s work for you on the cross is most significant to you right now?”
And this allows you to ask permission: “May I share something with you that might encourage you?”
It’s then that you can share aspects of God’s Word that apply to their particular circumstance. You’ve listened well and heard their heart. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us the right words to speak in the moment. Now it’s time to encourage them with the gospel.
And as we’ve connected with a real need, we can encourage them well. We don’t apply the Scriptures in a wooden way, but in a way that connects to every detail of their life.
This balance of truth and love is the body of Christ at work. The person will feel the love of Jesus and hear the truth of the gospel in a way that motivates change.
Much is being brought to the surface now. Let’s not neglect this unique opportunity to truly be present with people.