If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph 4:17-25).
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Php 4:4-9).
There’s a manly stereotype—I don’t know if it’s something too prevalent in your generation, but a lot of my friends grew up with this, and especially people in my parents’ friends. Often, they grew up with dads who never really praised them. And they all remember that one time when they did something really good, and their dad said, “You did really well!” Because they never got it otherwise.
It meant so much to them to finally hear some praise from the person they love and look up to!
I was talking with a friend recently. He and I both are trying to be more encouraging. We’re both kind of cynical (coming out of a lot of bitterness in our pasts), and we’re working really hard to become people who just naturally encourage and compliment other people.
As we were talking, he shared that one thing that psyches him out is his own self-thought. He wants to encourage people, but at the same time, he wants to make sure that his encouragement has a strong impact. And the more he uses it, the less people will cherish it, he thinks.
And he’s right, to a degree. There is a point of diminishing returns, especially if it’s something you are just starting.
If you’ve never been very encouraging, then the first few times you praise a person, it will be very powerful. But as time goes on, it may become “just what you do.” And people start to take it with a grain of salt.
The thing that really got me interested in being more encouraging was hearing my mom talk about one of her aunts. She said, “She always had something nice to say about you.” And I thought: Man, I really want people to say that about me. I want to be that person.
And that, I think, is what my friend had lost sight of. Let’s put this on a scale of one to ten.
If you’ve never been praising someone, the first few times you encourage them, that encouragement will probably rate as an eight to ten: it’s very meaningful, and they cherish it.
Then, as they become more accustomed to it, it diminishes until it’s rare that it crests a five. Your encouragement is familiar and regular, and so it’s not highly prized.
But, as time goes on and speaking life becomes more and more familiar to you—and as people see Jesus through the life you speak to them—it becomes more powerful again. To the point where now it may be a ten to fifteen on a scale of one to ten. People seek you out because your words are just that life-giving.
You will never reach that long-term goal if you lose sight on the short- and medium-term diminishing returns.
And that is what I wanted to share with you this week:
Keep your eyes focused on the goal! You will enter times of diminishing returns, when every step forward seems like one step back, when it takes huge effort just to do anything good.
Don’t lose heart! Don’t psych yourself out by focusing on that time! Remember what is ahead! You won’t get there if you abandon the path.
Obviously this applies to heaven and our daily spiritual walk. But it also applies practically in your pursuits.
Every college student runs into that time, the end of sophomore year through possibly junior year, when you’re not doing what you want to do. You’re burnt out, and you’re trying to finish those gen eds, which are just, ugh, an unnecessary barrier between you and your degree and why can’t you just take the courses you want and graduate?
If you give up during that time, you won’t graduate. You need to push through.
What long-term goals are you working towards?
What medium- or short-term times of struggle will you encounter?
What are you going to say to yourself in those times to keep yourself on the path?