I haven’t written much here lately. Partly, that’s because (in real life) I’m a very introverted person, and I’m currently directing a play (the Broadway musical “Annie,” opening December 2), which uses up most of my people-interaction quota every week. Partly, it’s because my job situation has been pretty uncertain, and between getting work done for the start-up publishing company (where paychecks are inconsistent) and looking for a job (to find consistent paychecks), I haven’t had a lot of time for writing. What time I have had for writing has been taken up by the book I’ve been hoping to have out by Christmas, which is looking more and more unlikely. And then there’s the fact that everything I’ve been wanting to write here has been basically the same: what God has been teaching me.

While I know that the lessons He teaches me aren’t necessarily (or ever) for my sole benefit, they aren’t always useful for others. And since I keep having to relearn the same lesson, I think it might get boring for readers having to reread the same message. I know I sure get bored learning it over and over—you’d think I would stop making the same mistakes!

So what have I been learning? Well, there have been many, many lessons on perseverence, which, in case you didn’t know, is only developed in trials. As a godly friend said to me, “It’s never real unless there are tears.” Yes, I have cried quite a bit over the last year. There have also been an awful lot of lessons on… wait for it… patience. You know, when you’re looking at the bank account and wondering when that promised paycheck is going to arrive, it’s not all that comforting to read 2 Peter’s “we know that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Okay, that’s referring to His patience in waiting for sinners to repent, but context isn’t comforting at those times, either.

Another thing I’ve learned: one of the downsides of having faith is that sometimes I really want to doubt. You can’t imagine (or maybe you can, if you’ve experienced this) how annoying it is sometimes to have practically no idea how things can possibly work out, and yet still be confident that they will. Can you believe that I’ve actually wanted to worry? Sure, there have been plenty of times when I have worried, but there have been quite a few when I’ve found myself unable to.

Today, though, was a different story. Although I struggled to get out of bed, I went to my Diehards Bible study at 5 a.m.—there were only three of us today; we must be the Die-really-hards. During the study, I referenced Matthew chapter 6, where Jesus is telling us not to worry. The anti-worry message wasn’t my point, but I still read it. Then, immediately after the study, I got into my car to head home. On the way home, what did I do, but start worrying—and about food and clothes, the very things Jesus mentions!

Now, what’s been really amusing over the last few months is how God has encouraged me every day. He uses little things: a song lyric stuck in my head at the opportune moment, a prophetic word from a friend, a smile from my wife, a dog barking. Today, He used a potato.

I must admit, our larder is pretty bare these days. We’ve learned to survive and be content with very little, so very little is what we have. I mean, after the three-week fructose fast last month (we were actually sabotaged halway through the third week), I now get a ridiculous amount of joy by simply eating a tomato. But today, I was craving something starchy to go with eggs, and all our bread had decked itself out for Christmas yesterday (though green and white mold isn’t actually all that festive). So I was actually getting depressed about breakfast. But God turned on the light in my head, and I suddenly remembered the potatoes in the pantry. Fried potatoes and eggs, oh joy! Like I said, little things.

Then I got a one-sentence email from a friend who is one of my actors, saying that last night’s rehearsal was good and thanking me for the hard work on the show. It’s incredible how much that one sentence meant to me. It seems my friend is following God’s pattern. The little things mean a lot.

 

And that brings me to the point I really wanted to make today.

What is encouragement? We often use it to mean helping someone to feel better or cheer up. But that isn’t what it means at all. Encourage uses the same prefix morpheme as embolden, enshrine, or enamor. The morpheme en- or em- means to put into, to cause to be, or to provide with. You could even say to inspire. Thus, encouragement is the act of inspiring courage.

So when I say that God has encouraged me, I don’t mean that I was sad and He made me happy. I mean that I was losing the battle, and He gave me courage to keep fighting.

We all fight battles every day. They might be physical, emotional, or spiritual. They might be at home, at work, at school, or in our minds. We battle against our sinful nature, spiritual forces of evil (believe me, there is a real devil), and the corruption of the world. And, though other people are not truly our enemies, it can certainly seem like we battle against them too.

So let me encourage you today. Whatever battle you are fighting, you CAN win. Keep in mind, though, that you will need reinforcements; that’s why God gives us His Holy Spirit and the people around us.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9