God entrusts us with one another. We are all in the process of being transformed into Christ’s likeness, and God asks us to love and nurture one another along the way so that we can become all that He plans for us to be. Sometimes the opposite happens. Even with good intentions, our expectations, words and actions may discourage, side-track or wound someone. Sadly, we don’t even realize that we have used our opportunity to encourage, empower and build up, to delay, limit or put up more obstacles for the person we have tried to help. Here are some common things that we may unwittingly do to those who we are entrusted to love and encourage:
1. Not trusting that God will help people learn from their mistakes.
We all make mistakes, and with God’s grace, we will learn from them. Even King David acknowledged his mistakes; “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71) Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christ has paid the penalty. We should give people fresh starts. His mercies are new every morning (see Lamentations 3:22-23).
Once acknowledged, we should be free to move past our mistakes. Proverbs 24:16 says that even the righteous fall; “The righteous may fall seven times but still get up, but the wicked will stumble into trouble.”
Psalm 37:23-24 confirms that God is there with us when this happens; “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” We are His hands and should help one another up, not revisit their fall.
2. Seeing people as they are today, and not expecting God to do great things with and for them. It is important to ask the Lord to help us see people’s potential, as He does. Ephesians 2:10 says that He has great expectations of us; “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
We can be pessimistic, especially toward one another’s potential. Paul was not.
There are no limits to what God can do with each of us. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us about God’s capacity to work outside of our earthly expectations; “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” We can be pessimistic, especially toward one another’s potential. Paul was not. He said to the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 5:13
3. Superimposing your or another person’s disappointments, mistakes and failures on people. We are all created uniquely, and God has good plans for all of us (see Jeremiah 29:11). We respond differently to obstacles. What may crush one person may build strength in another. What resulted in one person’s sin may have resulted in another person choosing righteousness. Something that was a bad choice for one person may be God’s will for another!
Isaiah 43:18 tells us not to focus on the past, at all; “So don’t remember what happened in earlier times. Don’t think about what happened a long time ago.” Making such comparisons can create a very long list of things that a person should not do.
You may be advising or limiting another person according to your own fear or hurt. God’s perfect love casts out fear, according to I John 4:18; “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” We must allow other people to move forward, regardless of our personal prejudices about something that God may be calling on them to do.
Our words can tremendously influence those around us for good, or bad.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Our words can tremendously influence those around us for good, or bad; “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”–(Proverbs 18:21) We must speak life over those around us, especially when they are at crossroads and need our prayers and encouragement.
5. Praying your will and expectations for people instead of what they desire. God has given us the freedom to choose. In fact, He is blessed when we choose to listen to Him in relationship to Him. Sometimes we err by not trusting what they believe that God is saying to them. God is not always going to tell you what His plans are for another person. We sometimes discourage one another because we think they are hearing God wrong. Prophecy would not be necessary if only probable things were revealed.
There are situations where, years later, parents regret counseling their children away from what their children believed God was telling them. Romans 12:6-8 tells us that;
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
We must trust God to do His good work in people. Isaiah 41:9 says “I brought you from the ends of the earth and called you from its farthest corners. I said to you: You are My servant; I have chosen you and not rejected you.” Many heroes of the faith moved forward on faith, not reason. Hebrews 11 begins recounting many of them; “Now faith is confidence in what we hope fori and assurance about what we do not see.” God may see something that we do not.
Sometimes we don’t want to see people fall or fail. We think we are helping them by trying to control what they choose. The answer is to pray for them, not hold them back. Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Again, we must not let our pessimism steal from other people’s destinies.
6. Having too-high expectations of people. Sometimes we expect people to prove themselves before giving them opportunities to learn and grow from experience. Or sometimes the “trial” period can be so long that the people grow weary and discouraged. We can place unrealistic expectations on others. I Peter 5:3 tells elders not to “lord…it over those allotted to (their) charge, but prove…to be examples to the flock.” Here, Peter is acknowledging that example should teach, model and encourage, that perfection is not expected.
Clearly, putting too much on people can do harm. These wounds can prevent people from fulfilling their calls.
In Ephesians 6:4, Paul warns, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21 makes a similar statement, saying “or they will become discouraged.” Clearly, putting too much on people can do harm. These wounds can prevent people from fulfilling their calls.
Instead of “lording it” over people around us, instead of exasperating people with high expectations, we should influence them with love. We ought to nurture with the fruit of the Spirit; “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” –Colossians 3:12
Romans 15:5-7 is a passage that addresses how we should respond to those who are weaker than us;
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
James 2:13 says, “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” We should honor one another by encouraging them to move ahead and soar. It is important that we build up one another in their gifts because we need each other. Ephesians 1:4 expects that, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” We must seek to see each other through His eyes.