March 27, 2019 by Linda Maynard
I nearly fell for the lie.
At first the impromptu invitation for dinner sounded great! But as the day wore on and my anxieties deepened, the deceptions of my enemy wormed their way into my thoughts. A tough family issue whose solutions were, at best, cloudy weighed heavily upon my heart, leaving me emotionally weak. Moreover, my past struggles with self-esteem had become an easy target for the devil, and he was doing his very best to render me helpless.
“Don’t go,” he whispered. “You won’t be any fun. They probably won’t even miss you. They were just being nice. You’re not really wanted.”
As my foe and I duked it out on the battlefield of my mind, I cried out to God. My Ever-Present Help encouraged me to get to that dinner—even if I had to drag myself. Little did I know He had a gift prepared for me, one that would come through the very friends I was trying to avoid.
Twenty minutes before dinner I was convinced that I would not go. Five minutes later, I found myself driving to my friend’s home, and within the hour I wondered why I ever considered cancelling! My dear Father in Heaven, who grants gifts to His children to build the Body of Christ, blessed me with the gift of exhortation—comfort from my friends.
Exhortation as comfort? The words sound almost diametrically opposed! But as I learned recently, exhortation actually is one of the spiritual gifts God bestows upon some of His children. It manifests as either a “speaking” gift or a “serving” gift. As a speaking gift, God calls the gifted to share His word in such a way as to encourage the whole body. As a serving gift, however, exhortation is more intimate. Christ-followers utilizing this form of exhortation come alongside others to encourage them in the faith.
I really needed encouragement, and my Father answered through my dinner friends. One friend recognized my anxious state immediately. Another gathered us together to pray. And another spoke God’s truth over my situation, granting me hope in the midst of pain. I left that dinner feeling refreshed and renewed. My trust in my Father had been restored, and my peace and joy had returned. While I didn’t necessarily have answers to my situation, I had something far more valuable. I had been given God’s Truth, and His Truth had set me free.
To the world, my friends were just three people. But to me, those three meant the world! And this is my encouragement for you. In the Church today, we can sometimes be misled into thinking that we are not truly using our gifts if we are not reaching great crowds or overseeing impressive ministries. Jesus Himself told the disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That sounds like an extraordinary call! But we also are called to be like Christ, and while He certainly and routinely ministered to great crowds, His majesty shown just as powerfully in His intimate interactions. For instance:
- We know Jesus shared His Sermon on the Mount to a vast crowd, and the crowds were astonished at His teaching (Matthew 5-7). But He also used His personal touch at the bottom of the mountain to render an outcast leper completely clean (Matthew 8:1-4)!
- Jesus spoke truth to many Pharisees throughout His earthly ministry – most times to no avail – but His late-night, face-to-face conversation with Nicodemus changed that Pharisee’s understanding forever (John 3:1-21).
- Scripture records Jesus influencing many guests at several large dinners, but He also made a personal request to dine at the home of Zacchaeus, and the interaction redeemed the once-crooked life of that tiny tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).
So, what am I saying? Are spiritual gifts exercised in extraordinary ways wrong? Absolutely not! Jesus Himself ministered in a multitude of ways to build His Kingdom, and He calls us to do the same! In the remarkable and also in the remote. Both are divine appointments. Be encouraged, friend! Whether you are ministering to just one neighbor or the entire neighborhood, the impact of your call comes from the power of the Spirit. Abide in Him, and He will guide your steps. He holds every Body-building interaction in great esteem, and uses each one to His glory. As the recipient of the intimate ministry of three friends, I am so glad He does!