By Alex Florez
I tend to receive encouragement through the thick lens of cynicism. If someone is trying to nudge me along with a “You can do it!” speech, I must confess that I (metaphorically) roll my eyes a full 360 degrees in their sockets. Or, if someone tries to comfort me in the midst of hard times, there’s a voice in my head that says, “They don’t get it! How can they tell me everything will be alright when they have no clue?” When someone begs or implores me to do something—forget it! Surely, they have some unspoken, selfish motives, or worse: they’re trying to control me. As someone who has made an idol in my heart of being the master of my own devices, I don’t take kindly to being manipulated.
I’m not proud of my natural cynicism, my skepticism of people, or my impulse to be in control—though I have encountered my share of ostensibly trustworthy people, who have turned out to be not so safe in the end: people who have spoken in error and were just wrong or mistaken; people who have tried flattery as a means to get something out of me; and people whose motives were eventually revealed to be pretty greedy. I’m sad to say these experiences have hardened my heart, even toward people who have earnestly sought to support, assuage, and motivate me.
These are precisely the terms Paul uses to reassure his friends in Thessalonica about his own agenda for sharing the gospel. He asks his brothers and sisters in the faith to consider the facts of his ministry and service, his time spent with them in person, when each of them was “encouraged, comforted, and implored… to walk worthy of God, who calls [us] into his own kingdom and glory” (1Thessalonians 2:12).
As followers of Jesus whose hearts are trained on the goal of walking with the King, we need people around us to encourage, comfort, and implore us toward that end. And, with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we can discern the hearts of those who come alongside us. “For each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44), which means we will know who our genuine friends are by simply paying attention. We can put our cynicism aside and let God be in control over our lives and our hearts. Our true companions in the effort to grow closer to Jesus will reveal themselves soon enough.
When we trust God and allow people to speak into our lives from a place of earnest gentleness and care, we find ourselves in a much stronger position to actually walk with the Lord. And we discover that we don’t have to do it alone.