April 30, 2021
7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong– not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority– the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:7-10 NIV)
I love building towers out of blocks. I looked forward to doing this with grandkids when they were much younger. Getting them involved in the building process was challenging and extremely rewarding when they got the idea. One thing they did not have to be taught. They instinctively knew how to knock the tower down. When they really got the idea of building, the block wrongly placed causing the tower to fall would create momentary disappointment. The momentary joy of achieving a new height quickly disappeared, swallowed up in greater joy when the time came to knock the tower down. Block towers are not permanent. They are built to be torn down.
Unfortunately, some people find even greater joy in tearing down other people. Just like knocking down a tower takes little effort and only a moment, a sarcastic comment can have the same impact on a person. Tearing down requires little time or effort, while building up demands careful thought, persistence over time, and intentional effort.
Who is this person I would like to build up? Who has God created them to be and what gifts have they been given, regardless of whether they are using them? Where is this person right now? This might be a geographic question, but more likely is a question of emotional and spiritual location. Who would this person like to become? The answer to this question can be challenging if the person’s desire is to become someone who would be honoring God with their life. Where would this person like to be: physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
The final question is the most important one. How could God use me to help them get where He wants them to be? The answers to these questions can bring great joy when the person’s desires align with God’s desires. More often, just as our desires often do not align with God’s desires, the person’s desires may not align with God’s. This is when the real work begins.
Persistence over time
The only thing more exciting than knocking down a tower of blocks is swinging a sledgehammer to take out a wall to start a remodel. I do not know why it is so satisfying, but it is. Completing the remodel will take much more effort over a much longer period. The same is true when working to build someone up. Being built up requires radical change and that takes time. I am assuming here that the desires of the one we are trying to build up are out of alignment with God’s desire for them. A rousing motivational speech to get the process started might help someone to take the first step, but continual encouragement will be needed to keep the process going.
A recent message I watched, by Kyle Idleman, encouraged people who are hurting to call for help. I think his recommended response for those called to help is appropriate here. The first thing he encouraged helpers to do was to pray. Anyone who has engaged in helping someone with a significant struggle knows that this is not a one-time thing. Persistent prayer is required over months and even years. Prayer is relatively easy compared to the next recommendation. Presence is required. Ideally, this is physical presence because physical touch often communicates more than words can.
The last recommendation is ridiculously hard for many of us. I want to speak words that will fix the problem. I want to tell someone what to do. It is obvious to me. Most often, this does not help. What we know and can share with complete confidence is our personal testimony. Especially if we have been through a similar struggle. Sharing how God came alongside us and helped us through that struggle is the most valuable thing we can share. Persistence is demonstrating willingness to stay connected in all these ways regardless of the level of progress that we see.
Spontaneous encouragement is a good thing. We should complement people and give them a pat on the back every opportunity we get. Real change requires intentionality. We need a clear goal and a strong commitment to reach that goal. If the goal is not clear, we may need an even stronger commitment to a process that will work out over time.
Every year at my Medicare physical I am asked if I have fallen during the past year. For several years, the answer has been yes, and some of the falls have caused significant injury. I do not want to fall. I can do my best to avoid situations where I might fall, but I also need to work on improving my balance. This requires exercise. I hate exercise. I take time to exercise almost every day, but it would not happen at all if I only did it when I felt like it, or just after a fall. I exercise because I have a commitment to improving my balance and decreasing my chances of falling in the future. That is intentionality.
Where could God use you to build someone up? What commitments do you need to make that happen?