I woke up the other morning feeling anxious. It seems to hit me in the mornings. I did some exercises I do every day, and that usually knock the anxiety out of me.
But then two far more powerful things happened. I opened my Bible for my regular Scripture reading, and I wound up in Hebrews 10. I got down to verse 23, to this phrase: “For he who promised is faithful.” To say it jumped out at me would be an understatement. It was as if God himself was yelling it in my ear.
I’ll return to that story in several weeks, for it involves something else that’s still unfolding.
But that wasn’t all that happened.
The next thing was I opened my email to find two incredibly encouraging messages, and then I found a third on Facebook. By the end of it, I was nearly in tears.
Three powerful words of massive encouragement and honour from people who don’t know each other and live in different parts of the world picked me up from whatever valley I was still in after my push ups and Bible reading, and knocked me right up onto the mountain top.
The life of God enters us in different ways. All of it, of course, comes by his Spirit. The Spirit can touch us mightily in worship, or as we read the Word or hear it preached. Or he gives us life through answered prayer, as we see God rescuing us from some hard place we were in.
But the Holy Spirit loves to bring his resurrection power to our dead spirits and to breathe new life into our weariness through the particular means of encouragement.
And this should be no surprise. He is, after all, the Encourager, the parakletos. When Jesus identified the Holy Spirit this way, he was drawing on the Old Testament tradition of the advocate, one who defends God’s people and asks God’s help for them. That’s why Paul identifies the Spirit as the one who intercedes for us with groans too deep to utter.
The main function of prophecy in the New Testament sense was exactly this: to encourage. And whatever you think of the ongoing role of prophecy, Revelation 19 identifies us today as a prophetic people, for the testimony of Jesus (which we all still hold) is the spirit of prophecy.
Prophecy is not some deluded lunatic trying to add verses to the Bible, or some religious charismaniac pretending to be a personal pipeline from God. Prophecy is simply this: God using us to encourage each other.
The Holy Spirit, the great Encourager, allows his power of encouragement to flow through us toward one another. God’s people were intended to encourage, strengthen, upbuild and console each other.
Not only that, but by the Spirit, they were to find encouragement from the Scriptures, and encouragement directly from the Father and the Son. All that is in the New Testament too.
Those words of encouragement the other day did more than lift my spirit or give me a quick nice feeling. Through them, the Holy Spirit rode his way right into my spirit, the deepest part of who I am.
And there he did what he and he alone can do: he breathed life into my dead bones. Ezekiel 37 isn’t a weird picture the prophet had after eating one too many spiced falafels before he went to bed. It’s a prophetic picture of the Holy Spirit coming to you and to me in our death and bringing us life.
Never ever underestimate the power of encouragement you hold within you. I don’t imagine any of the guys who wrote to me the other day fully appreciated the impact their words would have.
You too can speak words of life into discouragement and death.
If someone has encouraged you, why not see how the Holy Spirit can use you to pass his life along?
And in the meantime, be encouraged. He is with you.
And in the end, that’s all you really need to know.