For most of us, Advent is not a season of peace. It’s an extraordinarily busy, often stressful season. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
The first Advent was certainly anything but peaceful. It began with a contemplation of divorce, was accompanied by numerous confusing, unplanned detours, and was consummated in a stable of desperation. The Prince of peace brought a lot of turmoil with him when he came. And I think this implies that, in God’s judgment, what we may need at Christmas is not less turmoil, but more trust.
The Beautiful Busy-ness of Love
It really is a beautiful thing that the season of Advent is a season of giving. And as Jesus demonstrated by his life and his death, true giving, the kind of giving born of love, is costly. It makes life more complicated and messy and busy. But that’s okay, for there is a profound blessing in the busy-ness of love: “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And God loves a cheerful giver and promises to make all grace abound to us when we cheerfully give grace to others (2 Corinthians 9:7–8).
What to Give This Christmas
That’s what we want especially to give to others this Christmas: grace. And one particular grace to focus on in our Christmas giving this year is encouragement. What if we seek not to merely ask what our loved one or neighbor would like, but what would most encourage him or her?
Courage is our resolve to face a fearful threat. And courage comes from hope — a hope in something stronger than what we fear. Discouragement sets in when our hope is leaking out. It’s a surrender to our fears. When discouragement happens, and it happens often, what we need is an infusion of hope. That’s what encouragement is — a hope-infusion that helps us keep fighting the fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). To give another the gift of encouragement is extending to them a kindness that seeks to point them to the God of hope (Romans 15:13).
Giving This Gift Is Not Easy
But giving the gift of encouragement is not easy. It will likely add to our seasonal stress because it is spiritual warfare. If we’re going to encourage anyone else, we have to fight Satan and our own sin to do it.
The devil is constantly trying to discourage us. He’s the “the accuser of [the] brothers . . . who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10). And his minions are frequently throwing “flaming darts” of condemnation and jealousy and resentment at us (Ephesians 6:16). Resist them (1 Peter 5:9)!
And our sin nature often wants to discourage others. It desires self-exaltation more than anything. So it relishes focusing on others’ weaknesses, foibles, mistakes, and sins out of arrogance or envy. Pride is why so much of what we think or say or interpret or hear about others is negative and uncharitably critical.
If we’re going to encourage anyone else, we have to fight Satan and our own sin to do it.
But the “God of . . . encouragement” (Romans 15:5) has given us the weapon that is designed to defeat these enemies: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The Bible was “written for our instruction, that . . . through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). And when we have hope, we have courage, and we’re able to give the grace of encouragement to others who need it.
So encouraging people soak in and store up God’s word (Psalm 119:11) and by doing so are better able to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). And when they talk they seek to speak only what “is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Be a Generous Encouragement Giver!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give the grace of encouragement to everyone who hears from us this Advent season? No, we won’t do it perfectly. But if we make this form of love our aim (1 Timothy 1:5), it’s possible that we could give out twice or three times as much encouragement as we otherwise would. Why not try?
God loves encouragement, generosity, and cheerful giving. So let’s be generous, cheerful givers of encouragement this Advent, even if it means the additional busy-ness of love. Let’s be on the hunt for those who need hope-infusions. And let’s ask the Father for Spirit-empowered discernment and Scripture recall so that we leave whomever we interact with this season more encouraged than we found them.