Acts 14:22 – strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
I have been the Minister of Discipleship at Southside UMC since 1999. During that time I have discovered that as each year goes by, I learn new things about ministry and more and more of what’s really important versus what’s merely urgent. (They are not usually the same things.). But there are some constants that keep me grounded and focused. These “constants” are the heart and soul of what I pray my ministry is all about.
Today’s scripture emphasizes another area of my ministry that I also regard as its heart and soul. Acts 14:22 says that after Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel and won a large number to Christ, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to “strengthen the disciples and to encourage them to remain true to the faith.” Why? Because “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that the path of discipleship is narrow and hard. It is not for the weak-of-heart, nor for the half-hearted. There are obstacles around every turn, as Christian discovered in Pilgrim’s Progress. And we know this much is true: many who begin do not make it to the end.
That is why a ministry of “strengthening and encouraging” is so vital. We need to be constantly built up in our faith and reminded of the joy set before us that makes all of the trials and tribulations worth our effort.
I count it as a singular blessing and privilege to be able to minister to fellow travelers as we walk this pilgrim’s path together. To be allowed to help strengthen and encourage followers of Christ to persevere on their journey is a calling for which I thank God with all of my heart.
But you don’t have to be ordained clergy to serve others in this way. Every Christian is called to come along side his or her brother or sister in Christ and aid them in their pursuit of the Celestial City (which is reason #102 why you should read Pilgrim’s Progress). To act as an agent or ambassador of God’s grace in the life of another is a holy honor indeed.
So let me encourage you to open your eyes. Look for those people in your life whose gait has slowed of late and whose feet appear to be stumbling more than usual. Walk along side them and build them back up in the faith. Remind them of their gracious and sovereign Lord who daily calls them home and who promises that their arduous labor will not only be worth it for them, but will also bear glorious and everlasting fruit for others.
Grace and Truth,