Regularly praying and encouraging our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is to be central in our relationships in the local church. However, I fear if you walked up and asked someone in the church, “How are you praying and encouraging others to spiritually grow?” you might not get an immediate answer…or much of one at all. Why is this? Many reasons come to mind. Yet, it is vital that one reason is not that we as pastors have neglected to give simple, practical, and clear ways to do so.
So, how can we pray and encourage others in helpful ways? Especially those of us who are pastors, how do we train our people to think to pray and encourage others in ways that will leap to their minds when spontaneously asked? Jonathan Edward and the way he evaluated those who were truly born of God is a helpful model. Edwards was great at not just evaluating the evidences of those truly converted, but in doing so also provided excellent templates to know the ways to which we can pray and encourage other Christians. Edwards says,
Those truly born of God possess…
1) Heightened esteem for Jesus.
2) Growing distaste for sin.
3) Increasing sense of certainty of the truth of Scripture.
4) Increased tendency to recognize and cherish truth
5) A spirit of growing love to God and man.
Use this list to first evaluate your own affections that should be present in every blood bought believer in Jesus Christ. Secondly, use this list to teach how to specifically pray for your fellow Christians in the local church and to know good fruitful ways to encourage others. Here is an example of an encouraging word that could be spoken after a confession of sin from one brother to another, “Dear brother, I know you are broken about this growing sense of your own sin, but know this heightened distaste of your sin is evidence of the Spirit’s work in you and should result in the increased affection for Christ you have.”
In a sermon from John 1:1-18 a few weeks ago, I listed these 5 evidences and encouraged our people to first examine their hearts by them and second, pray these things for one another. Pastors, make sure you are preaching these kinds of practical applications from the pulpit to instruct your people. Sermons without practical instruction are at risk of being impersonal, running commentaries about a text. Don’t assume your people know how to connect the dots. We must teach our people how to pray and encourage one another and the exposition of God’s Word into practical application is what I would argue is how this is best accomplished.
Yet, the best model for them to learn is you. Evaluate your own life. Pray these affections for yourself. Desire them for your people. Tell them that you are praying for them in this way. Verbally speak words of encouragement to them when you see these affections cultivated in them. Then, watch your people, by God’s grace, embrace praying and encouraging each other in a similar way.