Our feet crunched against the blanket of leaves on the trail. Tall trees hemmed us inside our own peaceful refuge. This time my husband and I treaded the path without six little legs to egg-on beside us. We had the trail to ourselves and a feast of uninterrupted space to talk. As we walked, my husband gently listened as I shared some of my latest burdens and fears.
That afternoon my husband encouraged me to put aside my sinful fear of man and stop overthinking. But you know what? He never used those exact words. He didn’t actually name the root sin I had been battling. He didn’t quote chapters of Scripture and start walking me through proof texts. His words lifted my soul that day, but I’m sorry to say years ago, I likely would have been unsatisfied that the encouragement didn’t look the way I expected.
I used to hope for a certain set of phrases in my sought-after counsel. I’d anticipate theological dives into the root of my sin or for proof-texting on the spot. I’d pour out my heart to a mentor, and I’d leave with a tinge of discouragement when we didn’t isolate my key sins and form four practical steps to move forward. I’d share a struggle with a friend and find myself frustrated when I left still unsure of what to do. I yearned for my kind of solutions—for advice that looked like the well-thought out articles, sermons, or detailed counsel I expected. Yet in the process I foolishly missed the beautiful way the Spirit uses humble, even unexpected words of his saints to convict, bolster, and encourage our hearts.
Articles, blogs, and books give us great encouragement, but we cheat ourselves out of so much encouragement when we expect the same kind of counsel from every saint around us. Most often the answers we seek can’t be summed up in key takeaways anyway. Our lives are so much more complicated than that. Like Job’s friends, we foolishly look for the easy road, the process that seems sure to fix us or the blog post that will end the struggle.
Yet some of the best advice a fellow saint can offer us isn’t a four-part argument, but merely the lifting of our eyes up to Christ. In their small words they push us to acknowledge our dependence and remind us we must put our trust at the feet of Jesus. While mentors, friends, and spouses can offer wonderful practical advice and needed correction, ultimately they’re just one more beggar telling another where to find bread (as C. S. Lewis so aptly phrased it). In the midst of our difficulties, that offering is more than enough. Often it’s what we needed most anyway.
Furthermore, we must remember an important distinction: our spouses, mentors, and friends aren’t the Holy Spirit. Why do we expect them to be? While the church body offers great wisdom, admonition, and encouragement, ultimately it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that prompts change.
The good news is that the Spirit is always working. God’s not waiting only for eloquent words to work through. Yes he moves and convicts through the pen of thoughtful pastors, counselors, and writers on the internet. These can be great gifts of wisdom and encouragement we should utilize. Yet he’s likewise constantly working even through the bumbling words between two friends sharing their struggles. He reminds our hearts of truths we forgot in the few phrases of a prayer spoken by a friend. He shows us his faithfulness and care in the embrace of the woman who has no clue what to say.
In his kindness, the Lord uses the humble words to do his work right along with the articulate ones found in the clothbound book on the shelf (2 Cor. 4:7). This news should bring us joy, for we are the same bearers of those humble words. How often do we stumble along to encourage a friend in a difficult situation? How often do we find our tongues tied at the complicated grief of another saint?
We are all weak vessels, yet the Almighty uses ones such as us to encourage and point each other towards godliness (1 Cor. 1:27). Of course we don’t have a dissertation prepared for the moment, yet we do have Christ, our precious Redeemer, whom we can clumsily point our friends eyes up to see–even when we don’t know all the correct theological terms or can’t identify every pitfall that might lay ahead.
That afternoon in the woods my husband didn’t recite a five-paragraph answer to my current situation. He used other gentle and kind words, and the Holy Spirit took those and convicted my heart with what I needed. The Holy Spirit used my husband’s encouragement to unveil my eyes to the root behind many of my fears. The Spirit took his words and brought to remembrance the Scriptures that spoke truth. God ministered through the humble words of my husband—and so he does with us each day through the myriad of humble words from the saints around us. This gift is more than enough.
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