Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness…
We live in a difficult world and sometimes the struggle against the darkness, disappointment, and discouragement feels more overwhelming than what we can handle. There are few things that are more difficult to navigate than when we feel like we have more on our plate than what we can get done. Nothing is harder to grind through than the sinking feeling that I might fail either because I am not sure what to do or I just don’t have enough space in life to deal with things properly.
When God led Israel through the wilderness, God had an expectation that Israel would have to trust His leading and provision. This did not mean that God was serving up roast duck every night and they had a super abundance of water for cooking and showering. There were struggles in the journey. God allowed, and even orchestrated, struggles, so that Israel would always be challenged to trust Him and adjust their attitude to relying on the God of Abraham rather than themselves. The problem however is they developed a hardening of their spiritual arteries and it led to a spiritual heart attack. The people began to feel overwhelmed by the struggle of the journey, and their disappointment and discouragement began to give them spiritual heart problems. This problem stemmed ultimately from testing God rather than trusting Him (Heb. 3:9-11). They lost the privilege of the Promised Land and entering into God’s blessing because they refused to respond to God’s promises with faith (Heb. 4:2). This spiritual heart disease just kept building up and building up until they had spiritual heart attack. They lost their promised future because they did not take care of themselves and use the journey to keep themselves healthy (spiritual) in their relationship with God.
So how does one keep themselves spiritually healthy to avoid spiritual heart disease? The writer actually give us that answer in the same chapter:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).
The writer reveals much more detail to this heart disease, but the root problem is unbelief. The slippery slope is inevitable once unbelief starts clogging up the spiritual arteries in one’s life; the most obvious problem is falling away from God. But the solution is relatively simple: exhort (invite, call for, comfort, exhort). The NASB translates this as, “encourage” one another. Whatever nuance of this may feel different, but the intent is the same – first, we need each other. When we face the challenges of this life we need the encouragement of others. It is hard to pull against the flow of our culture and the circumstances of our life at times without the comradery of others helping us through. This is vital for our spiritual health. Our fellowship and community are not simply some passive acknowledgement of being Christians. God’s call to live godly lives requires the corporate energy of others to pull us along. Secondly, we need spiritual alignment once in a while. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, gets misaligned with God and with His purpose once in a while. Regardless if we have been blindsided by a person who ought to love us, our circumstances seem horrifically overwhelming or we experience the collateral damage of moral evil, we all need encouragement to keep going, even if it is only occasionally. Third, we all need comfort in the journey. Sometimes we just want to give up. We keep trying to do the right thing, make a difference, be significant and contribute to the kingdom work, but there are times that it seems whenever we turn around, we get slammed by something and all our efforts feel meaningless. Fourthly, we all need a little exhortation and a gentle poke to get our head in the game. Sometimes we get sloppy, distracted by what others are doing, feeling jealous of someone else’s success and we lose momentum. Life (and ministry) will not only consume all the available space in our life, but it will suck all the joy and delight out of life if it can. We can get on the proverbial “busy” treadmill and find that we are only busy, but not being particularly effective.
My encouragement – work hard on encouraging those around you. Only foolish people will tell you they do not need it. Only when we get neglectful do we forget everyone needs it. Find someone to be in the journey with you.
In His grace and encouragement from the Spirit,
Pastor Brad Little