“[Christ] died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with Him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (MSG)
No one left out. No one left behind. I spent most of my childhood as the girl with her nose in a book. It was a great way to escape reality and it gave me an excuse not to join in, not to care if I wasn’t chosen, not to care if no one sat with me. I began to say “no” to so many things before they were even opportunities so I didn’t have to fail or feel left out. I never daydreamed about children or a wedding day because I wasn’t 100% sure they would happen for me and I didn’t want to be disappointed.
My excuses kept me focused on a false sense of self-preservation and instead of embracing possibilities, I became bitter – and more lonely than I could have imagined.
I was 16 when God shook me awake. I don’t have a specific date, but I was in the auditorium of our high school with a group of friends who led Bible study and worship each morning before we were called to our public school homerooms. I was sitting in those hard folding chairs because the friends were kind, they asked me to join them, and it felt like the “right” thing to do.
I might not have understood friendship or community, but I was really good at making sure I was doing the “right” thing. Honestly? I’d been in churches all my life with my grandparents but never understood that God wanted a relationship with me, but I thought I knew all the requirements on the checklist. I think I prayed along with every salvation prayer, never knowing if the last one was good enough. Never believing God had truly heard me the first time. Never able to reconcile the disappointment of an earthly father with a perfect Father in heaven.
But that morning? It was the first time I felt the presence of God in the way that to this day leaves me a sobbing mess on the floor when it happens. It was His personal assurance that He had not forgotten me. God had not left me alone. He still had plans for me. And when a kind friend came over to check on me, I excused my tears as concern over another friend who had been in a very minor car accident.
But God knew it was really the beginning of the most glorious exchange.
My sin for Christ’s salvation.
My fears for His peace.
My loneliness for His presence.
My bitterness for His healing.
My agenda for His plan.
We are alive in Christ, sister. Wonderfully, impossibly alive. So what are we going to do now? 1 Thessalonians tells us one thing we can do – we can use our words to encourage one another. Encouragement builds up hope, and hope creates community. No one left out. No one left behind. If you’re wondering how to build community, build it on a foundation of encouragement, hope, and kindness.
It can be easy to assume that everyone around us is fine – that they don’t need an uplifting word today, or maybe you look at their life from the outside and see how busy they are and assume they don’t need to be included in your plans. Encourage and invite them anyway. Your words will cultivate hope. Your words will build community. Your words could be the invitation someone has been waiting for – and the moment God could use to change their life forever.