“And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.'” Acts 14:21-22
Paul had just fled 60 miles away from the city of Iconium because the people there were attempting to stone him. However, once the Jews in Iconium and Antioch found out where he fled to, they pulled together a mob of people, tracked him down, stoned him, and left him for dead. Moments later Paul got up and soon went right back to those same cities where the angry mob had originated from, just so he could encourage the souls of the believers who were living there. He went back to Iconium and Antioch, knowing it could lead to his death, simply because Paul believed that the strengthening of a soul was not a luxury, but a necessity. He was more concerned about the strength in their souls than the breath in his body, because he valued the power of it. He understood that sometimes strength and encouragement of a soul, is ultimately what can make the difference between life and death in a person.
When was the last time you intentionally strengthened the soul of another person? You see, to be strengthened means to gain strength from a weaker state. It means to build something up to be able to withstand. The message version puts it like this:
“…they retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples.” Acts 14:22 (Msg)
Sinew connects muscle to bones, and muscles are responsible for every movement our bodies make. You see, Paul risked his life and went back, so that he could put muscle in the lives of the believer. Muscle that would help them to move forward. That’s what strengthening a soul does. It gives ability to keep doing what God has called us to do. You see, Paul knew they were in danger of giving up. He knew that the enemy was going to work real hard to distract them from going forward in their purpose. He knew and had experienced himself, the despair and fear that can come through this living this life. So, he went back, even in the face of death, to strengthen and encourage them in their ability to carry on. You know, sometimes we underestimate the power of encouragement. We forget that we have the ability to put muscle on the soul of every person we come across. I mean, think about that. Everyday we come in contact with people who may be feeling weak, alone, or just stuck. And everyday we have the ability to either leave them in that place or make an effort to gently push them from it.
In high school I was severely depressed for about a year. I remember journaling during that entire timeframe, thoughts of self-hatred and low self-worth. I would fill these journals with verbal imagery of the unimaginable pain I was dealing with. I can’t remember genuinely smiling or laughing during this season, but eventually, by the grace of God, He delivered me from that depression. That following summer I went to a 10-day Bible boot camp in Tennessee and through a mixup, I ended up with a roommate that initially wasn’t planned. She was very quiet and uninterested for the first couple of days, but eventually the Lord led me to ask if I could pray for her in any way. She then went on to tell me how she was in a season of depression. She was so low that she didn’t know how to come out of it. She brought me over one of her journals and opened it. In this journal were pages filled verbatim with words from my own journals of despair. The resemblance was unreal. I read them in disbelief and began to weep because it was like looking in a mirror at my old self. I mean, I sat there reading some of her very specific, unique and private thoughts, that seemed as though they had literally been ripped from my journals years ago.
I knew then that she was not my roommate by accident. God had sent this young woman to me, so I could minister to her from the exact depths in which He had ministered to me from. So I began to share with her about my own story and how the Lord delivered and brought me out. I began to speak hope, peace, and truth over her. And as a I did I could visibly see the Holy Spirit strengthening her soul through my words. God lifted her depression that day. She said she had not smiled or laughed in so long, but for the rest of our time at camp she was filled with the joy of the Lord. I knew that in that moment I had went through my depression, and journaled those specific thoughts, just so I could be used to save this girl’s life a year later. It was a time that I will remember for the rest of my life, because it was the first time I fully understood and appreciated the value of soul strengthening.
You see, because I knew what it was like to want to give up, I valued being able to encourage her not to. Because I knew what it was like to feel hopeless, I valued being able to remind her of the hope found in Jesus. You see, we learn to value strengthening the souls of others, by first remembering what it was like to need ours strengthened. Friends, we may not all be able to identify with depression, but we can all identify with what it feels like to need a hug. Most of us can identify with the feeling of needing affirmation at certain times, or even simply needing to hear the reminder that we are loved. You see, we need to be the type of believers that speak the encouraging words that, at one point, we needed to hear. We need to be the ones to give the hugs that we once needed to receive, and pray the prayer over someone else that we once needed prayed over us.
That is what it means to strengthen souls. That is what we get to do for each other. We get to, just like Paul, put muscle on the lives of others and push them to go just a little bit further in Christ. We get to make them feel the arms of their Savior wrapped around them, through what seems to be just a simple hug. We get to be the hands, feet and mouthpieces of Jesus amongst His children. What an honor! An honor so important to Paul, that he risked his life to do it. Friends, we can never underestimate the power of strengthening a soul, for it is what God uses to revive lowly spirits and restore broken hearts.
So, what would happen if we set out to intentionally build and lift up everyone we come across? Now, this doesn’t mean that we have to hear everyone’s life story. But, what if we just decided to never allow ourselves to forget, that it may be our smile that will strengthen the soul of someone who feels unseen. That it may be our hug that will strengthen the soul of someone who feels unloved. And that it may be our words of encouragement that will strengthen the soul of someone who feels unknown. Friends, we must strive to become these types of people. People who intentionally seek out ways to give muscle to those who are too weak to build it on their own. Whether that be through a smile or a prayer, let’s just be prepared at all times to offer it. We never know how God is going to use it, and friends, we never know how much that soul we are speaking to may need it.
Questions to Journal Through
- Recall a time when your soul was strengthened by another person. Journal about what you were feeling before and after the experience and the difference it made in your life.
- Now commit to doing that for someone else. Ask for God to help you intentionally look for ways to encourage everyone you come in contact with.
- Spend some time strengthening the souls of others by interceding on their behalf this morning. Pick 2 or 3 people and spend some personal time praying encouraging words over them and their souls.
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