Surface Community: The Obstacle to Encouragement

Our core emotion

Our core emotion

This week I continue my interaction with Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, by Larry Crabb.

Before my move to Port Moresby, I gleaned as much information as I could about Papua New Guinea, most of it through the expat grapevine. Even so, nothing really prepared me for my first days in country. I can only describe it as sensory over load. A very experienced expat friend once told me to take special care with my first impressions of any new environment. Those first sights, sounds and smells are irreplaceable. I remember multiple shades of brown skin, the very distinctive and different facial features of the PNG citizens. I loved the expressive timbre of their shared language, Tok Pisin. I was in awe of the incredible beauty of this land.

Our Core Emotion 

But I have to confess; my core emotion was fear. I feared for my physical safety because much of what I’d heard about PNG was filled with warnings about being accosted, carjacked…and just being a woman. I also experienced a fair amount of emotional fear. I was fully aware that I was a stranger in a foreign land, amongst the PNG citizens and the expat community. I felt isolated, alone and scared.

I realized a bit of what it must have felt like when Abram passed through Canaan to Shechem and realized he was looking at a land filled with Canaanites (Genesis 12:5-6). At this point in his journey I wonder if Abram questioned God’s command for him to leave his home, and His promise to make from him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-2). Even with his entourage and all his possessions, I think he must have been terrified. Why? Because fear was his and is our core emotion.

“Before he sinned, Adam enjoyed unbroken communion with God. There were no walls, no distance, no tension. But sin immediately brought terrible consequences. Among them was the presence of a new emotion: fear” (Encouragement, p. 31).

 Our Core Motivation

Fear has dogged us since the fall of humankind. It underlies the stresses of life we face everyday as we struggle with the knowledge that we are, in our fallen condition, unacceptable. Christ’s sacrifice has changed all that of course, but we still think like the “old man”. We have trouble believing that we really are a new creation. We are motivated by a need to be accepted in this world. I think it affects everything we think, do and say.

“From childhood on, as soon as we can translate our feelings into ideas, we approach life with fear of exposure and fear of the rejection we predict will follow” (P. 36).

Our Core Strategy

Our response to our fear of rejection is to hide behind layers of self-protection. These layers manifest themselves as humor, talkativeness, shyness, arrogance, sarcasm, or my favorite, the “know it all” that Dr. Crabb describes on page 30.

“Behind me sat a man who, judging by the loud conversation I had no choice but to hear, is an authority on everything. For an hour his topics ranged from the best price on floor tiles to finding good help in the restaurant business to the quality of nursing care in Florida’s hospitals – and the man had yet to admit ignorance or even a hint of uncertainty about anything” (p. 30).

We’ve all encountered someone like that, right?

The consequence of our layered personalities is that people don’t really get to know us. This is a tragedy, especially within the body of Christ. How can we genuinely encourage one another from layer to layer? We are basically protecting ourselves from each other! Many times we find ourselves relating in a surface community rather than in an honest, authentic, biblical community where we can genuinely minister to one another. Real encouragement cannot take place in a surface community (pg. 42).

We have a God who knows all our fears and all our layers. When Abram faced the land filled with Canaanites, he needed encouragement. God came and encouraged him.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7, HCSB)

Whatever fears your layers hide may feel just as ominous as facing a land filled with Canaanites. It is truly a hard thing to reveal our vulnerabilities to other people. But to do so is to reveal yourself to another in a way that opens the door for real biblical community. Might we get a veiled glimpse of our future, eternal community?

Can you let God give you the courage to peel off your layers?

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:7, HCSB)

Next time – Total openness: The Wrong Solution

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