(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The damage done by discouragement
A footballer joined my local team. He was brought to the club by an unpopular and unsuccessful manager who has since left the club. His transfer fee was not very high. The fans weren't expecting him to be much good.
And they were right. He was useless. Absolutely hopeless. And the fans let him know.
The funny thing was, he didn't improve. No matter how often or how loudly the fans told him how useless he was, he just didn't get any better.
He was so useless that the club sent him out on loan to another club. The fans hoped he'd stay there, but they didn't hold out much hope; the other club wouldn't want him, because he was so useless, wasn't he?
A few weeks later, the loan period expired and he came back to the club. The fans were disappointed.
Surprisingly, the new manager picked him for the team that Saturday.
More surprising still, he played really well, and scored two goals.
Before long, the fans stopped telling him how useless he was, and even started singing songs about how good he was.
These were the same fans who had spend so much time telling him how useless he was!
Guess what. He got even better - and now he's a regular in the team and the fans love him. Some of them are a bit embarrassed about what they used to say about him. Some deny that they were the ones who used to criticise him. Others say that they criticised him when he was rubbish, just as they praised him when he was good.
They don't realise the obvious truth - he was rubbish BECAUSE he received so much criticism, not the other way around.
The fans, the club and the player himself owe a great deal to the fans and staff at the club he was loaned to. They turned his career around - by believing in him.
Near the end of the season, this footballer was quoted as saying "I don't pay any attention to what people say, I just get on with doing my job".
It may be hard to admit that you're hurt by criticism - but you are.
This column is not, of course, really about football. It's about life.
Do you have a wife, husband, child, church leader, preacher, congregation, friend, or colleague who's useless? Do you know why they're useless?
Do you get frustrated because you keep telling them how useless they are, but they still don't sort themselves out?
I know some people who are really good preachers in some churches and really bad preachers in other churches. They're the same people (of course). The difference is in how they're received by the churches. You get the preachers you deserve.
Many of us know people who were ineffective pastors in one church who've gone on to be great pastors in another church (and vice versa) because of how the churches received them. No-one can be a good pastor if his church is constantly telling him how hopeless he is, and arguing with every decision he makes.
No one can be a good wife, or husband, if all they hear is criticism.
No Christian will grow into the person they could be, if they're constantly told how sinful and hopeless they are.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Here's another question: Do you feel useless? Why do you think that is? Is it because - either now or in the past - someone you cared about kept criticising you? Were you in an environment where you never felt accepted - where you were always being told you weren't good enough?
So here are two very obvious lessons. They're so obvious that I hesitated to write them down (I don't want to insult my audience). But I will write them down, because it seems that there are people - Christian people - all over the place that need to be reminded of them: