The first time I went to the Speak Up Conference I was very nervous. I had signed up to give a 15 minute talk and receive a critique. I went to find out if “I had what it takes” to be a public speaker. Dreams, ambitions and anxieties mixed within me, making it challenging to collect my thoughts and do my best. At the end of my talk, what were the first words out of the mouth of the one giving me my critique?
I expected to hear a list of all the things I did wrong. I feared being determined lacking and then sent home. But instead, I received encouragement to continue to develop my skills to deliver powerful messages as well as instruction in how to begin doing so. I was given encouragement when I feared rejection.
And that has been the gift I have received time and time again at the Speak Up Conference.
The community that gathers at this conference creates a hospitable environment for dreams to thrive and next steps to be discerned. Often when we share our ideas people are quick to criticize and point out pitfalls, but at Speak Up there is a culture that believes our God can and does inspire and work through everyday people like us to do amazing things in our own spheres of influence. His love cannot be contained. As it overflows the banks of our hearts, it finds expression in countless ways. And so, we encourage one another to invest in and employ the unique talents the Lord has entrusted to each of us as we walk into the opportunities set before us.
I have often reflected how encouragement is one of the most undervalued spiritual gifts. It’s on the list we find in Romans 12 along with teaching, serving, leadership and contributing and yet I think few of us consider encouragement in the same way we think of those other gifts.
As evidence that the apostles valued encouragement, we look at how they gave Joseph the nickname Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36 NIV). They identified and called out this important gift in this man who was generous with his material resources as well as his affirmations.
And so, as I leave the Speak Up Conference, I am inspired once again to be extravagantly generous in my encouragement of others, to affirm their good ideas and God-sized dreams, to call out the gifts and talents I see in them, and to join in the work of our God who “loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 NIV).
the gift that keeps on giving.
Need some encouragement? Plan on attending speak Up Conference 2016, July 7-9 at the Prince Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan!
Jeri writes about her spiritual journey as she lives out her everyday life.