God created us to receive encouragement and then encourage others. When we receive the encouragement of God, we become empowered to pass encouragement along. Joining together in encouragement produces great things for God.
This past weekend on Father’s Day I remembered how my father encouraged me, especially in my childhood. Whatever it was, he would tell me to keep trying, to give it my very best, and to never give up. I can remember his voice, “You can do it!” God is like a perfect father, so I am very comfortable with thinking of God as the Father. A parent’s job is to be encouraging, and I make a conscious effort to encourage my children. This weekend we encouraged our five year old Caroline to climb stairs at a pool and slide down the waterslide. Finally she did it; for the rest of the day she slid down with a big smile. We encouraged our third grader Luke to fight his fear of being in front of the class and to “be yourself in that alligator report.” After a little encouragement that boosted his confidence, he enjoyed telling the class about alligators basking in his backyard when he lived in South Carolina.
Encouragement is all about conquering fear. The tendency to be afraid doesn’t disappear as we grow older, it manifests itself in more adult topics. The fear of sliding down a water slide becomes the fear of loss. The fear of alligator reports becomes fear of illness. Parents have an innate potential to calm and encourage children. This is because we were all made in the image of God. But what do we do when our parents pass? This is where our church community comes into play. Encouraging one another should be held sacred. It is a job we cannot ignore. And where do we get the fuel to be encouraging to others and to act as an encouraging community of faith? By experiencing how God encourages us, we become empowered to encourage others.
Experiencing encouragement from God may come from the faith we have received through church worship, from fellowship with friends, or from moments in our life when God’s presence felt especially real. There are stories in the Bible when people realized God’s presence and continued on when they could have given up.
These stories proclaim God’s presence and encouragement.
Psalm 121 states, “The Lord will guard you; he is by your side to protect you”. And of course one of the most well known passages states, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23). When Moses was called upon to demand the freedom of Israelite slaves from Pharoah, God encouraged him by saying, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12). Joshua was afraid of the Promised Land but God told him, “I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).
When Jesus sent the disciples into the world, he promised, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
Knowing that God is present can be the most assuring fact of life. I wish we could recall the spirit of these passages in the storms of life. Maybe you can remember the safe feeling you had as a child when you were afraid and one of your parents held you close. Having someone close by makes you feel less afraid. The recent thunderstorm in our area put so many of us into the basements. As our family huddled in the basement, our youngest son, Anderson, declared that he would attack the tornado with a sword if it came to our house. I have to admit, as the lights were blinking, my mind was racing as to what would happen if a tornado hit us with the force of the recent Massachusetts and Missouri storms.
I could identify with the story of a mother who was tucking her small son into bed during a severe storm. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room. Try to go to sleep now and don’t be afraid.” A long silence followed as the little boy thought about this. “Ok, you better get in there to daddy quick since he’s more scared than I am.”
There is always a question when we face a storm in life of who we turn to. That is a valid question to ask ourselves. When we are anxious and filled with fear; when the weight of trouble and tragedy are a load too heavy to carry; when we are frightened about what the future may bring; when fear gets a grip on life, where do we go for support and help? We should turn to God. Be assured that God cares, and that God’s encouragement is always at work, telling us to trust in his presence. We can always turn to God. When we feel God’s presence we build faith in God. This faith gives us courage to face life’s storms and in turn offer encouragement to others.
Clarence Thomas, our first African American Supreme Court Justice, was encouraged by the white nuns in his childhood school. The nuns were not intimidated by the Ku Klux Klan who would scare the nuns by doing things like sending a hearse to be parked in front of the school. Newsweek magazine
reported that a nun by the name of Sister Mary Virgilius Ready influenced Justice Thomas and gave him the persistence to stand in the face of that fear. The nun’s encouragement stood like a wall against the hopelessness that gripped many in that community. Words of encouragement to their students: “You will succeed…We believe in you…We insist that you believe in yourself,” had been inspired by faith.
The Apostle Paul was an encourager. The letters of the New Testament are words of encouragement to those new groups of Christians who feared religious persecution. Paul wrote, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
The churches of the New Testament began to spread because of their good news. No amount of persecution or fear could overcome their positive messages. They realized that the good news of God’s love was much more powerful than the prevalent norms of the day. Have you ever heard the story of the farmer who asked his friend if he wanted to buy a million frog legs? “I’ve got a pond full of those noisy frogs!” The next day he brought his friend two frogs. “These two frogs were the only ones in the pond, but they sure made a lot of noise!”
There is so much discouraging noise in the world today, but when we hold up that noise against the community of faith, we see how small it is compared to the comfort God’s love can provide. I read a story about a minister whose church created a 145 foot handle for a shovel so they could all break ground together for a new worship facility. The next day the construction workers saw the shovel and it produced a lot of discussion. But I think the shovel’s intent was clear. It served to symbolize how the church worked together to accomplish a goal. Our church works to accomplish the goal of spreading the good news of God. In our fellowship events we share with others the fun of our gathering. In our outreach giving and participation, our agencies feel our support and encouragement. Our worship proclaims God’s good news to build our community of faith. Our youth and children’s programs offer encouragement that nurtures a new generation toward God’s love.
When we join together in the task of encouragement, our impact grows exponentially. We may not realize it, but lives are changed. People’s lives are saved. You may be familiar with the book Chicken Soup for the Soul. One of the stories of encouragement it tells describes how a New York teacher gave her students blue ribbons imprinted with gold letters that read, “Who I Am Makes A Difference,” saying, “We’re doing a class project on recognition, and we’d like you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this
acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened.” One of the recipients was a junior executive who gave a ribbon to his boss. The boss came home to his 14-year-old son that night. “The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine. He thinks I’m a creative genius. Then he put this blue ribbon that says ‘Who I Am Makes A Difference’ on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you.”
“My days are really hectic and when I come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school and for your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me….You’re a great kid and I love you!” The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn’t stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “I was planning on committing suicide tomorrow, Dad, because I didn’t think you loved me. Now I don’t need to.”
I hope you hear God the Father’s encouragement to you: “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Receive that encouragement from God. Know God’s love for you and find that person in your life who needs encouragement. Be a source of love to them. You are the instrument of God’s peace that can turn a life around.
Let us pray. Merciful God, who encourages us daily with words of hope and acts of love, we pray today that we might give to others the precious, priceless gift of encouragement. Help us to be islands of faith amid the seas of despair, that those who are lost and tossed about may find safe harbor in your words of comfort. Help us to meet gloom with the light of your grace, and pessimism with the strength of your power; help us to speak the encouraging word and do the encouraging deed together, so we can fill our troubled world with the gift of encouragement. We pray that you give faith in your presence through the massive problems of our day – problems from peace to poverty to illness to natural disaster. Fill our hearts with encouraging faith, that we might share faith, hope, and love. Amen