As we go through life, there are many things we outgrow: diapers, car seats, training wheels, middle-school fashion, high-school priorities and our parents’ houses. But there’s one thing we never outgrow: encouragement. Everyone needs it, and everyone benefits from it, from learning to take our first step to facing a loss of mobility after taking our last step.
Encouraging people does not come naturally to me, but I am making a point of forming the habit because I see its value. I have been on at least six mission trips with my pastor, and each time, no matter how much or little we accomplished in the way of physical work, he made the point that our presence and energy were an encouragement to those we were volunteering to help. Sometimes it was volunteers running a Hurricane Katrina restoration camp, other times it was a pastor and his staff. But on every trip, encouragement may have been the most impactful piece of our ministry.
Joanna Weaver, author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, tells of a time she desperately needed refreshing words:
I’ll never forget crying in the darkness one night many years ago. My husband was an associate pastor at a large church, and our lives were incredibly busy. Carrying a double portfolio of music and Christian education meant we worked long hours on project after project, and the size of the church meant there were always people in need. I would go to bed at night worried about the people who had slipped through the cracks — the marriages in trouble, the children in crisis. I worried about all the things I didn’t accomplish and should have, about all the things I’d accomplished, but not very well.
I remember clinging to my husband that night and sobbing as he tried to comfort me. “What’s wrong, honey?” he asked, caressing my hair. But I couldn’t explain. I was completely overwhelmed.
The only thing that came out between sobs was a broken plea, “Tell me the good news,” I begged him. “I honestly can’t remember … Tell me the good news.”
In the midst of her good intentions and dedicated service, the Gospel message was clouded out of Joanna’s focus. So why do Christians who have been walking with the Lord for years still need encouragement?
First, emotions are cyclical, and everyone will go through periods of positive and negative emotion. Neither the young nor the old is immune. We are all prone to bad days, and they are not just the exception to an otherwise happy life. They are an inseparable part of being human, and we will not shed them until God comes to take us home to heaven.
Second, anyone can stumble. David did. Abraham did. I do (not to put myself on a plane with the patriarchs). Pastors who have been in the ministry for years, as Pastor David Carder shared on one of Focus on the Family’s recent daily broadcasts, can be blindsided by slipping and falling into infidelity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The duration of our Christian walk is not always a hedge of protection. This is why Peter tells us to watch out.
Third, a person can spend countless hours in Bible study, can possess mounds of biblical knowledge and can even have a journal full of moments of God’s grace to back it up. Yet sometimes what a downtrodden heart needs to hear is, “All God’s proclamations of love in the Bible? They apply to you, too. All God’s promises to never leave you? They apply to this moment in your life, too. When God says He’ll guide you through everything? He means this situation, too.” And sometimes it takes proclamation by another human being, said directly to us and only to us, to connect that message to our minds and hearts.
You, too. Right now, too. This moment also. Your situation also. Everything that God says in Scripture, He says to you. At this moment. Right now. This is what Christians need to hear.
Let me encourage you to stay connected to Christian community. You will need personal encouragement; I guarantee it. You will also be in a position to personally encourage others. This is part of God’s grace to help keep us going. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).