St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…the God of all who encourages us…so that we might be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we are ourselves are encouraged by God.” Notice, that Paul, in this short passage, uses the term encourage four times. It must be an important concept for him. It certainly is an important one throughout Scripture. And it should definitely be for us!
However, when life is tiring, when we are struggling, when our future is insecure, it is easy to become discouraged or to overlook and disregard the encouragement of God and others in our lives. Discouragement can creep up upon us all and we can become blind to the abundant comfort God offers us. The result–we harbor ingratitude for the blessings of yesterday, indifference to the opportunities of today and insecure regarding our strength for tomorrow. In quoting this passage of Paul we are reminded that Christ is our encouragement and offers us hope and peace in the knowledge that the Lord knows our troubles and has great concern for us.
Over 50 years ago on June 18 a freak accident occurred on a lake in New York. A speeding motorboat bounced on a wave and shot two passengers into the water — a 50 year-old man with a navigation career and a little girl with him. To keep the girl from drowning, the man held her head above the water while the boat circled back. They rescued the girl but the man, though experienced in his job on the waters, sank and drowned. Time magazine wrote an article on him at the time of this tragedy. “He lived to save others. His death was just the way he would have planned it!” His obituary read: “…always lifting someone up! He spent his life always trying to lift people up.”
Would that be our legacy? Paul talks in Corinthians about the power of encouragement. The Greek translation of encouragement was to “call to one’s side, to comfort, to console, to strengthen, to inspire another with courage.” The Greek word for encourage is the same one used for the name of Comforter in reference to the Holy Spirit. So when we encourage others, we show that the Spirit really dwells among us and it is the Spirit working in and through us. Max Lucado, author, speaker and artist, tells about his trip to the United Kingdom.
A castle stood in the center of a huge garden and in the garden was a maze – row after row of high hedges with one dead end leading to another. If you were successful in navigating the labyrinth you would reach the small door to the tall castle tower. When Max became lost in the maze he heard his daughter call down to him, “You’ll be okay. Just back up and turn right.” She was above in the tower with a better vantage point than he had. “Words of encouragement,” he says, pointing out the power we have to encourage and guide another’s direction. He tells his audiences that we can speak encouraging words that make people better and stronger in many ways.
A while back a daily paper contained strong comments suggesting that there is far too much negativity in our world today and it is in our power to counteract this situation. The writing was built on the premise that throughout our world there is a “whirlwind of life, trials and triumphs spinning so fast that …you forget what day it is and you can tend to forget the humanity of those closest to you… everyone becomes a means to an end.” The author asked the question: “What if, as Christians, we just took a break from that and just tried to lift each other up?”
There are, thankfully, some ways we might accomplish this. First, we need to express our thankfulness to others more frequently – for good service, for assistance given to us, for co-workers, for little kindnesses, for anyone who has been a positive factor in our daily lives. Encouragement is saying with love what a person needs to hear when he or she needs to hear it. Second, we need to make a personal investment in the interests and values of our friends, acquaintances and our loved ones more deliberately. By doing this, we tell them that what they value matters to us as much as what we value ourselves. Third, we need to listen better to the concerns and hardships of others and convince them that we really care. Give them our time to problem solve with them, laugh with them, weep with them. Listen to them!
It is important that we take to heart the words of St. Paul. As we live in the strength of God’s encouragement, may we also be that comfort and support for our brothers and sisters. Let us allow God’s Spirit, his presence and love flow through us and wash encouragement over those around us as we try to be God’s hands and feet in this world. Maya Angelou said it so well. “People may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!” That’s our job — to be that encouragement for the world!
Sister Lauretta Leipzig