The late Clovis Chappel used to say: “Anyone can take the air out of your tires. It takes a person who believes in God’s power to keep the tires inflated even on a bumpy road.” Can’t we all remember someone who has lifted us up with an encouraging word or deed at an important or even crucial time in our pilgrimage?
The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as in fact you are doing.” Jesus was an encourager. He could look at someone like Peter, see his weaknesses and limitations, but also see his strengths and potential. He saw Peter not only as he was, but as he could be, a rock. I think too of Barnabas. His real name was Joseph, but he was renamed Barnabas, “son of encouragement.” Barnabas looked for the best in people, not the worst. Indeed, I recall someone saying of Barnabas that he was “a gardener among human beings,” because of the way he nurtured the lives of others and brought out the best in them, just as we are called to do.
The gift of encouragement is a real blessing, especially when it is so easy to find discouragement in this world. There is much that divides our world, and our nation. Moreover, it seems that people are so quick to point out faults, prey on weaknesses, and so slow to recognize strengths. It's so easy to find people to tell us why something can't be done instead of why it can be done - people who are all too willing to throw cold water on our hopes and dreams.
An encouraging word is so important in the life of the church. We don’t need people who believe “we’re doomed;” rather we need people to say, "Yes, let's try this," and "Let's try that. Let's believe in the future God has promised us and let's get busy partnering with God on his mission to love the world!” How we need those who look for the best, and believe that the best is yet to be. In the midst of terrorist threats and war, and so many societal changes, let’s answer the call to carry on a ministry of encouragement. We need each other.
Recall the lesson of the redwood trees in California that grow to be some three hundred feet tall! We will seldom see a solitary redwood. The redwoods have a shallow root system which reaches in all directions and enables them to catch the greatest amount of surface moisture. The shallow roots also make the taller trees more likely to fall over in high winds. But, when the trees grow close together, their spreading roots intertwine and their united strength enables the individual trees to withstand the worst storms.
As Paul says, we should be encouraging one another and building one another up. We can do this with our prayers, presence, and love. Our prayers can lift up those who are sick or sorrowing or moving through some storm in their lives. Our presence in worship and in Bible study can encourage others to make worship and study of the scriptures a priority in their lives. Reaching out in teams to love and serve in a time of need, lending a helping hand to someone who is hurting, hungry, or lonely can help others rebuild broken lives. To be sure, real encouragement comes not only through what we say, but also through what we do. As we love, encourage, care, and serve; as we intertwine our roots, I am confident we will find new life and strength, and God’s blessing.
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell