In a world of discouragement, choose to encourage.
There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged. Judging by the results of last November’s Presidential election, about half of the country’s population is discouraged with the direction of our country. Others are discouraged by the direction their lives are taking. We can become discouraged with our children, and our spouses, and our schools, and our cities.
In a world full of discouragement, a Christian might hope that they could retreat to the sanctuary of the church. And yet discouragement follows them there as well. We can get discouraged when we see politics and in-fighting make their way into individual congregations and on denominational levels. We can become discouraged with the seemingly constant fighting over matters of little importance, and sometimes even over matters of great import.
For all the reasons we can find to be discouraged, there is one overriding reason to be encouraged and to encourage others each day. I was reminded of this reason today. On the whole, for a variety of reasons, it was a discouraging sort of day. Thankfully, God had plans to change my outlook and remind me that no matter how discouraging things may look at any given moment, as children of God we have an overriding source of encouragement.
Near the middle of the day, I received a call about a woman who was in a hospital in town. She was far from home because what she was being treated for required the specialists in this particular hospital. She wanted to receive communion, but was too far away from her home for her pastor to be able to make the trip to see her. I was given the pastor’s number so that I could get in contact with the family, since the friend who made the initial call didn’t have the family’s number.
After introducing ourselves, this pastor and I talked about how great it was that we were able to work together to provide care for this individual. We have both been in this situation before, where for a variety of reasons we need to call on fellow pastors to help care for a member, often at a distance. But in that moment the physical distance between us, and the fact that we were complete strangers, faded away. We were simply brothers in Christ.
Later on, standing beside this woman’s hospital bed I read one of the most encouraging passages from the Bible that I know and love. It is found at the end of Romans chapter 8. Paul writes:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:31-35, 37-39
As her husband wiped the tears from her face, we began to talk and pray. She talked not of her illness, but of all of the blessings God had given to her. She talked about her grandchildren and her children, her husband and her friends. But most of all she talked about Jesus. As we prayed, we thanked God for all those blessings and many others. We shared the Lord’s Supper and once more celebrated the fact that in this meal Jesus is present for us.
As I walked out of her room and made my way towards the elevator I thought about what had just happened. I had gone to her with the intent of encouraging her, and she and her husband had unknowingly encouraged me.
At the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul spills quite a bit of ink on the topic of encouragement. To those who are grieving over their loved ones who have died in Christ, he writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep….Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13,14,18)
Death itself, arguably the greatest source of discouragement in this world, can’t touch us because of Jesus’ victory over death in His resurrection.
Then, in the very next few verses Paul addresses those who were in danger of becoming discouraged with the delay in Jesus’ second coming. Paul wrote, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night….For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 9-11)
As we wait for Jesus to come again, Paul reminds us that any day could be that final day. And we are to be encouraged and to encourage each other because of the salvation that we have on account of Jesus.
Near the close of his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul writes: “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)
May you find the same encouragement through these words that I and other Christians have discovered over the last two thousand years.