As I approach the looming gateway to the twilight of my years, what I know for sure has been written on my heart with the indelible ink of experience and dried with the soft wind of wisdom that only blows after hard-learned lessons.
Every memory recalled and spouted is not necessarily an example to share, but positive anecdotal evidence is a powerfully convincing tool that lends credibility to a serious truth. Real encouragement is more than a greeting card sentiment. I have seen what it is, and I can tell you what it is not.
A famous frog has been known to sing about how difficult it is being green. He should try being a human – that’s not so easy either. If we are excruciatingly honest with ourselves, we will admit the mystery of life is almost too profound for our finite minds to even consider.
As we climb the age-mountain year after year, it is the rare person who escapes battle with jagged rocks, dangerous enemies, or ambushes too amazing to believe. Only when we pause on top of the hill over which so many jokes are made can we look back at how far we’ve come. The view from the summit offers priceless insight. It is then we can contemplate what was genuine in this life, and what was merely a sham.
Christians know that once we’re born we never, ever die; our spirits are ageless. We simply slip the boundaries of a body that began depreciating as soon as we went the first mile. Scripture promises we will each live for eternity in one of two places. The fact that our Creator gives us free will is what colors the dynamics of the race to our individual dates with destiny.
That does not mean we are immune from life’s arrows drawn from the quiver of the human condition or darts dipped in the poison of sin. I can tell you without a doubt, rain falls on the just and the unjust, which means the likelihood that we will be broad-sided somewhere along the journey to our final resting place is pretty much 100%.
As part of the body of Christ, the Biblical mandate to encourage our brothers and sisters is not only our duty and privilege but has more teeth in its command for our obedience than a quick promise to “pray about it” or a note with an admonition to “simply trust God” or any number of sampler-sayings that may hang on the wall in the kitchen.
Real, true support and encouragement in the body means to be the arms and legs and voice and heart of Jesus. It means to sail right along side our brother’s sinking ship, or hold up the aching arms of our exhausted sister, or get down on our knees in the mud and intercede when the young or old have no voice or ability.
More than cheerleading, even though there is a place for such, is the reaching out with sympathy and empathy; of standing in for those who can no longer stand up. When there’s a death, it means offering more than a nod in the direction of assistance. It may mean scrubbing a family’s house to accommodate a throng of visitors. Sometimes, it means keeping our mouths shut and our eyes and ears open.
Encouragement means giving that tired parent a break by staying with a sick child or with an elderly dependent. It means stopping when someone is hurt or lost or abandoned and not thinking twice about interceding for them in prayer -- right then. It means wrapping arms around the dirty or sickly or drug-dazed, and offering hope, with food or a bath or a job, and certainly offering a witness that they are loved beyond measure.
In the end, and we all will arrive at that place on this earth at some point, from where I stand so far down the road from where I began, if I’ve learned anything, it is this: Stripped of any fluff or inspirational music or meaningful poetry or prose or applause, even though those are lovely and comforting reminders that we have worth, the truest encouragement is in the bearing of one another’s burdens.
Once our compass points in that direction, our only prayer should be: Who, Lord? Where, Lord? When…?
I Thessalonians 3:1-3 (NLT)
…and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in the faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through.
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