“I see you,” a friend said in an online writers’ group where we support and encourage each other. Having felt stressed and anxious, I experienced a sense of peace and well-being with her words. She “saw” me—my hopes, fears, struggles, and dreams—and loved me.
When I heard my friend’s simple but powerful encouragement, I thought of Hagar, a slave in Abram’s household. After many years of Sarai and Abram still longing for an heir, Sarai followed the custom of the culture and told her husband to conceive through Hagar. But when Hagar became pregnant, she treated Sarai with contempt. When Sarai mistreated her in return, Hagar fled far away to the desert.
The Lord saw Hagar in her pain and confusion, and He blessed her with the promise that she would be the mother of many descendants. After the encounter, Hagar called the Lord “El Roi,” which means “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13), for she knew she wasn’t alone or abandoned.
As Hagar was seen—and loved—so are we. We might feel ignored or rejected by friends or family, yet we know that our Father sees not only the face we present to the world, but all of our secret feelings and fears. He speaks the words that bring us life.
Several years ago, my wife and I stayed in a rustic bed-and-breakfast in the remote Yorkshire Dales of England. We were there with four other couples, all British, whom we had never met before. Sitting in the living room with our after-dinner coffees, the conversation turned to occupations with the question “What do you do?” At the time I was serving as the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I assumed that no one there knew of MBI or its founder, D. L. Moody. When I mentioned the name of the school, their response was immediate and surprising. “Of Moody and Sankey . . . that Moody?” Another guest added, “We have a Sankey hymnal and our family often gathers around the piano to sing from it.” I was amazed! The evangelist Dwight Moody and his musician Ira Sankey had held meetings in the British Isles more than 120 years ago, and their influence was still being felt.
I left the room that night thinking of the ways our lives can cast long shadows of influence for God—a praying mother’s influence on her children, an encouraging coworker’s words, the support and challenge of a teacher or a mentor, the loving but corrective words of a friend. It’s a high privilege to play a role in the wonderful promise that “His love continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).
The words of Ravi’s father cut deep. “You’re a complete failure. You’re an embarrassment to the family.” Compared to his talented siblings, Ravi was viewed as a disgrace. He tried excelling in sports, and he did, but he still felt like a loser. He wondered, What is going to become of me? Am I a complete failure? Can I get out of life some way, painlessly? These thoughts haunted him, but he talked to no one. That simply wasn’t done in his culture. He had been taught to “keep your private heartache private; keep your collapsing world propped up.”
So Ravi struggled alone. Then while he was recovering in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, a visitor brought him a Bible opened to John 14. His mother read these words of Jesus to Ravi: “Because I live, you also will live” (v. 19). This may be my only hope, he thought. A new way of living. Life as defined by the Author of life. So he prayed, “Jesus, if You are the one who gives life as it is meant to be, I want it.”
Life can present despairing moments. But like Ravi, we can find hope in Jesus who is “the way and the truth and the life” (v. 6). God longs to give us a rich and satisfying life.
An old Merle Haggard song, “If We Make It Through December,” tells the story of a man laid off from his factory job with no money to buy Christmas gifts for his little girl. Although December is supposed to be a happy time of year, his life seems dark and cold.
Discouragement is not unique to December, but it can be amplified then. Our expectations may be higher, our sadness deeper. A little encouragement can go a long way.
Joseph, a man from Cyprus, was among the early followers of Jesus. The apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” We meet him in Acts 4:36–37 when he sold a piece of property and donated the money to help other believers in need.
Later, we read that the disciples were afraid of Saul (Acts 9:26). “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (v. 27). Saul had recently been trying to kill the believers, but Barnabas defended him as a man transformed by Christ.
All around us are people longing to be encouraged. A timely word, a phone call, or a prayer with them can bolster their faith in Jesus.
The generosity and support of Barnabas demonstrates what it means to be a son or daughter of encouragement. That may be the greatest gift we can give to others this Christmas.
Emily listened as a group of friends talked about their family Thanksgiving traditions. “We go around the room and each one tells what he or she is thankful to God for,” Gary said. Another mentioned the last Thanksgiving meal with his dad before he died and went to heaven: “Even though Dad had dementia, his prayer of thanks to the Lord was clear.” Randy shared, “My family has a special time of singing together on the holiday. My grandma goes on and on and on!” Emily’s sadness and jealousy grew as she thought of her own family, and she complained: “Our traditions are to eat turkey, watch television, and never mention anything about God or giving thanks.”
Right away Emily felt uneasy with her attitude. You are part of that family. What would you like to do differently to change the day? she asked herself. She decided she wanted to privately tell each person she was thankful to the Lord that they were her sister, niece, brother, or great-niece. When the day arrived, she expressed her thankfulness for them one by one, and they all felt loved. It wasn’t easy because it wasn’t normal conversation in her family, but she experienced joy as she shared her love for each of them.
“Let everything you say be good and helpful,” wrote the apostle Paul, “so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29 nlt). Our words of thanks can remind others of their value to us and to God.
The obituary for Alan Nanninga, a man in my city, identified him as “foremost, a dedicated witness for Christ.” After a description of his family life and career, the article mentioned nearly a decade of declining health. It concluded by saying, “His hospital stays . . . earned him the honorary title of ‘The Praying Patient’” because of his ministry to other patients. Here was a man who, in his times of distress, reached out to pray for and with the people in need around him.
Hours before Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for His disciples. “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Knowing what was about to happen, Jesus looked beyond Himself to focus on His followers and friends.
During our times of illness and distress, we long for and need the prayers of others. How those prayers help and encourage us! But may we also, like our Lord, lift our eyes to pray for those around us who are in great need.
My son loves to read. If he reads more books than what is required at school, he receives an award certificate. That bit of encouragement motivates him to keep up the good work.
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he motivated them not with an award but with words of encouragement. He said, "Brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more" (1 Thess. 4:1). These Christians were pleasing God through their lives, and Paul encouraged them to continue to live more and more for Him.
Maybe today you and I are giving our best to know and love and please our Father. Let's take Paul's words as an incentive to continue on in our faith.
But let's go one step further. Who might we encourage today with Paul’s words? Does someone come to mind who is diligent in following the Lord and seeking to please Him? Write a note or make a phone call and urge this person to keep on in their faith journey with Him. What you say may be just what they need to continue following and serving Jesus.
A few days after his father died, 30-year-old C. S. Lewis received a letter from a woman who had cared for his mother during her illness and death more than two decades earlier. The woman offered her sympathy for his loss and wondered if he remembered her. “My dear Nurse Davison,” Lewis replied. “Remember you? I should think I do.”
Lewis recalled how much her presence in their home had meant to him as well as to his brother and father during a difficult time. He thanked her for her words of sympathy and said, “It is really comforting to be taken back to those old days. The time during which you were with my mother seemed very long to a child and you became part of home.”
When we struggle in the circumstances of life, an encouraging word from others can lift our spirits and our eyes to the Lord. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary” (50:4). And when we look to the Lord, He offers words of hope and light in the darkness.
An anthropologist was winding up several months of research in an African village, the story is told. While waiting for a ride to the airport for his return flight home, he decided to pass the time by making up a game for some village children. His idea was to create a race for a basket of fruit and candy that he placed near a tree. But when he gave the signal to run, no one made a dash for the finish line. Instead the children joined hands and ran together to the tree.
When asked why they chose to run as a group rather than each racing for the prize, a little girl spoke up and said: “How could one of us be happy when all of the others are sad?” Because these children cared about each other, they wanted all to share the basket of fruit and candy.
After years of studying the law of Moses, the apostle Paul found that all of God’s laws could be summed up in one: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14; see also Rom. 13:9). In Christ, Paul saw not only the reason to encourage, comfort, and care for one another but also the spiritual enablement to do it.
Because He cares for us, we care for each other.
As I ventured out several weeks after shoulder surgery, I was fearful. I had become comfortable using my arm sling, but both my surgeon and physical therapist now told me to stop wearing it. That’s when I saw this statement: “At this stage, sling wear is discouraged except as a visible sign of vulnerability in an uncontrolled environment.”
Ah, that was it! I feared the enthusiastic friend who might give me a bear hug or the unaware friend who might bump me accidentally. I was hiding behind my flimsy baby-blue sling because I feared being hurt.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can be scary. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, but we fear that if people truly knew us, they would reject us and we could get hurt. What if they found out we are not smart enough . . . kind enough . . . good enough?
But as members of God’s family, we have a responsibility to help each other grow in faith. We’re told to “encourage one another,” to “build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
When we are honest and vulnerable with other believers, we may discover we have mutual struggles battling temptation or learning how to live obediently. But most of all, we will share the wonder of God’s gift of grace in our lives.