First responders show dedication and courage daily by being on the front lines when disasters occur. In the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001 when thousands of people were killed or injured, more than 400 emergency workers also lost their lives. In honor of first responders, the US Senate designated September 12 as the National Day of Encouragement.
While it may seem unique that a government would declare a national day of encouragement, the apostle Paul certainly thought this was needed for the growth of a church. He commended the young church in Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia, to “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Although they were going through persecution, Paul encouraged the believers to “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (v. 15). He knew that as humans, they would be prone to despair, selfishness, and conflict. But he also knew that they would not be able to encourage one another without God’s help and strength.
Things are no different today. We all need to be uplifted and we need to do the same for those around us. Yet we cannot do it in our own strength. That’s why Paul’s encouragement that “the one who calls you [Jesus] is faithful, and he will do it” is so reassuring (v. 24). With His help, we can encourage one another every day.
It wasn’t surprising when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. True to form, she received the award “in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.” Those were the people she ministered to for most of her life.
Jesus modeled how to care for and love the marginalized, regardless of circumstances. Unlike the synagogue leaders who respected the Sabbath law more than the sick (Luke 13:14), when Jesus saw an ill woman at the Temple, He was moved with compassion. He looked beyond the physical impairment and saw God’s beautiful creation in bondage. He called her and pronounced freedom and healing. Then He “put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v. 13). By touching her, He upset the leader of the synagogue because it was the Sabbath. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), compassionately chose to heal the woman—a person who had faced discomfort and humiliation for nearly two decades.
I wonder how often we see someone as underserving of our compassion. Or maybe we’ve experienced rejection because we didn’t meet somebody else’s standard. May we not be like the religious elite who care more about rules than fellow humans. Instead, let’s follow Jesus’s example and treat others with compassion, love, and dignity.
Eternal eyes, that’s what my friend Madeline prays her children and grandchildren would have. Her family has gone through a tumultuous season that ended with the death of her daughter. As the family grieves from this horrific loss, Madeline longs for them to be less and less nearsighted—consumed by the pain of this world. And to be more and more farsighted—filled with hope in our loving God.
The apostle Paul and his co-workers experienced great suffering at the hands of persecutors and even from believers who tried to discredit them. Yet, they had their eyes fixed on eternity. Paul boldly acknowledged that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Although they were doing God’s work, they lived with the reality of being “hard pressed on every side,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” (vv. 8–9). Shouldn’t God have delivered them from these troubles? But instead of being disappointed, Paul built his hope on the “eternal glory” that supersedes momentary troubles (v. 17). He knew God’s power was at work in him and had complete assurance that “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus” (v. 14).
When the reality around us feels shaky, may we turn our eyes to God—the eternal Rock that will never be destroyed.
“I believe in Jesus and He is my Savior, and I have no fear of death,” said Barbara Bush, the wife of former US President George H. W. Bush, to her son before she died. This incredible and confident statement suggests a strong and deep-rooted faith. She experienced God’s gift of peace that comes from knowing Jesus, even when faced…
Dandy loves encouraging people by singing to them. One day we were having lunch at his favorite restaurant, and he noticed the waitress was having a hard day. He asked her a few questions and then started quietly singing a catchy, upbeat song to cheer her up. “Well, kind sir, you just made my day. Thank you so much,” she said with a big smile, as she wrote down our food order.
When we open the book of Zephaniah, we find that God loves to sing. The prophet Zephaniah masterfully drew a picture with his words in which he described God as a musician who loves to sing for and with His children. He wrote that God “will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17). God promised to be present forever with those who have been transformed by His mercy. But it doesn’t stop there! He invites and joins in with His people to “be glad and rejoice with all your heart” (3:14).
We can only imagine the day when we will be together with our Lord and with all those who have put their trust in Jesus as their Savior. How amazing it will be to hear our heavenly Father sing songs for and with us and experience His love, approval, and acceptance.
After Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by Huaorani tribesmen in 1956, no one expected what happened next. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, their young daughter, and another missionary’s sister willingly chose to make their home among the very people who killed their loved ones. They spent several years living in the Huaorani community, learning their language, and translating the Bible for them. These women’s testimony of forgiveness and kindness convinced the Huaorani of God’s love for them and many began to follow Jesus.
What Elisabeth and her friend did is an incredible example of not repaying evil with evil but with good (Romans 12:17). The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Rome to show through their actions the transformation that God had brought into their own lives. What did Paul have in mind? They were to go beyond the natural desire to take revenge; instead, they were to show love to their enemies by meeting their needs, such as providing food or water.
Why do this? Recalling a proverb from the Old Testament (Proverbs 25:21–22), Paul said that the kindness shown by believers to their enemies could win them over and light the fire of repentance in their hearts.
Abba, Father, it is difficult, even impossible, for us to love others in our own strength. Help us through Your Spirit to truly love our enemies, and use us to bring them to You.
Edward Payson (1783–1827) led an extremely difficult life. The death of his younger brother shook him to the core. He struggled with bipolar disorder, and he was affected by extreme migraine headaches for days. If this wasn't enough, a fall from a horse lead to paralysis of his arm, and he almost died from tuberculosis! Surprisingly, his response wasn’t one of despair and hopelessness. His friends said that before Edward passed away, his joy was intense. How could that be?
In his letter to the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul expressed his complete confidence in the reality of God’s love regardless of circumstances. He asked with boldness, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God gave His very own Son, Jesus, to save us, then He will provide everything we need to finish this life well. Paul listed seven situations which he went through himself that seemed unbearable: “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (v. 35). He didn’t imply that Jesus’s love would stop bad things from happening. But Paul said that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37).
Through the uncertainty of this world, God can be trusted completely, knowing that nothing, absolutely nothing, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).
Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, there’s a door that tells a five-century-old tale. In 1492 two families, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds, started fighting over a high-level position in the region. The fight escalated, and the Butlers, afraid they would be killed, took refuge in the cathedral. When the FitzGeralds came to ask for a truce, the Butlers were afraid to open the door. So the FitzGeralds cut a hole in it, and their leader offered his hand in peace to prove their desire was genuine. The two families then reconciled, and from adversaries they became friends.
God has a door of reconciliation that the apostle Paul wrote passionately about in his letter to the church in Corinth. At His initiative and because of His infinite love, God exchanged the broken relationship with humans for a restored relationship through Jesus’s death on the cross. We humans were far away from God, but in His mercy He didn’t leave us there. He offers us restoration with Himself [“not counting people’s sins against them]” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Justice was fulfilled when “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us,” so that in Him we could be at peace with God (v. 21).
Once we accept God’s hand in peace, we are given the important task of bringing that message to others. We represent the amazing, loving God who offers complete forgiveness and restoration to everyone who believes.
Jim was frantically sharing about problems he was encountering with his work team: division, judgmental attitudes, and misunderstandings. After an hour of patiently listening to his concerns, I suggested, “Let’s ask Jesus what He would have us do in this situation.” We sat quietly for five minutes. Then something amazing happened. We both felt God’s peace cover us like a blanket. We were more relaxed as we experienced God’s presence and guidance, and we felt confident to wade back into the difficulties.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, needed God’s presence. One night he and the other disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee when a strong storm arose. All of a sudden, Jesus showed up walking on water! Naturally, this took the disciples by surprise. He reassured them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Peter impulsively asked Jesus if he could join Him. He stepped out of the boat and walked toward Jesus. But he soon lost focus, became aware of the dangerous and humanly impossible circumstance he was in, and started sinking. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus lovingly rescued him (vv. 30–31).
Like Peter, we can learn that Jesus, the Son of God, is with us even when walking on water in the storm!