When a burly stranger approached my wife and me on a street abroad, we shrunk back in fear. Our holiday had been going badly; we had been yelled at, cheated, and extorted from several times. Were we going to be shaken down again? To our surprise, the man just wanted to show us where to get the best view of his city. Then he gave us a chocolate bar, smiled, and left. That little gesture made our day—and saved the whole trip. It made us grateful—both to the man and to God for cheering us up.
What had made the man reach out to two strangers? Had he gone around with a chocolate bar the entire day, looking to bless someone with it?
It’s amazing how the smallest action can bring the biggest smile—and possibly, direct someone to God. The Bible stresses the importance of doing good works (James 2:17, 24). If that sounds challenging, we have the assurance that God not only enables us to do these works, but has even “prepared [them] in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Perhaps God has arranged for us to “bump into” someone who needs a word of encouragement today or has given us an opportunity to offer someone a helping hand. All we have to do is respond in obedience.
My children have enjoyed the thrill of a backyard ice-skating rink during our cold Idaho winters. When they were young, learning to skate was challenging: persuading them to deliberately set foot on the hard, icy surface proved difficult because they knew the pain of falling. Each time their feet slid out from under them, my husband or I would reach out to pull them again to their feet, setting them upright and steadying their frames.
Having someone there to help us up when we fall is the gift of a helping hand depicted in Ecclesiastes. Working with another makes our work sweeter and more effective (v. 9), and a friend brings warmth to our lives. When we encounter challenges, it helps to have someone come alongside with practical and emotional support. These relationships can give us strength, purpose, and comfort.
When we find ourselves flattened on the cold ice of life’s hardships, is there a helping hand nearby? If so, it might be from God. Or when someone else needs a friend, could we be God’s answer to lift them up? In being a companion we often find one. If it appears that no one is nearby to lift us to our feet again, will we find comfort in knowing that God is our ever-present help? (Psalm 46:1). As we reach out to Him, He is ready to steady us with His firm grip.
The Steven Thompson Memorial Centipede is a cross-country meet unlike any other. Each seven-member team runs as a unit, holding a rope for the first two miles of a three-mile course. At the two-mile mark, the team drops the rope and finishes the race individually. Each person’s time is, therefore, a combination of the pace the team kept and his or her own speed.
This year, my daughter’s team opted for a strategy I had not previously seen: They put the fastest runner at the front and the slowest right behind her. She explained that their goal was for the strongest runner to be near enough to speak words of encouragement to the slowest runner.
Their plans depicted for me a passage from the book of Hebrews. The writer urges us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (Hebrews 10:23) as we “spur one another one toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). There are certainly many ways of accomplishing this, but the author highlighted one: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (v. 25). Gathering together with other believers as we are able is a vital aspect of the life of faith.
The race of life can feel like more than we can handle at times, and we may be tempted to drop the rope in hopelessness. As we run together, let’s offer one another the encouragement to run strong!
The 2010 movie, The King’s Speech, tells the story of England’s King George VI, who unexpectedly became monarch when his brother abandoned the throne. With the country on the brink of World War II, government officials wanted a well-spoken leader because of the increasingly influential role of the radio. King George VI, however, struggled with a stuttering problem.
I was especially drawn to the film’s portrayal of George’s wife Elizabeth. Throughout George’s painful struggle to overcome his speech difficulty, she was his constant source of encouragement. Her steadfast devotion helped provide the support he needed to overcome his stutter and rule well during the war.
The Bible highlights the stories of encouragers who gave powerful assistance during challenging circumstances. Moses had Aaron and Hur’s support during Israel’s battles (Exodus 17:8–16). Elizabeth encouraged her pregnant relative Mary (Luke 1:42–45).
After his conversion, Paul needed the support of Barnabas, whose name literally means “son of encouragement.” When the disciples were fearful of Paul, Barnabas, at the risk of his own reputation, vouched for him (Acts 9:27). His endorsement was essential to Paul being welcomed by the Christian community. Barnabas later served as Paul’s traveling and preaching companion (Acts 14). Despite the dangers, they worked together to proclaim the gospel.
Christians are still called to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). May we be eager to offer encouragement to help support others, especially as they face difficult circumstances.
What the apostle John did for his friend Gaius in the first century is a dying art in the twenty-first century. John wrote him a letter.
One writer for the New York Times, Catherine Field, said, “Letter-writing is among our most ancient of arts. Think of letters and the mind falls on Paul of Tarsus,” for example. And we can add the apostle John.
In his letter to Gaius, John included hopes for good health of body and soul, an encouraging word about Gaius’s faithfulness, and a note about his love for the church. John also spoke of a problem in the church, which John promised to address individually later. And he wrote of the value of doing good things for God’s glory. All in all, it was an encouraging and challenging letter to his friend.
The advent of social media may mean letter-writing on paper is fading away, but this shouldn’t stop us from encouraging others. Paul wrote letters of encouragement on parchment; we can encourage others in a variety of ways. The key is not the way we encourage others, but that we take a moment to let others know we care for them in Jesus’s name!
Think of the encouragement Gaius experienced when he opened John’s letter. Could we similarly shine God’s love on our friends with a thoughtful note or an uplifting call?
The young man fidgeted as he sat down for his flight. His eyes darted back and forth to the aircraft windows. Then he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to calm himself—but it didn’t work. As the plane took off, he slowly rocked back and forth. An older woman across the aisle from him put her hand on his arm and gently engaged him in conversation to divert his attention from his stress. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “We’re going to be okay,” and “You’re doing well” were a few things she whispered. She could have been irritated with him or ignored him. But she chose a touch and a few words. Little things. When they landed three hours later, he said, “Thank you so much for helping me.”
Such beautiful pictures of tenderheartedness can be hard to find. Kindness does not come naturally to many of us; our primary concern is often ourselves. But when the apostle Paul urged, “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32), he was not saying it all depends on us. After we’ve been given a new life by our faith in Jesus, the Spirit begins a transformation. Kindness is the ongoing work of the Spirit renewing our thoughts and attitudes (v. 23).
The God of compassion is at work in our hearts, allowing us in turn to touch others’ lives by reaching out and whispering words of encouragement.
Why do more than five million people a year pay money to run several miles over an obstacle course where they must ascend vertical walls, slog through mud, and climb up inside a vertical pipe with water pouring down on them? Some see it as a personal challenge to push their limit of endurance or conquer their fears. For others, the attraction is teamwork where competitors help and support each other. One person called it “a no-judgment zone” where people who are strangers will reach out to help each other finish the race (Stephanie Kanowitz, The Washington Post).
The Bible urges us to pursue teamwork as a model of living out our faith in Jesus. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Our goal is not to “finish first” in the race of faith, but to reach out in tangible ways of encouragement, by setting an example and lending a helping hand along the way.
The day will come when we complete our life on earth. Until then, let’s spur each other on, be ready to help, and keep pulling together every day.
I piled groceries in my car and carefully exited my parking spot. Suddenly a man darted across the pavement just in front of me, not noticing my approach. I slammed on my brakes, just missing him. Startled, he looked up and met my gaze. In that moment, I knew I had a choice: respond with rolled-eye frustration or offer a smiling forgiveness. I smiled.
Relief flickered across his face, raising the edges of his own lips in gratefulness.
Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Is the writer directing us to cheery grins in the face of every interruption, disappointment, and inconvenience life brings? Surely not! There are times for genuine mourning, despair, and even anger at injustice. But in our everyday moments, a smile can offer relief, hope, and the grace needed to continue.
Perhaps the point of the proverb is that a smile naturally results from the condition of our inner beings. A “happy heart” is at peace, content, and yielded to God’s best. With such a heart, happy from the inside out, we can respond to surprising circumstances with a genuine smile, inviting others to embrace the hope and peace they too can experience with God.
In the 2016 Rio Olympics, two athletes in the 5,000 meters race caught the world’s attention. About 3,200 meters into the race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino collided and fell. Abbey was quickly up on her feet, but stopped to help Nikki. Moments after the two athletes had started running again, Abbey began faltering, her right leg injured as a result of the fall. It was now Nikki’s turn to stop and encourage her fellow athlete to finish the race. When Abbey eventually stumbled across the finish line, Nikki was waiting to embrace her. What a beautiful picture of mutual encouragement!
It reminds me of a passage in the Bible: “Two are better than one . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9–10). As runners in a spiritual race, we need one another—perhaps even more so, for we are not racing in competition with each other but as members of the same team. There’ll be moments where we falter and need someone to pick us up; at other times, someone may need our encouragement through our prayers or presence.
The spiritual race is not to be run alone. Is God leading you to be a Nikki or Abby in someone’s life? Respond to His prompting today, and let’s finish the race!