As we watched my daughter's basketball game from the bleachers, I heard the coach utter a single word to the girls on the court: Doubles. Immediately, their defensive strategy shifted from one-on-one to two of their players teaming against their tallest ball-holding opponent. They were successful in thwarting her efforts to shoot and score, eventually taking the ball down the court to their own basket.
When Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, grapples with the toils and frustrations of the world, he too acknowledges that having a companion in our labors yields "a good return" (Ecclesiastes 4:9). While a person battling alone "may be overpowered, two can defend themselves" (v. 12). A friend nearby can help us up when we fall down (v. 10).
Solomon's words encourage us to share our journey with others so we don't face the trials of life alone. For some of us, that requires a level of vulnerability we're unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. Others of us crave that kind of intimacy and struggle to find friends with whom to share it. Whichever is the case, we mustn't give up in the effort. Solomon and basketball coaches agree: having teammates around us is the best strategy for facing the struggles that loom large on the court and in life. Lord, thank You for the people You put in our lives to encourage and support us.
When Siu Fen discovered she had kidney failure and would need dialysis for the rest of her life, she wanted to give up. Retired and single, the longtime Christian saw no point in prolonging her life. But friends convinced her to persevere and go for dialysis and trust in God to help her.
Two years later, she found her experience coming into play when she visited a friend from church with a debilitating disease. The woman felt alone, as few could truly understand what she was going through. But Siu Fen was able to identify with her physical and emotional pain and could connect with her in a special way. Her own journey enabled her to walk alongside the woman, giving her a special measure of comfort others couldn’t. “Now I see how God can still use me,” she said.
It can be hard to understand why we suffer. Yet God can use our affliction in unexpected ways. As we turn to Him for comfort and love in the midst of trial, it also empowers us to help others. No wonder Paul learned to see purpose in his own suffering: It gave him the opportunity to receive God’s comfort, which he could then use to bless others (2 Corinthians 1:3–5). We’re not asked to deny our pain and suffering, but we can take heart in God’s ability to use it for good.
Her name is Ruby. She is four years old. Like most children that age, Ruby loved to run, sing, dance, and play. But she started complaining about pain in her knees. Ruby’s parents took her in for tests. The results were shocking—a diagnosis of cancer, stage 4 neuroblastoma. Ruby was in trouble. She was quickly admitted to the hospital.
Ruby’s hospital stay lingered on, spilling over into the Christmas season, a hard time to be away from home. One of Ruby’s nurses came up with the idea to place a mailbox outside her room so family could send letters full of prayers and encouragement to her. Then the plea went out on Facebook, and that’s when the volume of mail coming in from friends to complete strangers surprised everyone, most of all Ruby. With each letter received (over 100,000 total), Ruby grew a little more encouraged, and she finally got to go home.
Paul’s letter to the people at Colossae was exactly that—a letter (1:2). Words penned on a page that carried hopes for continued fruitfulness and knowledge and strength and endurance and patience (vv. 10–11). Can you imagine what a dose of good medicine such words were to the faithful at Colossae? Just knowing that someone was praying nonstop for them strengthened them to stay steady in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Our words of encouragement can dramatically help others in need.
I’m encouraged every time I visit the fitness center near our house. In that busy place, I’m surrounded by others who are striving to improve their physical health and strength. Posted signs remind us not to judge each other, but words and actions that reveal support for others’ conditioning efforts are always welcomed.
What a great picture of how things should look in the spiritual realm of life! Those of us who are striving to “get in shape” spiritually, to grow in our faith, can sometimes feel as if we don’t belong because we’re not as spiritually fit—as mature in our walk with Jesus—as someone else.
Paul gave us this short, direct suggestion: “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And to the believers in Rome he wrote: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). Recognizing that our Father is so lovingly gracious with us, let’s show God’s grace to others with encouraging words and actions.
As we “accept one another” (v. 7), let’s entrust our spiritual growth to God—to the work of His Spirit. And while we daily seek to follow Him, may we create an atmosphere of encouragement for our brothers and sisters in Jesus as they also seek to grow in their faith.
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?