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!
My husband Jack was on mile 25 out of 26 when his strength failed him.
This was his first marathon, and he was running alone. After stopping for a drink of water at an aid station, he felt exhausted and sat down on the grass beside the course. Minutes passed, and he couldn’t get up. He had resigned himself to quitting the race when two middle-aged schoolteachers from Kentucky came by. Although they were strangers, they noticed Jack and asked if he wanted to run with them. Suddenly, he found his strength restored. Jack stood and accompanied by the two women he finished the race.
Those women who encouraged Jack remind me of Aaron and Hur, two friends who helped Moses, the leader of the Israelites, at a key point (Ex. 17:8-13). The Israelites were under attack. In battle, they were winning only as long as Moses held his staff up (v. 11). So when Moses’s strength began to fail, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him, holding up his arms for him until sunset (v. 12).
Following God is not a solo endeavor. He did not create us to run the race of life alone. Companions can help us persevere through difficulty as we do what God has called us to do.
God, thank you for relationships that encourage me to continue following you. Help me to be a source of strength for others, as well.
A friend mailed me some of her homemade pottery. Upon opening the box, I discovered the precious items had been damaged during their journey. One of the cups had shattered into a few large pieces, a jumble of shards, and clumps of clay dust.
After my husband glued the broken mess back together, I displayed the beautifully blemished cup on a shelf. Like that pieced-together pottery, I have scars that prove I can still stand strong after the difficult times God’s brought me through. That cup of comfort reminds me that sharing how the Lord has worked in and through my life can help others during their times of suffering.
The apostle Paul praises God because He is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). The Lord uses our trials and sufferings to make us more like Him. His comfort in our troubles equips us to encourage others as we share what He did for us during our time of need (v. 4).
As we reflect on Christ’s suffering, we can be inspired to persevere in the midst of our own pain, trusting that God uses our experiences to strengthen us and others toward patient endurance (vv. 5–7). Like Paul, we can be comforted in knowing that the Lord redeems our trials for His glory. We can share His cups of comfort and bring reassuring hope to the hurting.
In the workplace, words of encouragement matter. How employees talk to one another has a bearing on customer satisfaction, company profits, and co-worker appreciation. Studies show that members of the most effective work groups give one another six times more affirmation than disapproval, disagreement, or sarcasm. Least productive teams tend to use almost three negative comments for every helpful word.
Paul learned by experience about the value of words in shaping relationships and outcomes. Before meeting Christ on the road to Damascus, his words and actions terrorized followers of Jesus. But by the time he wrote his letter to the Thessalonians, he had become a great encourager because of God’s work in his heart. Now by his own example he urged his readers to cheer one another on. While being careful to avoid flattery, he showed how to affirm others and reflect the Spirit of Christ.
In the process, Paul reminded his readers where encouragement comes from. He saw that entrusting ourselves to God, who loved us enough to die for us, gives us reason to comfort, forgive, inspire, and lovingly challenge one another (1 Thess. 5:10–11).
Paul shows us that encouraging one another is a way of helping one another get a taste of the patience and goodness of God.
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.