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.
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.
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.
Her thirty classmates and their parents watched as Mi’Asya nervously walked to the podium to speak at her fifth grade graduation ceremony. When the principal adjusted the microphone to Mi’Asya’s height, she turned her back to the microphone and the audience. The crowd whispered words of encouragement: “Come on, honey, you can do it.” But she didn’t budge. Then a classmate walked to the front and stood by her side. With the principal on one side of Mi’Asya and her friend on the other, the three read her speech together. What a beautiful example of support!
Moses needed help and support in the middle of a battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:10–16). “As long as Moses held up his hands [with the staff of God in his hands], the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (v. 11). When Aaron and Hur saw what was happening, they stood beside Moses, “one on one side, one on the other,” and supported his arms when he grew tired. With their support, victory came by sunset.
We all need the support of one another. As brothers and sisters in the family of God, we have so many opportunities to encourage one another on our shared journey of faith. And God is right here in our midst giving us His grace to do that.
To help his staff of young architects understand the needs of those for whom they design housing, David Dillard sends them on “sleepovers.” They put on pajamas and spend 24 hours in a senior living center in the same conditions as people in their 80s and 90s. They wear earplugs to simulate hearing loss, tape their fingers together to limit manual dexterity, and exchange eyeglasses to replicate vision problems. Dillard says, “The biggest benefit is [that] when I send 27-year-olds out, they come back with a heart 10 times as big. They meet people and understand their plights” (Rodney Brooks, USA Today).
Jesus lived on this earth for 33 years and shared in our humanity. He was made like us, “fully human in every way” (Heb. 2:17), so He knows what it’s like to live in a human body on this earth. He understands the struggles we face and comes alongside with understanding and encouragement.
“Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18). The Lord could have avoided the cross. Instead, He obeyed His Father. Through His death, He broke the power of Satan and freed us from our fear of death (vv. 14-15).
In every temptation, Jesus walks beside us to give us courage, strength, and hope along the way.
Richard needed a push, and he got one. He was rock climbing with his friend Kevin who was the belayer (the one who secures the rope). Exhausted and ready to quit, Richard asked Kevin to lower him to the ground. But Kevin urged him on, saying he had come too far to quit now. Dangling in midair, Richard decided to keep trying. Amazingly, he was able to reconnect with the rock and complete the climb because of his friend’s encouragement.
In the early church, followers of Jesus encouraged one another to continue to follow their Lord and to show compassion. In a culture riddled with immorality, they passionately appealed to one another to live pure lives (Rom. 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:1). Believers encouraged one another daily, as God prompted them to do so (Acts 13:15). They urged each other to intercede for the body (Rom. 15:30), to help people stay connected to the church (Heb. 10:25), and to love more and more (1 Thess. 4:10).
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has connected us to one another. Therefore, we have the responsibility and privilege with God’s enablement to encourage fellow believers to finish the climb of trusting and obeying Him.
At the beginning of World War II, aerial bombings flattened much of Warsaw, Poland. Cement blocks, ruptured plumbing, and shards of glass lay strewn across the great city. In the downtown area, however, most of one damaged building still stubbornly stood. It was the Polish headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Still legible on a surviving wall were these words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
Jesus made that statement to encourage His disciples when they asked Him about the “end of the age” (v. 3). But His words also give us courage in the midst of our embattled situation today. Standing in the rubble of our shattered dreams, we can still find confidence in God’s indestructible character, sovereignty, and promises.
The psalmist wrote: “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89). But it is more than the word of the Lord; it is His very character. That is why the psalmist could also say, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (v. 90).
As we face devastating experiences, we can define them either in terms of despair or of hope. Because God will not abandon us to our circumstances, we can confidently choose hope. His enduring Word assures us of His unfailing love.
An industrial design graduate from a Singapore university was challenged in a workshop to come up with a novel solution to a common problem using only ordinary objects. She created a vest to protect one’s personal space from being invaded while traveling in the crush of crowded public trains and buses. The vest was covered with long, flexible plastic spikes normally used to keep birds and cats away from plants.
Jesus knew what it was like to lose His personal space in the commotion of crowds desperate to see and touch Him. A woman who had suffered from constant bleeding for 12 years and could find no cure touched the fringe of His robe. Immediately, her bleeding stopped (Luke 8:43-44).
Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” (v. 45) isn’t as strange as it sounds. He felt power come out of Him (v. 46). That touch was different from those who merely happened to accidentally touch Him.
While we must admit that we do sometimes wish to keep our personal space and privacy, the only way we help a world of hurting people is to let them get close enough to be touched by the encouragement, comfort, and grace of Christ in us.
The Akan people of Ghana have a proverb: “The lizard is not as mad with the boys who threw stones at it as with the boys who stood by and rejoiced over its fate!” Rejoicing at someone’s downfall is like participating in the cause of that downfall or even wishing more evil on the person.
That was the attitude of the Ammonites who maliciously rejoiced when the temple in Jerusalem “was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile” (Ezek. 25:3). For spitefully celebrating Israel’s misfortunes, the Ammonites experienced God’s displeasure, which resulted in grim consequences (vv. 4-7).
How do we react when disaster befalls our neighbor or when our neighbor gets into trouble? If she is a nice and friendly neighbor, then, of course, we will sympathize with her and go to her aid. But what if he is an unfriendly, trouble-making neighbor? Our natural tendency may be to ignore him or even secretly rejoice at his downfall.
Proverbs warns us: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice” (24:17). Instead, Jesus tells us that we show His love in action when we “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44). By so doing, we imitate the perfect love of our Lord (5:48).
A man was boarding a train in Perth, Australia, when he slipped and his leg got caught in the gap between the train carriage and the station platform. Dozens of passengers quickly came to his rescue. They used their sheer might to tilt the train away from the platform, and the trapped man was freed! The train service’s spokesman, David Hynes, said in an interview, “Everyone sort of pitched in. It was people power that saved someone from possibly quite serious injury.”
In Ephesians 4, we read that people power is God’s plan for building up His family. He has given each of us a special gift of His grace (v. 7) for the specific purpose that “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (v. 16).
Every person has a job to do in God’s family; there are no spectators. In God’s family we weep and laugh together. We bear each other’s burdens. We pray for and encourage one another. We challenge and help each other to turn from sin. Show us, Father, our part in helping Your family today.
Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”
A friend asked a newly retired man what he was doing now that he was no longer working full-time. “I describe myself as a visitor,” the man replied. “I go see people in our church and community who are in the hospital or care facilities, living alone, or just need someone to talk and pray with them. And I enjoy doing it!” My friend was impressed by this man’s clear sense of purpose and his care for others.
At the beginning of each new year, experts give their predictions about the economy, politics, weather, and a host of other topics. Will there be war or peace? Poverty or prosperity? Progress or stagnation? People everywhere are hoping that this year will be better than last, but no one knows what will happen.
A while ago I attended a conference on the Middle Ages. In one seminar we actually prepared several foods that would have been common in medieval times. We used pestle and mortar to grind cinnamon and fruit to make jam. We cut orange rinds and broiled them with honey and ginger to produce a sweet snack. We crushed almonds with water and other ingredients to create almond milk. And, finally, we prepared a whole chicken to serve as a main dish with rice. As we sampled these dishes, we enjoyed a tasty culinary experience.
In the African country where my friend Roxanne lives, water is a precious commodity. People often have to travel long distances to collect water from small, contaminated creeks—leading to sickness and death. It’s difficult for organizations like orphanages and churches to serve the people because of a lack of water. But that’s beginning to change.
I can still see Jay Elliott’s shocked face as I burst through his front door almost 50 years ago with a “gang” of bees swirling around me. As I raced out his back door, I realized the bees were gone. Well, sort of—I’d left them in Jay’s house! Moments later, he came racing out his back door—chased by the bees I had brought to him.
The story is told that in the late 1800s a group of European pastors attended D. L. Moody’s Bible conference in Massachusetts. Following their custom, they put their shoes outside their room before they slept, expecting them to be cleaned by hotel workers. When Moody saw the shoes, he mentioned the need to others because he knew their custom. But he was met with silence. Moody collected all the shoes and cleaned them himself. A friend who made an unexpected visit to his room revealed what Moody had done. The word spread, and the next few nights others took turns doing the cleaning.
While reading the obituary of Eugene Patterson, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Atlanta Constitution from 1960 to 1968, I was struck by two things. First, for many years Patterson was a fearless voice for civil rights during a time when many opposed racial equality. In addition, he wrote a column every day for 8 years. That’s 2,922 newspaper columns! Day after day, year after year. Courage and consistency were key factors in the impact of his life.
After trying on my new sunglasses in the car one day, my daughter handed them back and said, “These are not sunglasses, Mom. They’re just fashion lenses. Let me guess,” she teased, “you bought them because you look cute in them.”
Nicknames are often descriptive of some noticeable aspect of a person’s character or physical attributes. Growing up, my elementary school friends brutally called me “liver lips” since at that stage of development my lips seemed disproportionately large. Needless to say, I have always been glad that the name didn’t stick.
An acquaintance of mine was hunting with friends near Balmoral, the country estate of the queen of England. As they walked, he twisted his ankle so badly that he couldn’t go on, so he told his friends to continue and he would wait by the side of the road.
Recently, a friend from my youth emailed me a picture of our junior high track team. The grainy black-and-white snapshot showed a vaguely familiar group of teens with our two coaches. I was instantly swept back in time to happy memories of running the mile and the half-mile in track meets. Yet even as I enjoyed remembering those days, I found myself thinking about how easily I had forgotten them and moved on to other things.
After a group of high schoolers visited an orphanage during a ministry trip, one student was visibly upset. When asked why, he said it reminded him of his own situation 10 years earlier.
In their book Dear Mrs. Kennedy, Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis note that during the weeks following the assassination of US President John Kennedy, his widow, Jacqueline, received nearly one million letters from people in every part of the world. Some came from heads of state, celebrities, and close friends. Others were sent by ordinary people who addressed them to “Madame Kennedy, Washington” and “Mrs. President, America.” All wrote to express their grief and sympathy for her great loss.
Not long ago I developed a physical problem. My left shoulder and arm were aching, I had a painful rash on my forearm and thumb, and I struggled daily with fatigue. When I finally went to the doctor, I learned that I had a case of shingles. The doctor put me on antiviral medication and said it would take several weeks for the disease to run its course.
The name of the southeastern Asian nation of Indonesia is formed by combining two Greek words which together mean “island.” That name is appropriate because Indonesia is made up of more than 17,500 islands spanning nearly 750,000 square miles. Indonesia—an appropriate name for a nation of islands.
When the British Broadcasting Corporation asked for examples of important-sounding, obscure, and even bizarre job titles, one writer offered hers: Underwater Ceramic Technician. She was a dishwasher at a restaurant. Sometimes titles are used to make a job sound more important.
Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake of Jamaica made history when they finished first and second respectively in both the men’s 100-meter and 200-meter race in the 2012 London Olympics. Despite their rivalry on the track, Bolt paid tribute to Blake as a training partner: “Over the years, Yohan has made me a better athlete. He really pushed me and kept me on my toes.” It’s clear that the two spurred each other on to greatness on the track.
Many of us face the challenge of working with limited resources. Equipped with less money, less time, dwindling energy, and fewer helpers, our workload may remain the same. Sometimes, it even increases. There’s a saying that sums up this predicament: “More bricks, less straw.”
Even at the end of his life, C. S. Lewis showed an interest in the spiritual nurture of younger believers. Although in ill health, he took time to respond to the letter of a child named Philip. Complimenting the boy’s fine written expression, Lewis said he was delighted that Philip understood that in the Narnia Chronicles the lion Aslan represented Jesus Christ. The next day, Lewis died at his home in the Kilns, Oxford, England, one week before his 65th birthday.
At the age of 86, Ken Deal concluded more than 3 decades of volunteer jail and prison ministry with a final Sunday sermon. His message to the inmates was about serving the Lord while incarcerated. Many of the examples he used came from prisoners, some serving life sentences. In a place everyone wants to leave, he encouraged them to grow and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
After 20 children and 6 staff members were murdered in a Connecticut school, the entire nation was stunned that such a horrific thing could happen. Everyone focused on the tragedy and the questions surrounding it: What kind of person would do such a thing, and why? How can we prevent it from happening again? How can we help the survivors? Amid the chaos, an unlikely group moved in and made a difference.
I received this note from a friend serving in an orphanage in a developing country: “Yesterday, as I was sitting at my office desk, I noticed a trail of ants on the floor. As I followed it, I was shocked to see that thousands of ants had blanketed the walls of our office building—inside and out. They swarmed everything. Fortunately, one of the workers . . . set to work. Less than an hour later, the ants were gone.”
At her birthday celebration, the honored guest turned the tables by giving everyone at the party a gift. Kriste gave each of us a personal note expressing what we mean to her, along with encouraging words about the person God made us to be. Enclosed with every note was one piece of a jigsaw puzzle as a reminder that each of us is unique and important in God’s plan.
Jim Davidson was climbing down Mount Rainier when he fell through a snow bridge and into a crevasse (a pitch-black, ice-walled crack in a glacier). As Jim stood bloodied and bruised in that dark ice cave, he reflected on his childhood and recalled how his father had repeatedly reminded him that he could accomplish great things if he pressed through adversity. Those words helped to sustain Jim as he spent the next 5 hours climbing out of that dark ice cave to safety with very little gear and under extremely difficult circumstances.
A while ago, I wrote an article about my wife, Marlene, and her struggles with vertigo. When the article appeared, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of response from readers offering encouragement, help, suggestions and, mostly, concern for her well-being. These messages came from all over the world, from people in all walks of life. Expressions of loving concern for my wife poured in to the point where we could not even begin to answer them all. It was overwhelming in the best kind of way to see the body of Christ respond to Marlene’s struggle. We were, and remain, deeply grateful.
In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and burned more than 18,000 acres of mountain forest. The fire was declared 100-percent contained when perimeter lines had been built around the entire area of the blaze. It had been confined to a defined area until it could be fully extinguished. A fire information official warned residents that they might continue to see smoke in the burn area because even though the fire was fully contained it “is not controlled and it is not out.”
Francis Schaeffer, author and Christian apologist, struggled to spell words correctly because of dyslexia. At the college he attended, spelling errors lowered the grade on all written assignments. During his first year, a professor told Schaeffer, “This is the best philosophy paper I’ve ever read, but it’s the worst spelling. What am I going to do? I can’t pass you.”
I’ve noticed through the years that those who have suffered are quick to comfort other sufferers. When a young couple suffers the loss of a child, another couple who also lost a child in the past asks if they can help. If a couple loses their main income, almost immediately another couple steps forward to offer their aid, remembering their own journey through foreclosure years earlier. Again and again we see the body of Christ supporting and encouraging one another. These Christians have learned that they can use the trials they’ve been through to reach out to others going through similar difficulties.
On a sandy beach in Uruguay, giant concrete fingers partially submerged in sand reach up toward the sky. It is called the Monument to the Drowned. Locals just call it La Mano, “The Hand.” It was created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal as a warning to swimmers about the danger of drowning. “The Hand” has become a tourist attraction, but its real purpose remains to remind swimmers about the perils of the sea.
Baseball Hall-of-Fame catcher Gary Carter was a follower of Jesus. During his 19-year career, he drew strength and endurance from his faith in God to compete day after day. In an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal shortly after Carter died of brain cancer at age 57, writer Andrew Klavan told how Carter had influenced his life.
In September 1961, Harvey Karlsen, a high school student in Brooklyn, New York, wrote to C. S. Lewis in England. Harvey had read Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters and asked the author, “When you wrote this book, did Satan give you any trouble, and if he did, what did you do about it?”
Now in my sixties, I reflect back on wise spiritual leaders who had a positive impact on my life. In Bible school, God used my Old Testament professor to make the Word come alive. My Greek teacher relentlessly employed high standards to goad my study of the New Testament. And the senior pastor in my first pastoral ministry shepherded me in building vital ministries to help others grow spiritually. Each of these teachers encouraged me in different ways.
In his very first Little League baseball game, a young player on the team I was coaching got hit in the face with a ball. He was not hurt but was understandably shaken. For the rest of the season, he was afraid of the ball. Game after game, he bravely tried, but he just couldn’t seem to hit the ball.
There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’” (Ps. 4:6). These words of David seem to describe the pessimistic outlook we so easily develop in our world today. The front page of newspapers and the top stories on the Internet or television seem to focus on crime, accidents, politics, the economy, and prominent people behaving badly. Our conversations at work and home begin to dwell on difficulties, and it’s enough to discourage anyone. Where can we turn for better news?
When a friend started making random despairing statements, people were concerned for him and started giving advice and offering encouragement. As it turned out, he was simply having fun by quoting song lyrics out of context to start a conversation. Friends who tried to help wasted their time by offering help he didn’t need and advice he didn’t want. The consequences of my friend’s misleading statements were not serious, but they could have been. In taking time to respond to his false need, someone could have neglected someone else’s truly serious need.
I met my friend Angie for lunch after having not seen her for several months. At the end of our time together, she pulled out a piece of paper with notes from our previous get-together. It was a list of my prayer requests she had been praying for since then. She went through each one and asked if God had answered yet or if there were any updates. And then we talked about her prayer requests. How encouraging to have a praying friend!
Just before Christmas one year, a friend was diagnosed with leukemia and was told she must begin chemotherapy immediately. Just a few weeks earlier, Kim had told friends how blessed and content she felt with a loving family, a comfortable home, and a new grandson. As she entered the hospital, Kim asked Jesus to make His presence known to her and to stay close.
Of the many things I love about my mom, chief among them may be her candor. Many times I have called to ask her opinion on a matter and she has consistently responded, “Don’t ask my opinion unless you want to hear it. I’m not going to try to figure out what you want to hear. I’ll tell you what I really think.”
A while back, an Emmy award-winning actress took a courageous stand and walked out in the middle of the Annual American Music Awards ceremony. Her reason? She grew increasingly upset and disappointed by what she described as “an onslaught of lewd jokes and off-color remarks” and raw and raunchy comments by presenters, performers, and hosts. She said the evening was an affront to anyone with a shred of dignity and self-respect.
The story has been told about a conductor who was rehearsing his orchestra. The organ was giving a beautiful melody, the drums were thundering, the trumpets were blaring, and the violins were singing beautifully. But the conductor noticed something missing—the piccolo. The piccolo player had gotten distracted and hoped his instrument wouldn’t be missed. The conductor reminded him: “Each one of us is necessary.”
During a difficult recession, I organized a support group for fellow Christians to help them cope with unemployment. We provided resumé reviews, networking, and prayer support. One problem emerged: Whenever someone got a job, he or she almost never returned to the group to offer encouragement. That increased the loneliness and isolation of those left in the group.
After high school, Darrell Blizzard left the orphanage where he grew up to join the US Army Air Corps. World War II was in full swing, and soon he faced responsibilities usually given to older and more experienced men. He told a reporter years later that a four-mule plow team was the biggest thing he’d driven before he became the pilot of a four-engine B-17. Now in his late eighties, he said, “We were all just kids flying those things.”
Are you looking for encourage- ment? Do you need a little boost today amid all the bad news coming your way? The psalmist David can lift your spirit in an unexpected way through some words we often think of as negative.
When my daughter Debbie was a little girl, she took ballet lessons. One dance exercise involved jumping over a rolled-up gym mat. Debbie’s first attempt resulted in her bouncing off this hurdle. For a moment she sat on the floor stunned, and then she began to cry. Immediately, I darted out to help her up and spoke soothing words to her. Then, holding her hand, I ran with her until she successfully jumped over the rolled-up mat. Debbie needed my encouragement to clear that hurdle.
I love the words always and never. They hold so much hope! I would like to think that I could always be happy and that life would never fail me. But reality says that I won’t always be happy and that the things I hope would never happen just might. So, as good as these words sound, they struggle to live up to their potential—unless you are thinking about the promise of Jesus’ presence.
One of the qualities I most admire in others is the gift of quiet, behind-the-scenes encouragement. I remember arriving home from a stay in the hospital and finding that my friend Jackie (who had surgery a few days earlier) sent me a book of God’s promises.
During the US Civil War, hatred became entrenched between the North and South. In one instance, President Abraham Lincoln was criticized for speaking of benevolent treatment for the Southern rebels. The critic reminded Lincoln that there was a war going on, the Confederates were the enemy, and they should be destroyed. But Lincoln wisely responded, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
My friend Melissa’s 9-year-old daughter Sydnie was in the hospital for chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant when I had a dream about her. I dreamed she was staying in a central room at the hospital with her parents. Surrounding her room was a block of other rooms where family and friends were staying and continually praying for her during her times of treatment.
Dr. Deb Roy, a researcher and cognitive scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recorded the first 3 years of his child’s life to learn how humans acquire language. He and his wife rigged their home with recording devices, which they used to collect over 200,000 hours of audio and video footage. Amassing, condensing, and editing the recordings enabled them to hear baby sounds like “gaga” evolve into words like “water.”
As we got off the bus at a home for mentally and physically challenged children in Copse, Jamaica, I didn’t expect to find a football player. While the teen choir and the other adult chaperones dispersed to find kids to hug, love, and play with, I came upon a young man named William.
Not long ago, a friend of mine was facing surgery. Two disks in his back and a detached Achilles tendon were creating a lot of pain. After assuring him of my prayers, I was struck with the idea of sending him something in writing to further encourage him. So I sent the following e-mail:
Many high school students with autism or Down syndrome feel excluded and ignored. They often eat alone in a crowded cafeteria because other students don’t know how to relate to them or simply don’t care. To address this need, speech therapist Barbara Palilis began “Circle of Friends”—a program that pairs students with disabilities with nondisabled peers for lunch dates and social activities. Through this outreach, special-needs students and those nondisabled peers who befriend them continue to be enriched and changed through the gift of acceptance, friendship, and understanding.
When my husband built a covered porch on the front of our house, he anticipated that someday a bird might try to build a nest there. So he built the top of the corner post on a slant. Later we laughed smugly when we saw robins trying their best to claim squatting rights to a new home. Piles of grass on the porch revealed their wasted efforts. But after 2 days of steady rain, we saw that a nest had indeed appeared in the very spot we thought was impossible. Because of the rain, Mrs. Robin was able to mix up a batch of mud mortar. Weaving it with twigs and grass, our determined feathered friend had built herself a new nest. She had persevered.
The people of Israel were struggling. They had been taken captive by the Babylonians and forced to live in a country far from home. What could the prophet Isaiah give these weary people to help them?
It’s easy to develop a critical spirit toward people who are not growing spiritually according to our expectations. We can easily spot areas of concern that need correction, but we also need to take note of what’s right. In his letters, Paul often needed to correct churches, but he also celebrated what was good.
Joel and Lauren decided to move from Washington State back home to Michigan. Wanting to make one last special memory, they bought coffee from their favorite cafe and then stopped at their favorite bookstore. There they picked up two bumper stickers with a favorite motto of the town they were saying goodbye to: “It’s an Edmonds kind of day.”
Experts who track the changing vocabulary of the English language chose unfriend as the New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year for 2009. They defined it as a verb, “to remove someone as a friend on a social networking Web site,” such as Facebook. On that site, friends allow each other to access the personal information on their Facebook pages. They may never meet face to face or even exchange greetings online. In our world of fleeting cyber acquaintances, we are beginning to realize that having a true friend means more now than ever before.
People who study sharks tell us that they are most likely to attack when they sense blood in the water. The blood acts as a trigger to their feeding mechanism and they attack, often in a group, creating a deadly feeding frenzy. Blood in the water marks the vulnerability of the target.
My friend and I were traveling together, and she seemed a bit frazzled. When we got to the airport, she forgot to have her identification readily available and couldn’t find her reservation confirmation number. The ticket agent waited patiently, smiled, and then helped her at the “self” check-in. After receiving her ticket, she asked, “Where do we go next?” The agent smiled again, pointed at me, and said to her, “Stay close to your friend.”
In the Roman Empire, pagans would often call on the name of a god or goddess as they placed bets in a game of chance. A favorite deity of the gambler was Aphrodite, the Greek word for Venus, the goddess of love. During the roll of the dice, they would say “epaphroditus!” literally, “by Aphrodite!”
During a time of economic crisis and depressing news, two students at Purdue University decided to lift the spirits of people on campus with some encouraging words. For two hours every Wednesday afternoon, Cameron Brown and Brett Westcott stood along a busy walkway holding a large “Free Compliments” sign and saying nice things to everyone who passed by. “I like your red coat.” “Cool snow boots.” “Very nice smile.” Some students said they deliberately walked past “the compliment guys” every Wednesday just to hear a kind word.
Not long ago, my wife, Janet, and I accepted an invitation to dine with a Christian woman who attends our Sunday school class. In her zeal to prepare a meal for us, she cut her index finger deeply. As we drove her to the emergency room, we prayed for her, and then we kept her company in the waiting room. Several hours later, our friend finally saw the doctor.
Many of the first astronauts were once Boy Scouts. The scouts were good at capturing the imagination of young boys and instilling discipline to reach their goals—even if it meant reaching for the stars.
In his book A Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester writes of the small earthquake-prone town of Parkfield, California. Seeking to attract tourists, a hotel sign reads: “Sleep Here When It Happens.” A local restaurant menu features a large steak called “The Big One,” and desserts are called “Aftershocks.” But all humor aside, a real earthquake can be a terrifying experience. I know. I’ve lived through California earthquakes.
Louis Armstrong was well known for his smiling face, raspy voice, white handkerchief, and virtuoso trumpet playing. Yet his childhood was one of want and pain. He was abandoned by his father as an infant and sent to reform school when he was only 12. Surprisingly, this became a positive turning point.
Several years ago, my husband helped to lead a work crew of high school students on a short-term missions trip to a Christian school in an urban community. Unfortunately, Tom had broken his foot shortly before the trip and was supervising the work from a wheelchair. He was discouraged because he wasn’t able to get around as he had hoped.
I was at my grandson’s eighth-grade football game when the referee indicated there was a penalty and stopped play. Apparently, after the ball was thrown, the boy who passed it was tackled, prompting a penalty flag. The announcer from the press box said: “There is a flag on the field. The penalty is roughing the pastor . . . I mean, roughing the passer.” As soon as he said it, I thought to myself, God could give that penalty to some churches today!
In November 2008, the US Supreme Court debated the constitutional limits on foul language. The Federal Communications Commission cited a national broadcasting company for allowing two entertainers to use two common profanities on the air. The broadcasting company argued that “fleeting” profanity that was not blatantly sexual should not be punished. Others countered that it is our duty to protect children from such language.
In the US, more long distance calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day. But on Father’s Day, the most collect calls are made. It seems that children still depend on their fathers to provide, even when they are far away from home.
Just before kickoff at Super Bowl XLIII, Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award—a tribute given to the player who had best combined on-field excellence with off-field community service. “I am humbled the Lord has given me such an amazing life to impact others,” said Warner, a dedicated Christian. “Of all the awards given to NFL athletes, [this one] stands out . . . because of what it represents.” It represents a commitment to giving and sacrificing for others.
You may be familiar with the list of seven deadly sins that was formulated during the sixth century: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, vengeance, envy, and pride. But you may not know that the original list compiled during the fourth century also included the sin of sadness. Over the years, that emotion was omitted from the inventory.
A report by the Chicago Tribune said: “Scores of Americans, from clergymen to lawyers to CEOs, are claiming medals of valor they never earned.” Fabrication of war records and bogus claims of bravery are more widespread than imagined. One man, who falsely claimed a Navy Cross, later felt shame and said that real heroes rarely talk about what they’ve done.
Soon after her family left for the evening, Carol started to think that her hospital room must be the loneliest place in the world. Nighttime had fallen, her fears about her illness were back, and she felt overwhelming despair as she lay there alone.
When Dave and Joy Mueller felt God prompting them to move to Sudan as missionaries, all they knew was that they would be helping to build a hospital in that war-ravaged land. How could they know that goats would be in their future?
We Christians can sometimes be a joyless lot, preoccupied with maintaining our dignity. That’s an odd attitude, though, since we’re joined to a God who has given us His wonderful gift of joy and laughter.
Stuck in a long line at the US-Canada border, Joel Schoon Tanis had to do something to lighten the mood! He reached for his bottles of bubble-making solution, bounded out of the car, and began blowing bubbles. He handed bottles to other drivers too, and he says that “soon there were bubbles everywhere. . . . It’s amazing what bubbles do for people.” The line didn’t move any faster, but “suddenly everyone was happy,” Joel says.
Father’s Day is celebrated in many countries worldwide. Although the origins, activities, and actual day of observance differ widely, they all share the common thread of honoring fathers for their role as parents.
My wife and I like to rollerblade. Near the end of one of our favorite routes is a long hill. When we first started taking this route, I tried to encourage Sue by saying, “Are you ready for the hill?” just before pushing our way to the top. But one day she said, “Could you please not say that? You make it sound like a huge mountain, and that discourages me.”
On a crisp October morning, our local newspaper featured a stunning photo of sun-drenched aspen trees whose leaves had turned autumn gold. The caption read: FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY. The irresistible invitation to take a drive through the mountains to savor the brilliant colors conveyed the urgency of doing it quickly. Autumn leaves that are golden today are often gone tomorrow.
Artist Tom Greaves knows how to give compliments. He designed a bright red-and-white-striped box for an art exhibit in Washington, DC, called “The Compliment Machine.” As people walk by, the machine dishes out compliments from an internal iPod. It says things like, “Your eyes are beautiful,” “You smell good,” and “People are drawn to your positive energy.”
A mosquito is a tiny insect—but its potential for devastation is huge. When I was in the 5th grade, I was bitten by mosquitoes on both of my knees. The bites became infected and deteriorated into a threatening case of blood poisoning. For over a month, I was pricked repeatedly with penicillin shots, and my knees had to be lanced and drained twice daily to remove the infection. It was excruciatingly painful and quite terrifying for a 10-year-old kid. To this day, I carry scars on my knees from the numerous lancings. All because of something as tiny as a mosquito.
After visiting a homeless shelter, a group of teenagers couldn’t wait to express what they had experienced. Excitedly, they wrote about their visits with men and women of all ages who were poor and destitute.
A new believer recently attended our worship service. He had long, multicolored, spiked hair. He dressed in dark clothes and had multiple piercings and tattoos. Some gaped; others just gave him that “It’s good to see you in church, but please don’t sit next to me” smile. Yet there were some during the greeting time who went out of their way to welcome and accept him. They were bridge builders.
A mile from the finish line of the London Marathon, thousands of onlookers holding signs lined the route. When spectators spotted a family member or friend coming into view, they shouted the person's name, waved, and yelled encouragement: "Just a little farther! Keep going! You're almost there." After running 25 miles, many competitors were barely walking and ready to quit. It was amazing to watch exhausted runners brighten and pick up the pace when they saw someone they knew or heard their name called out.
I have high respect for brave men and women who climb rugged mountain peaks. They have to take serious precautions as they scale sheer cliffs. One safety feature is a line that’s always connected to a person below, who is called the “belayer.” If the climber loses his balance or falls, the belayer holds him securely until he can regain his footing and continue his ascent or descent. Thus, “to belay” is to anchor, to hold securely, to keep safe.
In 2006, while promoting the film Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone surprised Christians with what he revealed. He said that his faith in Jesus Christ had not only influenced the writing of the first Rocky film but that his decision to create the final movie was inspired by his renewed affiliation with Christianity. As part of this transformation, Stallone realized that a poor choice had previously guided his life—self-reliance. He says, “You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else.” Stallone learned something that many people are beginning to acknowledge—we need God and we need other people.
When Jean was a teenager, she often walked through a park where she saw mothers sitting on benches and talking. Their toddlers sat on the swings, wanting someone to push them. "I gave them a push," says Jean. "And you know what happens when you push a kid on a swing? Pretty soon he’s pumping, doing it himself. That’s what my role in life is—I’m there to give others a push."
How does a believer in Jesus Christ cope with life’s brevity and burdens without giving in to what Michael Easley of Moody Bible Institute calls “Eeyore theology”? Eeyore, Winnie-the-Pooh’s gloomy donkey friend, always walks slowly with his head down. He sees the negative side of everything. An Eeyore Christian can be heard making statements like these: “Sin is rampant everywhere—even in the church.” “The world is in worse shape than ever.” “God is about to judge us for our wickedness.”
You’ve felt it yourself, or at least listened to other people talk about it—the blues, times of dark discouragement. Lynette Joy, in an article for christianwomentoday.com, tells of several steps we can take during those dark times to turn toward Jesus, the Light of the World:
The Old Testament characters Job and Daniel had much in common. Both went through serious trials and challenges. Both had great success because of the blessing of God’s presence in their lives. Both are viewed as giants of the faith, one for his patience in suffering and the other for his purity in an impure culture.
Psalm 107 tells of “those who go down to the sea in ships” (v.23). Along their journey at sea, they see God as the One behind the tempestuous storm and the One who calms it. In the world of sailing vessels there were two great fears. One fear was of a terrible gale, and the other was of having no wind at all.
When Leo and Amy opened a 300-seat, fine-dining restaurant, Leo admitted he was “scared of everything.” Amy equates their leap of faith in starting their business to holding hands while jumping off a mountain. But if you’re going to do something scary, “you want to do it with someone you know and trust,” Leo continued.
Although Billy Connors was not a great athlete himself, many people consider him to be the best pitching coach in major league baseball today. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said: “Sometimes the best players can’t coach, because they were such naturals . . . whereas guys like Billy had to work at it, and pay attention to all the little things.”
Many churches observe March 25 as Annunciation Day. It commemorates the angel's announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. In our success-oriented society, this festival is a needed reminder to recognize and rejoice at the beginning of God's work in a person's life rather than holding our applause for the accomplishments.
When I receive a compliment, it gives me a warm, inner glow. At times I have felt guilty for enjoying a commendation. After all, isn't that a form of pride? But I have concluded that it is not wrong to feel good when we receive a sincere compliment because of something we have done.
Mel Trotter was a drunken barber whose salvation not only turned his own life around but also changed thousands of others. He was saved in 1897 in Chicago at the Pacific Garden Mission, and not long afterward was named director of the City Rescue Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A shopper underestimated the total cost of her groceries. When the cashier added up the items, the woman was $4 short. Then something unusual happened. The man behind her in the checkout lane saw her digging through her purse and motioned to the clerk to put the amount on his bill. He modestly refused to give the woman his name.
During a Sunday morning worship service, I was intrigued to see the interpreter for the deaf continue to sign during an instrumental piano offertory. After the service I asked her what she was saying during that time when no words were being spoken or sung. She said that she had signed the words to the hymn being played, and also answered questions her "audience" asked about the pianist, her style, and her training.
We know little about Epaphras except that he was so concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people in Colosse that he is described as "laboring fervently . . . in prayers" for them (Colossians 4:12). When I was a pastor, I saw this kind of enthusiasm in the way new converts prayed and witnessed. But all too often, many of them gradually lost their zeal.
A woman named Nancy put this ad in her local newspaper: "If you are lonely or have a problem, call me. I am in a wheelchair and seldom get out. We can share our problems with each other. Just call. I'd love to talk." The response to that ad was surprising—30 calls or more every week.
Our daughter Melissa had many friends during her high school days. One of her best friends was Katie. After Melissa's death in a car accident, Katie told us how they had become friends.
In Edith Schaeffer's book called The Tapestry, she describes a summer when her husband Francis was away in Europe for 3 months. During that time of missing him greatly, Edith and her sister Janet took their children to live in a former schoolhouse on Cape Cod. On a shoestring budget they shared the rent, lived without a car, and created daily adventures for the five young children.
There's a story of an eccentric old man who carried an oil can with him everywhere he went. If he passed through a squeaky door or a stiff gate, he applied oil to the hinges. His practice of lubricating made life easier for those who followed after him.
In a Better Homes and Gardens article titled “Laugh Your Way to Good Health,”Nick Gallo made an observation that echoes what Solomon wrote thousands of years ago:“A merry heart does good, like medicine”(Proverbs 17:22). Gallo said,“Humor is good medicine-and can actually help keep you in good health.”He quoted William F. Fry, M.D., who describes laughter as“inner jogging”and says that it’s good for a person’s cardiovascular system.
As I glanced through the mail, some words on a card from a charitable organization caught my eye: WE NEED YOUR DISCARDS! The meaning was straightforward and simple: Whatever you don't want, we'll take. Those household items you call rubbish, rejects, throwaways, and junk, we'll use to help people in need.
I read about a young boy who had been naughty. During family devotions the father prayed for his son and mentioned a number of bad things the boy had done. Soon afterward the mother heard the 6-year-old sobbing. When she asked what was wrong, the boy cried out, "Daddy always tells God the bad things about me. He never tells Him the good things I do!"
In Deuteronomy 3 we read that Moses encouraged Joshua as he was about to assume leadership of the Israelites. No doubt Joshua was filled with fear and a feeling of inadequacy to fill Moses' shoes. The Lord therefore told Moses to encourage Joshua.
I once read about a distraught Christian woman who was extremely upset because her children had become unruly. She telephoned her husband at work one day and tearfully described the visit of a friend who had pinned this verse above the kitchen sink: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). The friend had meant well. She was trying to be helpful, but her action just made the mom feel even more like a failure.
Someone needs to talk to you today. Are you willing to listen? It may be a deep confession of failure, an expression of faith, an old joke, or a comment about the weather, but it needs to be said. The person may be a child or a senior citizen. Are you ready to lend an ear?
Ron, a recent Bible-school graduate, had been a youth pastor for about 3 months. Some of the young people seemed to resent him, certain parents were beginning to criticize him, and he was getting discouraged. Then the chairman of the church board invited him to lunch. "Uh-oh," he said to his wife. "Here it comes."
I thought it was a misprint when the schedule at a Christian men's conference noted 2 1/2 hours for introductions. But the time was correct and it turned out to be the most meaningful part of the weekend for me.
In 1946, when the US Army unveiled its 30-ton computer called ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), two men named John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert received all the credit. But it was six women behind the scenes who made the computer work.
When I first became a Christian, my friends and I had a way of helping each other memorize portions of the Bible. We would greet one another by asking the other person to quote a verse. Knowing of my poor memory, one friend used to humorously say to me, "Quote John 11:35!" He knew that it would be easy for me to remember this two-word verse.