Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where Seldom Is Heard An Encouraging Word - Romans 12:1-8

Romans 12:1-8
1             Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.
2             Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3             For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
4             Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
5             so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
6             We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is prophesying, then that person should use that gift in faith.
7             If it is serving, that person should serve; if it is teaching, then teach;
8             if it is encouraging, then be encouraging; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let that person give generously; if it is leadership, that person should govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, do so cheerfully.

          I met a man recently who was telling me about an experience he had while he was on vacation in the Bahamas.  He said he was walking along and he came to a pier and as he approached the pier he could tell that there was a great commotion going on, so he walked onto the pier to see what was going on.

          He looked down and saw this modern day adventurer, this young sailor who was preparing this homemade sailing boat for a solo trip around the world.  My friend said that all of these tourists were gathered around the pier and they were looking down at this young man and they were shouting things like, "You're crazy.  It can't be done.  You'll never make it.  You're and idiot.  You'll run out of food.  You'll die of thirst."

          My friend said everyone was pessimistic, but there was in that crowd one lone voice that was different.  Perhaps a friend or relative of the young sailor, this voice was shouting, "I believe in you.  I've got confidence.  You're going to make it.  You've built a good boat.  You've made a solid plan.  You'll show them all."

          Man, what a perfect example of life.

          The old song, "Home on the Range," sings about a place where seldom is heard a discouraging word." 

          But we in out time and place seldom hear an encouraging word. 

          Paul in our New Testament lesson speaks of encouragement as a spiritual gift. And it is a rare and precious gift that all of us have to some degree -- or at least we should.  But some of us have it in a very special way.

          But all of us ought to be able to give encouraging words to one another. 

          The author of Hebrews made a comment (Hebrews 3:13)  "Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

          Encourage one another daily.

          In his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul said, "Encourage one another.  Build one another up."

          And yet many of us put one another down.

          Many of us stand at life's piers and we look down on other people and we say, "You're never going to make it.  You don't have what it takes.  You're not good enough."

          The Duke of Wellington, the military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was a hard man and not an easy man to serve under.  He was known for not having the ability to shower his subordinates with praise.  Yet he understood the value of encouragement.  Late in his life, when asked what he would do differently, he said, "Give more praise."

          All of us ought to give more encouragement and praise. 

          Nurture the spiritual gift of encouraging one another.

          To give more praise.

          Now don't believe for one moment that the Scripture teaches that we should give false praise or empty encouragement. 

          William Author Ward once said, "Flatter me and I will never believe you.  Criticize me and I may not like you.  Ignore me and I will never forgive you.  But encourage me and I'll never forget you.

          Dr. John Trent, Vice President of Today's Family, said in a recent magazine interview that sometimes giving encouragement means giving praise in the work of another person, with words and phrases like "great job," or "I'm proud of you," or "well done."

          But on the other hand there are times when encouragement gives no pretense that the other person has done a good job because maybe the other person has not done a good job at all.  Maybe they have done a lousy job, but they still need a word of encouragement from us.  You need to lift someone up in a manner that says "You're worth something.  You're a valuable person."

          I recently heard the story about a man who lost his job and he was thrown out of his profession for some indiscretion he had committed.  He was an office worker.  White collar worker.  Had a high level job.  But after his indiscretion and after the loss of his job, he took work at a construction company at the very bottom of the construction ladder.  He was a gofer.  He would spend most of his day hauling concrete bricks from one part of the construction site to the other.  He was plunged into a dramatically different world. Instead of going to an air conditioned office every day he was going to a hot, outdoor work site.  Instead of listening to soft music piped into the office he was listening to shouts of cursing and profanity all day long.  Instead of wearing a nice clean, tailored made suit, he was wearing blue jeans and a tattered old T Shirt.  Any girl who walked by was subject to whistles and sexually suggestive shouts from the workers.

          He said he just couldn't take this any longer.  After three weeks of trying his best, he was ready to give up.  It was just wearing his soul down.  He finally decided that when he went into work the next day and the supervisor handed him his paycheck for the week, he was going to take it and walk away and never look back.

          He'd find something, anything else.

          That day was a particularly bad day.  He did something stupid and everyone was making fun of him all morning long.  The foreman brought him his paycheck.  And as he handed it to the man, the foreman said something civil to him for the first time in three weeks. 

          He said, "Hey there's a woman in the front office who knows you.  She says she takes care of your kids sometimes."

          "Who," asked the worker.

          And the foreman gave a name of a woman who worked in the nursery of the church where he and his family worshipped. 

          The man took the paycheck envelope and opened it.  And there inside was his check.  And a note. 

          The note had this to say...

          "When part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer with it.  I just want you to know that I'm praying for you."

          The man stared at the note for a long time.  He didn't even know this woman worked in the front office of this company.  Here he was at his lowest point in life.  Here he was doing a lousy task in a lousy job, having committed an offense that had taken away his career.  Yet she had given him a word of encouragement that was just enough to enable him to turn back to the wheelbarrow and begin pushing another load of bricks.

          We need to encourage others around us all the time.  It may be in the form of giving them praise for a job well done.  It may be speaking to them at their lowest point when they are doing a lousy job, to simply say, "I'm with you.  I'm praying for you."

          In fact, it sometimes in the midst of a person's worst failures that the person needs to hear the words of encouragement the most.

          During a practice session with the Green Bay Packers, things were not going well for Coach Vince Lombardi team.  The coach singled one player out in particular for his failures to "put out."  The coach pulled this guard aside and raked him over the coals with a verbal assault for each and every one of his failures, yelling at him in such a way that everyone on the team and anyone in the vicinity could hear.  Finally, the coach said, "Son, you are a poor excuse for a football player.  You can't do anything right.  Now get off this field and hit the showers while the real football players stay and finish practice."

          The guard dropped his head and walked off the field.  Over an hour later, Coach Lombardi found the guard in the locker room.  Sitting on a bench.  Head hung low.  Sobbing softly.

          Lombardi was always a changeable character and he looked at this kid and did a sudden about face.  He sat next to him and put his arm around him and said, "Son.  You know, you really are a poor excuse for a football player.  You're not putting out the way you should.  But fortunately you have one thing that most football players don't have."

          There was a long pause, and finally the young player raised his head and looked at the coach and asked, "What's that?"

          Lombardi looked at him and said, "Unlike most football players, you have the BEST coach in the nation.  Now I know that right now, you are a poor football player.  But somewhere in you is a great football player.  And I'm just the coach who can pull that greatness out of you and make you a star football player.  I'm going to stick by your side until you become great."

          And with those words Jerry Kramer straightened up and began to feel better and went on to become one of the great football players of all time.

          But it is not just in those moments of failure that we need words of encouragement.  Even in our most successful moments we need to hear encouraging words.

          We look at people who are successful and we think that they do not need an encouraging word, but they do.

          In the Library of Congress there is a box that is often on display.  It is marked, "Contents of the President's Pocket -- April 14th, 1865."  Of course, that was the night President Lincoln was assassinated.  Five things are found in that box.  A small handkerchief embroidered with the words, "A. Lincoln."  A country boy's pen knife.  Spectacles that have been repaired with string.  A purse that contains a $5 bill.  For some strange reason, it is a Confederate $5 bill -- go figure.  And some old faded newspaper clippings praising the President of the United States.

          One of the clippings from a Senator who said in a speech, "Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time."  Well, everyone thinks that today.  But back in 1865 not everyone felt that way.  And the President's critics were fierce, and he spent hours agonizing over his work and grieving over a country that was torn apart by Civil War.

          There is something touching about this great man having to read some encouraging words from a clipping that had been cut out of a newspaper.

          Jesus Christ was one of the greatest at the art of encouragement.  And in one place in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 11, he encourages his disciples with words found in that Gospel.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

          I remember being in a Bible Study with some other men one time and one of the men said, "I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

          He said he grew up on a farm.  He knew that Jesus was not saying that 'Life is going to be easy or light.'  He said he knew the YOKE was going to be easy.  He said that as a child growing on a farm he used to handle a team of Oxen.  He would put these animals together.  Even I knew that the yoke was a part of the harness process that fit over the shoulders of the animals and somehow kept them together or guided them.  But I always thought that the yoke was perfectly balanced.  That one yoke was much the same as the other and that one side weighed the same as the other.  But he said growing up on his farm, they always made the yokes unbalanced because when you put two animals together to pull something, the animals are always going to be unbalanced.  One is always going to be stronger.  One is always going to be weaker.  You balance them off by having the yoke compensate for this.  You always give the stronger animal the heavier part of the yoke.  And you always give the weaker one the lighter side. 

          And here is Jesus saying take my yoke.  I'm giving you the lighter side.  Because I'm the stronger one.  And together, we are going to plow through life. 

          What a wonderful word of encouragement.  Knowing that as we plow through our life, Jesus is right next to us.  And he is carrying the bulk of the load for us.  With words like that encouraging us, surely we can go out and encourage others.

Copyright 2014

, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.