Two cowboys were riding across the open plains at some point during the late 1800s. They crested a hill and, down in the valley below, they saw a herd of buffalo, a rare sight by then. One of the cowboys turned to the other and said, “You know, those are about the mangiest, ugliest looking critters I have ever seen”. His companion agreed, and they turned and rode away. As they left, one of the buffalo remarked to another, “I think I just heard a discouraging word.”
Some of you will get that reference.
The point is that encouragement is something all of us need from time to time. Encouragement is something we as Christians are to give to one another. We are not to be in the business of tearing one another down or complaining. We are to be people who strengthen and build each other up.
Have you ever felt like giving up? Have you ever felt like it was useless to keep on going? I think all of us have felt that way from time to time. We all need someone to believe in us and to support us. We all need some refreshment from time to time.
Scripture tells us that, when David was on the run from Saul, fearing for his life, Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. (1 Samuel 23:16). While Paul was languishing in a Roman prison, he wrote that a brother named Onesiphorous often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains (2 Timothy 1:16). One another occasion, Paul express his joy that the church in Corinth had received his young coworker Titus because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. (2 Corinthians 7:13)
You see, the ministry of encouragement is indispensable. But we are often not very good at giving encouragement. We find it much easier to criticize, to put down, to find fault. We hurt each other at times by angry and caustic comments. Probably more often than that, we hurt others simply by ignoring them and taking them for granted. The result of all of this is that many Christians are discouraged. That is not the way God intends for his people to live.
Encouragement is such an easy thing for us to give. It is free – we all like that. It doesn’t have to be gift wrapped, it can be custom designed, no assembly required, batteries don’t need to be included. And it will last a lifetime.
Think of all the times that God encouraged humanity. God encouraged Hagar when she and her son Ishmael had been cast out and were at the point of death (Genesis 21:9-22). He encouraged Jacob when he was on the run due to the anger of his brother Esau (Genesis28:10-17). He encouraged those who were with Paul during a storm (Acts 27).
God is most fully revealed to us in Jesus, and we find him regularly encouraging people. He told a paralytic who was brought him to, “Be of good cheer” (Matthew 9:2). He gave that same word to the disciples in their boat on the stormy sea (Matthew 14:27). He told a woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, but to go and sin no more.
We are clearly taught that the strong are to encourage the weak, the weak are to encourage the strong, and the old are encourage the young. That is, in fact, one of the primary reasons that we assembly together on the Lord’s Day: to encourage each other and promote good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
If we want to live as God’s people – if we want to be shaped into the image of Christ – we should look not for opportunities to criticize and find fault, but for opportunities to compliment and encourage. As someone said, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it little behooves any of us to criticize the rest of us.”