These are fearful days. As I write this, the world is reeling from the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. There are travel bans and business closures; people are hoarding hand sanitizer, soap, and toilet tissue, bread and bottled water.
But what do we really fear? The Coronavirus is dangerous– even potentially deadly–but so is the “regular” flu (to a lesser extent). Many people will suffer from the Coronavirus for a few days, only to recover and return to “normal”life. The economic reverses and closures, while temporarily devastating, will come to an end, as well.
In many ways, the real fear is, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, “fear, itself.” Panicked people hoarding basic supplies leave us wondering if we will face food shortages, or be left without any way to protect ourselves from the spread of this disease. We fear the rumors, the exaggerated stories, the dire possibilities and predictions. We fear over-reacting and inviting unnecessary dangers, and we fear under-reacting and taking unnecessary risks. We even begin to fear those close to us– are they telling us the truth? Are they giving us helpful advice? Do we trust their sources of information?
In the midst of this atmosphere, there are three mistakes I think we need to avoid as Christians:
Panic– the world around us reacts with fear. We are told, again and again in scripture, not to be afraid, not to worry, and not to fret. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4) Why can we keep calm when the rest of the world succumbs to fear? “For Thou art with me..” (v. 5a) No set of circumstances– even a worldwide pandemic– are a match for God’s omniscience, His power, or His mercy. We may not know the future, but God does. He knows how this chapter of the story ends. He knows what we need, and how to supply it; He knows every cell of our bodies, and every virus in the atmosphere. And, while He may not supernaturally stop this disease in its tracks, He will give us wisdom to respond in ways that may limit the spread and severity of COVID-19– and even teach us lessons to face the next crisis.
Over-confidence–the Psalmist says, “I will fear no evil.” That doesn’t mean that I will take no caution, make no plan to protect my loved ones and myself, or feel no concern over adverse conditions. It is very tempting to put on a show of bravado in the face of worldly panic; to project confidence in ourselves and disdain for danger. Our confidence doesn’t lie in ignoring the very real dangers and struggles ahead– our confidence lies in knowing that God is ALWAYS in control. We should have a healthy concern in the weeks ahead. We should not berate those who express worries–we should direct them toward our source of comfort and strength, not waste time bragging or sneering.
Isolation– times of crisis bring out the best or worst in us. Panic and over-confidence can make us step back and close ourselves off to those in need. We need to be wise to ways that we can offer practical help and spiritual guidance to those around us. How can we offer to share burdens? Ease financial difficulties? Help deliver food or medicine to those in quarantine? Offer shelter or hospitality to those displaced by quarantine or travel bans? Help those who are grieving or stressed?
Finally, notice that the Psalmist singles out the fear of evil. Panic will bring evil in its wake. Evil will need to be confronted and checked by those willing to fight it. We need to confront those who try to take advantage of others; we need to hold thieves and liars and fear-mongers accountable, as we combat their message of greed and panic. Not because we are here to judge; but because we are here to spread Grace and Peace, Blessing and Kindness. May we be more contagious than Coronavirus in bringing God’s power and Love to those who need it so desperately at this time.
**Spoiler alert** If you have not seen this movie, or read the book, I will be disclosing large portions of the plot in the paragraphs below.
I love the movie, The Princess Bride. Though it is not a “spiritual” tale, and not meant to be a Christian allegory, I find a lot of Biblical truth in this story. In my last post, I looked at the skeptic, Vizzini, whose exaggerated claims of intellect and trust in his own brilliance lead to his downfall.
Today, I want to look at one of his sidekicks– Inigo Montoya. Inigo is a reluctant mercenary. He works for Vizzini “just to pay the bills.” His only real ambition is to find his father’s killer and demand vengeance. This has been his guiding ambition for over 20 years, and he is committed to killing his father’s murderer in a duel– if only he can find the elusive villain!
Inigo knows three things– he knows the villain roams free and has never been brought to justice; he carries the scars from his own failed sword fight with the man, so he knows his skill and ruthlessness; and he knows the man has six fingers on his right hand. He doesn’t know the man’s name or rank, where he lives, what he does for a living, if he still lives, if he has a family– he really doesn’t know how or where to look for him, and he has no plan beyond challenging the man to a rematch to avenge his father.
I cannot condone Inigo’s thirst for vengeance https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12%3A19&version=ESV, nor his half-baked plan to achieve his goal. But Inigo’s great love for his father and his belief in justice make him a likable character. Unlike Vizzini, Inigo seems concerned for the princess’s welfare and fate, and reluctant to be involved in something that could lead to her harm (or even death). Once he meets the “man in black” who comes to rescue the princess, he treats him with honor and admires his courage and skill, even as he is pledged to try to stop him. He allows his foe to catch his breath, prepare for battle, and even shares his sad tale in the hopes that the man in black can help him find his Nemesis.
Inigo isn’t a very good villain; he is too honorable, too ready to help others he meets along the way. But he attracts miracles along his journey, and I’d like to look at three-and-a-half miracles today.
Miracles come in different types. Some are miracles of preservation; some are miracles of healing; some of transformation.
Inigo’s first “miracle” is actually a series of miracles of preservation. Three times, Inigo is involved in sword battles, and three times he is preserved. At age eleven, he watches as his father is ruthlessly slaughtered by the villainous six-fingered man. Inigo tries to fight for his father’s honor, but is defeated. The six-fingered man leaves him scarred and humiliated, but considers Inigo nothing more than a “brat,” and considers that he has “taught him a lesson,” so he lets him live. It doesn’t seem like a miracle, but Inigo is given a chance to grow up, when he easily could have been killed. He uses this opportunity to become a great swordsman, so he can find his father’s killer and challenge him to a rematch! When Inigo challenges the mysterious man in black, he is formidable in battle, yet he loses. He is winded, scratched, and disarmed by the stranger, and expects to be killed. Yet, again, he is spared– this time out of respect. The stranger renders him unconscious, but does not kill him. Inigo recovers and finally gets the chance for vengeance against his nemesis, Count Rugen. He challenges the Count to a duel. But the Count cheats, and Inigo is gravely wounded before the battle even begins. Miraculously, he finds the strength of body and will to continue the fight. Struggling against the loss of blood, the taunts of his enemy, and his own sense of failure, Inigo continues to fight, gaining strength and momentum, until he wins–bringing justice to his father, and defeating his enemy.
The second miracle is one of guidance. Inigo needs help to reach his goal of finding and confronting Count Rugen. He needs the help of the very man he fought earlier– the mysterious man in black. But the tables have turned. The man in black has been taken captive and tortured. Inigo must find and rescue him. In desperation, he prays for guidance. He enlists God’s help in locating the man who can help him. But his prayer seems to go unanswered. He stumbles around in the woods, lost and defeated. Finally, he leans against an old tree–and in doing so, he triggers the secret door leading to the torture chamber where the man in black lies, left for dead.
The third miracle is one of revival and restoration. The man in black seems to be dead, so Inigo and his friend, Fezzik, take the body to a man named Miracle Max, to be brought back to life. Of course, this is a fairy tale (though a fractured one). We don’t expect to find miracle workers in the middle of a forest. But we often pray for miracles in hospital wards, courtrooms, and rescue shelters. God sends miracles– but he often does so through the skills and willingness of others. In this case, Miracle Max delivers a crushing blow– he does not have the power to bring someone back from the dead. However, the man is black is NOT dead; he is only “mostly” dead. Miracle Max concocts a restorative potion, delivered in a chocolate-coated pill. The man in black makes a halting, but timely, recovery, allowing Inigo to track down the evil Count and bring him to justice. (It also allows the man in black to finish his quest, rescue the Princess and defeat her wicked fiance.)
After three miracles, Inigo finishes his quest and faces a surprising new problem. His whole life has centered around revenge. Now that he has achieved his goal, he has no future; he has lost his sense of purpose. And this is where the “half” miracle happens. Inigo’s character is noble, even if his obsession with vengeance has been unhealthy. Along the way, he has befriended Fezzik, and rescued a man who was deemed to be an enemy. He has fought bravely and with honor, and has not been corrupted by money, power, or violence. His new friend, the man in black, offers him the chance to start over– as the Dread Pirate Roberts! (Lest this sound truly “dreadful”, it has already been explained that the name and reputation are what brings terror into the hearts of the other pirates..once again, this is a fairy tale, where pirates can be heroes.)
Inigo Montoya is a flawed character– he is a drunkard, a mercenary, living with years of failure and haunted by his thirst for revenge. He is not wicked in the same way as Count Rugen or the evil Prince Humperdink, but he is lost, confused, angry, bitter, and unable to save himself. He is a sympathetic character because he is a lot like many of us. But Inigo’s life is transformed by miracles– mostly unsought–giving him the opportunity to start a new life, make new friends, and explore new opportunities.
What unsought, and even unacknowledged, miracles have come into your life? How many times has God preserved your life, guided you in unexpected directions, provided healing or renewal to your physical, emotional, or spiritual being, and given you unexpected new opportunities?
God doesn’t always give us an instant or dramatic miracle– even when we pray for one. Sometimes, he allows us to collapse against a tree, or be scarred by our enemies, or spend twenty years chasing a quest only to find ourselves unfulfilled at the end of it.
2 Corinthians 9:15 Christian Standard Bible (CSB) 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I love this season of the year–as we approach Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent and Christmas, it is a good time to reflect and celebrate all the wonderful things God has done, and all the ways He has blessed us. But there is also a danger in this season. We are tempted to look around and compare our blessings (and our struggles) with others around us. We are tempted to be envious, depressed, and stressed about our circumstances. Or we look at our blessings and feel smug and self-satisfied, instead of grateful and humble.
What “Great” things am I thankful for? Sometimes I make a list of all “my” blessings–my health, my family, my home or car, my freedom (as though I had done anything to earn such blessings)–and I stop. Sometimes I make another list of all the “Great” things God has done in nature–beautiful sunsets and majestic forests, glistening snowflakes and spring blossoms–and I stop. Sometimes, I even thank Him for the trials and struggles and difficult relationships that He has allowed to refine me and build my character to be more like His– and I stop. Sometimes, I thank Him for the great things he has done for others–miracles of provision, safety, or healing.
But there is a deeper level of thankfulness– one that takes my breath away and causes me to fall to my knees– one that thanks God for WHO HE IS– truth, righteousness, salvation, mercy, wisdom, power, and boundless, unconditional love. Every great work of God has its origin in God’s Character. Every sunrise shows His faithfulness, every snowflake His infinite creativity. Even tragedy can reveal His tenderness and healing and precious promise that NOTHING can separate us from His love. In giving His greatest gift, God spared no expense; he held nothing back. Jesus defeated sin and death by becoming sin and experiencing death–FOR YOU and for ME! For anyone, for everyone, who will accept His gift and trust in His character. How often do I list all the great things God has done and stop before I let the amazement of the Great I AM to overwhelm me? How often to I celebrate Thanksgiving without ever reaching this level of true Thanks-giving?
Whether we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, or with beans and wienies; whether we celebrate with family, friends, strangers or alone; even if we celebrate on a different day, or in a different way, may we always find ourselves amazed by the Greatness of God. May we truly give God more than just thanksgiving this year. May we give Him all the Glory–Great things He hath done!
1 I love you, Lord, my strength. 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. 4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. 7 The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. 8 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 9 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 10 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. 13 The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 15 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. 16He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18:1-19 NIV (taken from biblegateway.com)
I grew up hearing hymns– lots of them. My mother and grandmother and aunt all played the piano or organ for church, and often practiced during the week. My father led the congregational singing sometimes, and my grandfather taught himself to play many musical instruments, and used hymns to become familiar with the chords, notes, and fingerings of the instrument du jour. The congregation at our small church sang with more gusto than musical talent, but we sang during the Sunday morning service, the Sunday evening service, the Wednesday evening service, and at any special occasion.
Two things happened as a result of this: one not-so-good, and one very good thing. The not-so-good thing was that I became somewhat inured to the songs and lyrics– I knew what the songs said, but I didn’t really understand or internalize the truths they contained. However, the very good thing was that the hymns stuck in my memory– years later they came back like the best of friends to comfort me, challenge me, and remind me of sacred realities in the midst of mundane frustrations and worldly confusions.
This old hymn, neglected, out-dated, and seldom sung in our current services, was my lullaby growing up. My mother would sing it over and over as she rocked me to sleep, often running out of verses and words and just humming or filling in with “la, la la, la,” until she reached the chorus. “Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me.”
As a young child, I experienced the loving arms of my dear mother lifting me to her lap and rocking me for what seemed like hours until I drifted off to sleep. As a teen, I scoffed at the lyrics a bit–what need had I to be lifted and helped, when I was invincible and young and ready to conquer the world. As an adult, this old hymn came back with power and comfort when my own efforts and life’s stormy circumstances left me with little hope and lots of confusion, doubt, and regret. It reminds me that help and hope can be found even in the raging storms of grief, depression, oppression, and pain. “When nothing else could help…” God could, and did! He can and will!
“Love lifted me”–such a simple phrase, and by itself not a solid foundation for hope and victory. In fact, there are many popular songs that speak of love lifting a person up, making one feel buoyant and hopeful, joyful or young. But this song speaks of a different and everlasting, all-powerful love– the Love of Christ. And it doesn’t just lift us up from one pleasant place to another. It reaches down into the depths of sin, despair, and even death to lift us up beyond all hope, beyond any strength or effort we could generate or receive from any other source. And this great Love reaches down to lift me–even me! It does not belong only to the elite, the wealthy, the beautiful people, the gifted or the powerful. In fact, this love is especially close and available to those who have done nothing to deserve it; those who have been bypassed and ignored and left to drown in their own shame and sorrow.
Love. Lifted. Me! My prayer is that this same Love will surround you today, lifting you up, and helping you, just as it helps me and brings me life and hope, to the Glory of Christ our Savior.
I love reading the 23rd Psalm (among many others). I love the picture of the Lord as my shepherd– the green pastures, the still waters, the anointing oil, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. It is comforting. But there is also the part about walking in the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, and sitting in the presence of my enemies–I tend to gloss over those parts.
The truth is, much of our life is spent somewhere in between. We journey through hills and valleys, in sunshine and shadow, and there are times of green pastures and still waters, but sometimes we are in a dry season or wading through troubled waters. We face stress, chaos, unexpected obstacles, and swirling doubts.
Jesus was no stranger to troubled waters. In His life on earth, He faced stormy seas– at least once in the bottom of a wave-tossed boat, and again when He walked on water to reach His disciples late at night. (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 4:35-41, etc.) In each case, Jesus could have stilled the waters sooner, or forbidden the winds and waves to cause any trouble. This is often what we pray for– for God to keep us away from the shadow of death, from the stormy seas, from the trials and hardships we wish to avoid.
Often, God answers those prayers by keeping us from trouble and hardship. Sometimes, He sends friends, counselors, and sweet reminders from His word to build a bridge over rapids or whirlpools or provide light and song on our journey. Other times, He answers our prayers by staying with us through even the darkest and loneliest of valleys, through the raging storms, the unanswered questions, and the waves of doubt. Sometimes we can look back and see how and why God chose to take us by the narrow winding path or through the churning waves. But even when He is silent, He is still there– reaching out to lift us when we fall, or carry us when we can’t go on.
Lord, help me to follow you, even when the way seems dark or the storms rage. Help me to look up from the troubled waters and see you–ready to swim alongside, or lift me up and bring me to safety. Help me to help build bridges and throw life-lines when needed. And help me to remember that you have promised seasons of still waters and green pastures, as well. Whatever comes this day, may I listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd and Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Seventeen years ago today, I was, like many people around the world, glued to a TV watching with horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were spewing fire, ash, paper, and even bodies before collapsing. I sat in shock as I watched footage of the second plane smashing into the south tower. People running away as rescue vehicles rushed toward the panic. And as the towers fell, the smoke rose, filled with the last breaths of those trapped inside, along with the collective breaths of their families, friends, and the world. A silent gray gasp– a frozen moment of silence in the midst of sirens and screams. Time stopped at least twice that day. Motions and emotions were suspended in those columns of smoke– love and memory, hopes and dreams– all drifted silently away from the open wound that was lower Manhattan.
Reports came of further hijackings and an attack at the Pentagon. We were stunned; we were horrified; we were helpless.
And then, amazing things started to happen. Stories of heroism and miraculous rescues. The initial estimates of people killed ranged in the tens of thousands–all morning, they climbed higher– by Wednesday, they began to fall as more people were located. Others were rescued from the debris as thousands of workers poured in to help. Caravans and convoys of supplies– food, water, medical supplies, rescue workers and excavators– rolled, sailed, walked, or were ferried in. In the first years, more stories emerged. As horrific and tragic as the events of 9/11 were, they could have been even worse. The initial panic morphed into resolve. People who wouldn’t have spoken to their neighbors now worked side by side in shelters and clean-up efforts. People who shouldn’t have lived through it did, while others who shouldn’t have cared willingly shared their time, their resources, their skills, their homes, and even their lives to help others.
Ironically, the buildings were designed to withstand a hurricane. Today, the east coast of the U.S., including potentially New York City, is preparing for the arrival of a hurricane. The buildings of the World Trade Center were built with the hope that they would be strong enough to survive high winds and floods; able to provide emergency shelter and protection to thousands in the event of a natural disaster. They were leveled by an unnatural force of evil and hatred meant to destroy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There are no man-made towers that can protect against the force of evil in our world– mighty winds of change, forces of nature, powerful attacks, acts of war, and collapse can occur without warning. There is only one strong tower that can withstand the deadly forces of sin and hate and despair. God stands firm and unshakable, offering to save all who come within His embrace. He may not bring us through without wounds; He may even allow us to go through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t promise perfect weather or days without struggles. He won’t remove us from the storm, but He invites us to take our shelter in Him. He won’t make you take shelter; he won’t make you evacuate your house built on the sand. He may calm the storm or stop the winds and waves. He may ask us to weather them in their full force. We may even lose this mortal life, but He will keep the soul that is stayed on Him. And He won’t leave us to face the storm alone.
Today, I pray for those who are remembering that horrible day in 2001, and those who are facing an uncertain 9/11 today. May each one feel God’s strength, shelter, and comfort in the midst of this life’s storms.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I’m really bad about asking for help. I don’t mind asking for advice or opinions– I can listen and take the advice or ignore it; accept someone else’s opinion or not. But asking for help puts a certain obligation to accept whatever help is given. It also announces that you have a need; that you are struggling and can’t do “it” on your own. This is especially true in situations where we are embarrassed to admit to shortcomings, inabilities, or perceived failures.
Asking is difficult for most of us. Not just because we must swallow our pride and admit to a need, but because we must hope that whoever we ask will be willing or able to meet that need. Asking becomes more difficult when we don’t know who we can trust. Admitting weakness to someone who is kind is a small risk–it may bruise our pride, or cause the other person to pity us. Asking for help from someone who is deceitful, arrogant, incompetent, or abusive is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help because we sense that there is no help to be given. We wallow in despair, thinking all is lost or hopeless. But fear and despair are not wise counselors–they cannot help us out of our problems; they can’t even see beyond the current chaos or the next panic. Sometimes, we are too proud to ask someone else to do what we feel we should be able to do– others can manage, others can triumph “on their own”– not realizing that they had help along the way, or that they need help in other areas where we are strong.
And sometimes, we don’t want the kind of “help” that is offered. We want help to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means bondage to addiction, or losing an opportunity that comes only with hard work or sacrifice. We want someone to lie to us, keep us comfortable, or flatter us, when our greatest need is someone to challenge us, coach us, and give us the truth, even when it stings. In fact, if we have grown lethargic, entitled, and arrogant, we won’t ask for help– we will demand a lesser form of help that enables us to stay as we are, and not help us become who we were meant to be.
So consider this as you pray today– the God of the Universe– creator of galaxies and microcosms, ruler of eternity, the God who hears every sigh of every human on the face of the planet and knows who made it and why, the God who gave His only Son to fulfill the law and restore your soul–this God is waiting for you to ASK Him for help, for guidance, for wisdom, for your daily needs, for forgiveness that only He can give completely. And He promises to give good gifts– joy, peace, hope, love. He will not scorn us in our need– He already knows it, Why are you waiting?
Mother’s Day is coming, and I wanted to say a few words about the mothers in my life and their legacy of prayer. My Mom is a prayer warrior. I blog about prayer, and I pursue a better prayer life, but my Mom is a seasoned soldier, and the daughter of another mighty woman of prayer. Most of what I know about prayer, I learned through the examples of my Mom and Gram, but I have also been blessed by the godly examples of my mother-in-law, sister and sisters-in-law, aunts, cousins, and many more.
From my Mother, I learned to pray from the depths of my heart. I have seen and heard her pray through pain, grief, and despair– not just her own, but more often that of someone else. I have caught her holding back sobs over relatives and neighbors who don’t know or aren’t following Christ. I’ve seen her pause in silent prayer over the plight of a person who is facing a lost job, or chemotherapy, or a migraine. She very seldom offers to pray aloud,”in the moment”, but she prays fervently, nonetheless.
From my Grandmother, I learned to be patient and consistent in prayer. Gram was quiet and unassuming, but she had an unshakable faith. She prayed for years over situations that looked hopeless; often for people who or situations which never changed. I asked her once how she kept from getting angry and frustrated. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “We can’t change somebody else, and we can’t make them do what’s right. That’s not our job. Our job is to love each other, pray for each another, and let God deal with the rest.” She died never seeing answers to some of what she prayed for, but that didn’t stop others from taking up the banner, and it never stopped her from earnestly and joyfully “taking it to the Lord in Prayer.” She never gave up, never lost hope, and never stopped showing compassion.
There have been many other prayer warriors in my life– women (and men) of great faith who sought the Lord, and whose lives and words have had an unimaginable impact. My family, members of my church family, classmates and friends from school or college, neighbors through the years…some of them have held my hand and prayed with me face-to-face; others have prayed on their knees in private; some have prayed for special needs and circumstances; others have prayed at the Holy Spirit’s prompting, never knowing why, but bowing in obedience.
Praying mothers are a treasure. If you have one, or had one, don’t underestimate the value of her example. And don’t just say, “Thank you”…Pay it forward. Pray for family, neighbors and friends. Pray early, pray often, pray without ceasing. We all need more praying mothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, etc. If you did not have a praying mother, you have a golden opportunity to become that good example to someone else. You also have the opportunity to adopt a prayer partner– a surrogate praying mother–to pray with you and for you.
It can be a dog-eat-dog kind of world out there. Every day, I hear of people who are facing difficult and trying circumstances– health issues, loss of a job or home, loss of a family member or close friend, depression, oppression, harassment, rebellious or estranged children, abuse, academic failures, exhaustion from being provider, caregiver, etc.– even just daily stress. It can really take a toll. But it becomes even more difficult when we isolate ourselves.
When I get stressed, I tend to withdraw. I don’t want others to think of me as a failure, or to think less of me in my struggles. But this is one of the worst things I can do. First, it means more worry and stress because I’m bearing the burden alone! Second, it forces me to cover up my level of anxiety or depression be pretending that things are fine then they aren’t. That would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. Isolating means my focus turns inward– my problems become bigger, not smaller; I’m so close to the problem, I’m not able to “look outside the box” for solutions, because my box keeps closing in on me. I can’t see beyond my circumstances to understand if they are temporary, or if they necessitate some life changes on the other side of whatever crisis I’m dealing with. And, worst of all, the only voice I listen to is my own, rehearsing and reminding me of the difficulties or failures I’m facing.
We all need an encouraging word now and then; a voice telling us that we are not alone; that all is not lost; that there is hope. I have been blessed with wonderful family, friends, and neighbors who are great about encouraging me, even when I try to shut them out or pretend that everything is grand. Sometimes that encouragement comes through conversation; sometimes a card or text message or a shared piece of scripture; sometimes it comes through prayer. I may not even know who prayed, or what words they used until days or weeks later, but their faithfulness in praying has become a lifeline when I feel isolated and overwhelmed.
This does not negate my need to pray and ask God for wisdom, healing, or strength for myself, nor does it suggest that God doesn’t answer my prayers. Instead, it shows a pattern– God often answers our prayers by incorporating and using those around us. God’s goodness and his love are shown best in teamwork. We run the race to win, but we race together as teammates, not competitors. We share sorrows, struggles, and joys. We come alongside; we lift others up, and they lift us up in return.
Encouragement does so much, we sometimes underestimate its power. In a world of sniping, criticism, name-calling, and finger-pointing, encouragement does the following:
It lets someone know that they are seen and heard– that they are being noticed, thought of, and valued. This shouldn’t be uncommon, but in a world where we are connected to so many be technology, and to so few face-to-face, it is HUGE!
It give us perspective to realize that we are not alone in our problems and not unique in facing difficulties.
It reminds us that hope and help are gifts to be shared, not something we must earn.
It gives us a purpose and a mission to be part of God’s redemptive work– Jesus gave encouragement and hope to those who needed it most, not to those who “deserved” it.
It can be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but we are not dogs. We are children of the King. Let’s send out some encouraging words today!
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)
Also see James 5:13-16 on praying for one another.