What is the greatest trial?
What do men so despise?
The hardest climb and dreariest mile
Is seeing through another’s eyes.
It may appear uncomplicated,
Completely cut and dry,
But our skills may be overrated,
As we try to see through the other’s eye.
We don’t know what they’re thinking
Can’t know their circumstance
Or how abruptly their heart is sinking
From our outward, presumptuous glance
Their motivation quite hidden,
About their intentions we have no clue,
Reading minds God made forbidden,
We can’t see from their point of view.
Instead, the chore is vital,
As we look on from without,
Our object is entitled,
To every benefit of the doubt.
Let’s pray for them, be their servant,
Love them with a Christ-like love,
Show a kindness warm and fervent,
Trust the All-Seeing-Eye above.
Treat them how we’d want to be treated,
Treat them strictly by The Book,
Leave their heart to the One seated,
Who can watch with a perfect look.
The challenge becomes less daunting
When we cut it down to size
And we give what we’re always wanting
A loving look from through Jesus’ eyes.
Steven Covey has said, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” There is great wisdom and truth in that. Encouragement requires unselfishness and thoughtfulness. It requires our looking at the other person and empathizing with their circumstances. It requires a genuine love, care, and concern. The interesting thing is that it does not have to cost anything, take much time, or demand a lot of energy. But, oh the benefit it gives to one who greatly needs it!
Such vital people as Joshua (1:38), David (1 Sam. 23:16), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19), the priests during Josiah’s reign (2 Chron. 35:2), the sons of Israel who returned from exile (Ezra 6:22), Darius the Mede (Dan. 11:1), the Christians in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:23; 15:32), the brethren at Philippi (Acts 16:40), and Paul (Acts 18:27) are recorded in the Bible as having received it. Judges, kings, priests, children of God, Christians, apostles, and even those who were not in a covenant relationship with God all needed and benefited from receiving encouragement. That tells me that everyone I meet could use whatever encouragement I can give.
So, what can I do to encourage the people I encounter today?
- Express genuine gratitude to someone for something he or she specifically does or demonstrates.
- Pay someone an unexpected compliment.
- Tell someone’s superior how much you appreciate their work, service, etc.
- Do a task or favor for someone who seems stressed or depressed.
- Look someone in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing.
- Pay attention to one who may ordinarily labor anonymously (parking attendant, security officer, door greeter, janitor, etc.).
- Show interest in a co-worker or employee who seems lonely, discouraged, or is new.
- Write a kind note to someone else at church (for extra credit, let it be someone you do not know well), to a preacher you may or may not know who you appreciate, or to an acquaintance from your town or neighborhood.
- Smile and wave at a little child or an elderly person you come across.
Challenge yourself to find additional ways and people you can encourage. Make it more than a daily dare. Make it an every day effort. You cannot know the full, positive impact you will have and the social, emotional, and even spiritual revolution you can begin in your home, your congregation, and your community. Maybe you, too, can earn a nickname like Barnabas had, and be known as a Son or Daughter of Encouragement (cf. Acts 4:36)! Have you given someone a shot of Vitamin E today? What are you waiting for?
It is amazing how many people lose loved ones around the holidays. If you consider that there are about six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, you realize the statistical probability. But, for one who loses a mate, child, or parent, the situation is not remotely clinical. It is deeply personal. It hurts more because a season of great memories and happiness is upended by grief and loss. An ominous anniversary now wedges itself into “the most wonderful time of the year.” Our congregations are filled with people who are struggling with such dark days, and they find coping particularly hard. They don’t begrudge the festive mood of their friends and brethren, but they may often feel on the outside looking in at such mirth. Scripture urges us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What can we do to help despondent brothers and sisters?
- Take note. Whenever someone’s loved one, especially a spouse, passes away, keep a record of that and send a card or otherwise let them know you know the significance of the day. What an overt expression of love and concern!
- Go out of our way. Seek them out and actively console them. You’re not trying to dredge up emotion, but you are desiring to acknowledge it.
- Go to God for them. Whether or not you tell them, include them and their grief specifically in your prayers. Or, better yet, take a moment and pray with them on the spot.
- Lend an ear and shed a tear. They may want to talk about their memories, the funeral, the songs that they sang at the funeral, their traditions, or the like. Open your heart and feel for them. It is such good emotional medicine for them and you will be a good servant of Christ.
- Bring them in. Invite them for a meal, visit them, or ask them to come along on an outing. Take them out to see Christmas lights. They may refuse your invitation, but they’ll know you wanted to help.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Peter urged the Christians to be, among other things, “sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted…” (1 Pet. 3:8). Part of our own personal spiritual growth should be to grow more aware of and concerned about the feelings of others. It is an active mental exercise, but seeking to think about how such a grieving one must feel helps us help them but also helps us.
- Rope in others. We don’t usually encourage talking about people behind their backs, but this is a significant exception. Inform the potentially unsuspecting of such a difficult anniversary so others can join you in this ministry of consolation. This is a triumphant take on “misery loves company.” Their misery is mitigated by more caring family reaching out to comfort them.
We love our Christian family. We should be quick to express it in ways that can make such a difference. Look out into the congregation and find those hurting hearts. Of course, this is needful even if their loss was in May or August, too. But, minister to minds with these mental millstones. Help them carry their load. Such is an active imitation of our soothing Savior!
As part of the personal evangelism class I just taught in Cambodia, I had the students engage in role-playing for a couple of days. It was wonderful and memorable. Some of the students are brand new Christians and have no experience doing personal work. All of them got into it wholeheartedly. Perhaps the most poignant moment came about purely accidentally. We had a table set up, with a teacher, silent partner, and student. The “student” was to come up with the issue or dilemma for the “teacher” to solve. In one particular scenario, the “student” hit the teacher with his true background. He said, “When I was born, I did not even get to see my parents. They died and I am an orphan. If there is a God, why did this happen?” His teacher gently and unassumingly said, “I think I understand. I lost my parents when I was young, too, and I am an orphan.” There followed a beautiful lesson on God’s love and pretty good insights on why there is suffering in this world. But the fact his teacher not only comprehended, but experienced his situation made a huge impact on everyone in the room.
We will suffer in a great many ways throughout our short sojourn on this earth. At times, we may think that not another soul on earth understands. Perhaps, there will come a time when that is actually true. However, we will never encounter a single trial but that someone will always understand. He may not be on earth, but He is ever-present. He is actually omnipresent. The Hebrews writer says of Him, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). As we bring our biggest, most debilitating issues into His presence, He gently says, “I think I understand.” Praise God!