Be an encourager by extending friendship.
When Andrew Jackson was president, a huge kerfuffle arose when Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson’s Secretary of War, was accused of some long-ago (and unverifiable) moral failing. Much of Washington, D.C. society lined up to ostracize this woman, while others, notably the people closest to the president, lined up to defend her. Some of the husbands who would have gone along with the president’s wishes found themselves stuck between the claims of bosses and wives.
I don’t pretend to know which, if any, of the accusations against Peggy Eaton were well founded. Did she actually have a relationship with Mr. Eaton before her first husband–a scoundrel by all accounts–died? I don’t know.
However, I’d like to think that I could overlook the possibilities and take her or anyone for what they are today–or even what they might be tomorrow. Sometimes it is easier to shun people, to exclude them for whatever reason, but it is better by far to forget those reasons and be a friend.
Barnabas didn’t know what Paul would become. He couldn’t even be 100% certain that Paul was genuinely a believer. Still Barnabas–that son of encouragement–stuck out his neck as a friend. In doing that he changed the world.
- Think of a time when someone has encouraged you by the simple act of friendship. How did it affect you?
- What barriers prevent you from showing yourself friendly? What can you do to remove them?
- Ask God to give you opportunities to show encouragement through friendship and thus connect people to each other and to Christ.
Be an encourager by being generous.
It was just a couple of days past that I returned home from children’s camp, so my mind is still caught up in a swirl of songs, messy games, and chaotic mealtimes. This morning, though, as I think about this idea of generosity, something completely different pops into my head: basketball.
I think it was Wednesday afternoon during “hang time” (aka free time) that I went looking for the boys charged to me. Somebody suggested that they had headed to the gym. When I arrived, that’s where we found most of them, playing a game or shooting individually.
“Hey Mr. Mark,” some kid yelled. “You want to play us? Adults versus kids!”
Did I want to play? I’m not much of a basketball player when I’m in shape and I’m certainly not in shape right now. Did I want to play? I wanted to get some rack time, plus I had writing that was overdue. Did I want to play? In a word, no!
But I stepped in and I played–badly–for about twenty minutes. For twenty minutes I shared that court with Antonio and Cliff and Josiah and Alex and a shifting cast of others. And having given that time, I feel richer for it. I could see a difference in those kids also.
A person does not have to give at the level that gets your name on a building at a university in order to be encouraging. We just need to keep an open hand.
- In what ways do you find it difficult to be generous? In what ways is it easy?
- Have you ever been encouraged by the generosity of another? Reflect on it for a moment.
- Pray that God will give you opportunities to encourage through a generous spirit and make you aware of them as they come.
Work with others to connect people to Christ.
During the years that I lived in the hinterlands, I accumulated a pretty good array of tools, some of which I kept when I moved back to town and some of which I sold. There is a twenty-foot extension ladder that makes me really tall. There’s a chainsaw that makes me a wood-cutting animal. There’s a half-inch drive socket set (with a breaker bar) that lets me grab hold of just about any nut or bolt and give it a powerful turn.
My personal favorite, and one that did not make the move to the ‘burbs, was a forty-year-old Kubota tractor. That single piece of equipment allowed me to mow pretty much anything less than an inch in diameter. It made me really strong, able to lift and carry all manner of heavy stuff. I liked that tractor.
Sometimes, however, the best tool for a job, the essential tool that cannot be replaced, is another person. As powerful as that tractor was, I never did figure out how to use it to pull a car out of a ditch while also steering the car. I certainly couldn’t use it to do tasks I didn’t know how to do.
Look at the story of the friends in Mark 2. In the verses listed above, the word “they” appears five times. When we throw in “their” and the mention of “four men,” we see that this group effort was definitely recognized.
Within the church and beyond its boundaries, we need to work together in order to help others connect with Christ. In that way, we can be a tool in God’s hand.
- Are you a naturally introverted or extroverted person? How does that show up in your missions efforts?
- When was the last time that you worked with one or more others to help someone create or strengthen their connection to Jesus? How did that cooperative effort help?
- Pray that God will show you the fruitful teamwork that He has in mind for you.
No really–have the compassion to connect others to Christ!
A number of years ago, I went to Windermere as a cabin counselor for children’s camp. Since I’m headed off to children’s camp today, my history in that endeavor is on my mind. One day during that long-ago summer, one of my boys came to me and announced that he had prayed to receive Christ–on his own–at the hilltop chapel overlooking the camp. Honestly, I don’t remember how I responded to that news, but I’d like to think I was properly celebratory.
It was several years later, when that ten-year-old had become an older teen, that he took his own life. I’m not sure what difficulties, what pains, what obstacles led him down that road. Honestly, I had very few dealings with him after that camp.
Was he really saved or did he just say something that would please church people? I don’t know, but that’s perhaps why the matter sticks in my mind. If I really cared for this kid, I would have maintained the connection. If I really care for him, I would be much more certain whether his experience was genuine. But I didn’t follow up. I don’t know.
We say things. “I’m praying for you!” “Just trust God to work it out!” We say things–churchy things–but sometimes we don’t back those things up with actions. Sometimes we fail to pray–or to pray enough. Sometimes we are supposed to be part of the way God works that problem out.
I don’t feel as if that boy’s death is lying at my feet. But I do know that I should have been more of a friend, more of a connection for him than I was.
- What sort of “churchy” things are you guilty of saying and not acting upon?
- What people’s connections to Christ should you not only initiate but maintain?
- Pray that God will open your eyes to the genuine compassion that will help others build a strong connection to Jesus.
Have the compassion to connect others to Christ.
For decades, Sunday School curriculum for children has included “teaching pictures.” These are typically very nicely rendered paintings that are then printed and distributed to teachers all over the country. One of these pictures that I recall from my childhood portrayed the friends lowering the paralytic into the house where Jesus stood teaching.
What strikes me about my memory of this picture is how uninvolved the friends looked. They seemed as bored as a bunch of suburban guys out mowing their grass. “Okay, after we finish lowering this guy through the hole in the roof, we’ll head over to my house and watch the game,” their faces seem to say.
I mention this because these guys had to have some powerful motivation. What would it take for you to not only carry your friend across town but to climb up on the roof and then tear up the house in order to gain access? Were these guys related to the paralyzed man? Did they know him before his illness? Was he just a great friend despite the disability? We don’t know, but they must have possessed deep feelings for him.
Who would you stick your neck out for in order to bring them before Jesus? Whose salvation means more than your dinner or your vacation or your hobby or that game you’ve been planning to watch? Who would you carry onto the roof?
- Who was the first person that came into your mind to bring before Jesus? Why?
- Do you feel as if you possess the sort of compassion that the four friends possessed? What keeps you from having that?
- Pray that God will soften your heart and fill it with compassion for those who don’t know Christ.