The power of encouragement
One morning a lady opened the door to get the newspaper and was surprised to find a little dog with her newspaper in his mouth. Delighted with this unexpected ‘delivery service’, she fed him a bounty of treats which was her way of encouraging him for his good work. The following morning, when she opened the door, the same dog was sitting on her doorstep, wagging his tail. But this time instead of bringing her own newspaper, she was horrified to see he was surrounded by eight other newspapers as well. (Marion Gilbert, Reminisce, ReadersDigest, February1994). Having enjoyed the encouragement of the treats for his good behaviour, the little dog had gone out to the neighbours’ doorsteps and collected all their papers to bring to her.
We all need encouragement to carry on throughout our lives, but few people make their need known quite as clearly as Elijah: a real man, with a real story to encourage us (1 Kings 17-19). Stories, such as that of Elijah’s, are representative of something real we can go through and learn from, that we might discover how faithful God is, even when we turn away because of circumstances or even fear.
As we consider the universal human condition of discouragement, as experienced here by Elijah, we find out historically what happened to him. But, the Bible goes further by presenting him as a model for us, an example of failure and faith, for our spiritual experience and expansion through a deeper encounter with God.
The conflict Elijah faced here (19.1-15) demonstrates the dilemma that had overtaken his heart, and bears witness to what we sometimes face in life. Elijah was discouraged and afraid so, he ran away into the wilderness and hid under a tree. God saw him and sent an angel to minister encouragement to Elijah, not once but twice. We read this with hindsight and recognise how close God was to Elijah, but the man of the hour didn’t see it. Perhaps he had fearfully plunged into such despair that he was now unable to recognise God was with him.
Elijah’s story is not only one of God’s power, but also one of the wonderful demonstrations of God’s love and care found in the Bible. God came and spoke to Elijah, asking ‘what are you doing here?’ As God asked this question twice, Elijah knew he was talking to God, challenging the prophet to face what was really going on in his heart. God knows all things, but he needed Elijah to hear it for himself so he could face up to this fear he was experiencing. Once encouraged by God Almighty, faith restored, the reassured Elijah’s discouragement and fears were dispelled, and he went on to finish what God had started, and won the victory. Interestingly, we see how God is always leading His people forward to a higher place, encouraged and expectant, restored and refreshed.
Where ever we are starting from, God has more to show us. We all need encouragement, and if we see this story of Elijah as representative of our own lives, we can learn a lot about how God draws close to us, even when we don’t feel worthy. Notice, God didn’t flatter Elijah, because there is a difference between encouragement and flattery. Someone once said, ‘Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticise me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you’ (William Arthur Ward). Such is the power of encouragement, it’s an instrument of hope, and truth is, it’s unlikely we will ever meet anyone who was ‘too encouraged’, for encouragement is prompted by love, and love never fails.
Elijah’s story reminds us that the Bible is not outdated, old-fashioned or irrelevant for today. It is full of powerful, real-life examples of how God is intimately concerned about our emotional welfare and our spiritual state. He demonstrates this through Jesus in a way that is just too profound for words, and yet in our humanity we can still get discouraged from time to time. That’s the time for us to discern God drawing closer and talking with us. Prayerfully imagine God saying to you today, ‘what are you doing here?’
Few circumstances provide a better opportunity to exhibit God’s grace to someone, than when they need encouraged. When people, even those who have succeeded in great things, need encouraged from time to time, this is when we step forward and move with God to be the encourager that they might get the victory, which begins and ends with God’s grace.
Lord, encourage me today that I might be restored and filled to move forward with You to that place of hope and victory, in the Name of Jesus Christ, amen.