The Power of Encouragement

Hebrews 10:24-25

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I doubt that any of you have ever heard of Hans Boblinger, but his story makes a great introduction for my sermon this morning.  Long before Orville and Wilbur Wright, long before Charles Lindbergh, there was Hans Boblinger.  While most of us prefer to feel solid ground beneath our feet, Hans had a strong desire to feel the wind beneath his wings.  And he succeeded – in 1594.  He perched himself on a cliff in the Bavarian Alps, extended his homemade feathered wings, jumped, and amazingly floated safely into the valley below.  Instantly he became a hero, a celebrity in his small village of Ulm, Germany.  And when the king came to visit their town later that summer, guess who they invited to serve as the main source of entertainment?  Who else, but Hans!  They did have one request of him, however.  They asked him to choose a different flight pattern.  The Alps were too rough, too uneven for the king and his entourage, so Hans was asked if he could fly over the much more level area along the Danube River.  Of course he agreed not realizing that he was exchanging the up currents of the Alps with the down currents of the Danube Basin.  So when he jumped expecting to soar, he dropped like a rock into the Danube.  He survived, but was greatly embarrassed by his failure.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the preacher used him as a sermon illustration the next Sunday.  With the king and his court present in the congregation, the village priest pointed a bony finger at Hans and said, “Man was not intended to fly.”  The blushing Hans never quite recovered from that embarrassment.  He hung up his wings for good and never tried to fly again.

You know, it’s always sad when a person fails, but it’s especially sad when the church fails a person. When you look at the Bible you get the idea that the church is supposed to be a place where fallen flyers can find help and be encouraged to fly again.  This especially comes out in our text for today where it says:  “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another

The New Testament Greek word that is most commonly used for encourage is parakaleowhich is really a compound word.  Para means “alongside of” and kaleo means “to call.”  Soparakaleo means to come alongside of a discouraged person and call them to a sense of renewal.  Our English word is easier to work with.  “Encourage” simply means to instill courage, to pour courage into another.  So if you are an encourager, you look for the Hans Boblinger’s of this world and you try to instill courage in them.

Now we probably don’t have any high-flying Hans Boblinger’s here today, but I’ll bet we all know people who could use a good healthy dose of encouragement.  Like the single mother who struggles to raise a brood of kids on a less-than-adequate paycheck.  Or the widow who is still reeling from the loss of her husband.  Or the teenager who just doesn’t seem to fit in at school.  Or the senior who has just graduated from high school and still doesn’t have a clue as to what he wants to do with his life.  Or the senior citizen who feels useless and worthless ever since retiring.

Well, if God has his way with this family of faith here at Salem Lutheran, then we will take very seriously this art of learning to encourage one another.  And you know what?  If we do that, then we will find ourselves in some mighty fine company because encouragement is a prime occupation of the Triune God.  The Bible tells us that the 3 Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all work together to encourage us.  In 2 Cor. 1:3 the Apostle Paul writes:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement.” Elsewhere Paul says to the Thessalonians: “May our Lord Jesus Christ…encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” And really, what greater encouragement could he have possibly given us than what he did for us at the cross where he took our place and bore our sins and received our punishment?  But there’s more.  In John 16 and 17 the word that Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit comes from the same Greek word we looked at before, parakaleo.  And whereas it is normally translated as “the Comforter” or “the Counselor,” it could just as easily be rendered as “the Encourager.”  So obviously, encouragement is a major concern and activity of God.  So could it be that he wants to use you and me as a channel, a conduit of his encouragement?  I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

This certainly comes out in our text for today where he instructs us to encourage one another in 2 special ways.  First of all, we are to encourage each other deliberately.  Our text says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on.”  The word consider there carries with it the idea of a pre-meditated, thought-out, intentional way whereby we offer encouragement to another. And let me tell you something, my friends, if we don’t give careful thought and consideration to this important part of the Christian walk, in all likelihood it will not get done.

I remember hearing a speaker one time who made an interesting suggestion that he tried with his children.  He admitted that he had been overly critical of his kids, almost like he was trying to catch them doing something wrong.  You ever done that as a parent?  I’m sure most of us have.  So he decided to try a different tactic.  Instead of trying to catch them doing something wrong, he started trying to catch them doing things that were good and right.  And when he did, he would let them know he’d caught them.  He would offer a word of appreciation or encouragement.  He would give them a pat on the back and let them know how proud he was of them.  And as he did this over a period of time, he began to notice something.  He noticed that those things he had always criticized them for in the past began to diminish more and more and the things that were worthy of praise began to increase more and more.

Might I suggest that you try that with your children because that’s the power of encouragement?  Even God the Father did that with his Son.  We heard it before in our Gospel reading which was about Jesus’ baptism.  As he came up out of the water of the Jordan River, his Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  That was the Father’s way of saying, “That’s my boy!  Isn’t he something?  I’m so proud of him!”

Some of you have probably heard of this fellow here, Rich DeVos, the founder of the very successful multi-million dollar corporation known as Amway.  Well, when he was once asked what he felt was the most important management skill he learned in developing that business, his response had nothing to do with finances or budgets or setting goals. Instead he replied: “The most important management skill I learned was to be a cheerleader.”

You know what, my friends?  We need cheerleaders today, especially in this dog-eat-dog world we’re living in where we can be beaten down day after day after day.  We need moms and dads to be cheerleaders for their kids, husbands to be cheerleaders for their wives, wives to be cheerleaders for their husbands, bosses to be cheerleaders for their employees, and yes, even employees to be cheerleaders for their bosses.  Can you imagine what a difference it would make in our world if more people took seriously the command of our text to encourage one another because encouragement has a way of empowering and inspiring us to accept challenges and take advantage of opportunities that we might otherwise have bypassed?

So encourage one another deliberately.  Then secondly, encourage one another corporately.  Our text says:  “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  It’s sad to say, but surveys that have been conducted in recent years have revealed that more and more Americans are trying to satisfy their spiritual needs on their own, apart from the church.  I’m not exactly sure why that is so.  Maybe it’s the hypocrisy that is evident in some churches.  Maybe it’s conflict with another parishioner.  Maybe it’s the ugly preacher who stands up there each Sunday.  Whatever the case, more people today are saying yes to Christ, but no to the church, or to what they often derogatorily refer to as organized religion.

But our text for today gets toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, and eyeball-to-eyeball with that way of thinking and says that view is wrong.  We need to continue meeting together.  We need to continue worshiping together.  We need to continue working together and connecting together as a community of faith.

I love the analogy that Paul uses in I Corinthians when he describes the church as the body of Christ.  Now just follow me for a moment here.  If you were to cut off a part of your body accidentally, let’s say, a finger, would only the finger feel that pain?  No!  The whole body would be racked with pain.  And what about that severed finger?  Could it heal on its own?  Could it be of any use if it were to remain detached from the body?  Of course not!  But what if doctors were to re-attach it to the body at the same point where it had been severed and the blood were to flow through it again and the nerves were to function properly again?  Then what would happen?  Well, it would become a living, active, and productive member of the body again, wouldn’t it?

In a similar way, that’s why it’s so important for us to stay attached to the body of Christ through a local congregation like ours.  There’s healing and purpose and meaning for our lives when we are a functioning, active, and productive part of that body of believers.

Back in World War II a fellow by the name of Ben Patterson witnessed firsthand the power of encouragement that can come from a local congregation.  He had arrived in the city of London the day before as an aspiring journalist eager to start covering the war, but he had spent the night cowering in his room as the city came under attack from the enemy and bombs exploded all around him.  He had even prayed to die that night because if this was what civilization had come to, he wanted nothing to do with it.  Amazingly he fell asleep, only to be awakened the next morning not by bombs, but by singing, of all things.  It was coming from a nearby church that had been destroyed in the attack, but whose members still gathered for worship that Sunday morning.  Standing in the midst of the rubble that was once their house of worship they were singing that great hymn:  “The church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord; She is his new creation By water and the Word.  From heav’n he came and sought her To be his holy bride; With his own blood he bought her, And for her life he died.” 

As he listened and watched the bride of Christ, the body of Christ in action that day, Ben Patterson wrote these words:  “Suddenly I felt something in the world that was untouchable, something that had endured through the millennia, something that was indestructible – the spirit and life and power of Jesus within his church.”

My friends, you know that bombs still drop in peoples’ lives today, don’t they?  Walls still cave in.  Roofs still collapse.  And we do not know when God is going to send a Ben Patterson our way who by virtue of what they see or hear or learn in this house of worship will find the strength and encouragement to carry on.  My personal opinion is that there are Ben Patterson’s here every Sunday.  They’re looking for a place of refuge.  They’re searching for a sanctuary, a shelter from the bombs that have been dropping in their lives.  They’re hoping for an encouraging word to lift them up and carry them through discouraging times.  Oh how I pray that our church will become known as a haven for such souls as each of us does his or her part to encourage one another and those outside of our church family deliberately, intentionally, and corporately.