I met Dave the night before he was about to do his first ever triathlon, a 226km Ironman. He told me he would likely be the last finisher, in around 15 hours.
It was race day, and after 221km and 14 long hours, Dave found himself reduced to a walk. It was now dark and he still had 5km to go.
He was in last place and was struggling physically and mentally with the reality of another hour of walking and running to get to the finish line. His only companion was the Police Officer, toasty warm in his squad car, following him as the tail vehicle.
Dave couldn't go any further. He stopped, turned and signaled the Police car. 'I can't make it,' Dave gasped. 'I am pulling out. I need you to give me a lift back.' The Police Officer, speaking through a small gap in his window to keep the warmth in, said 'If you get in my car I am arresting you for jay walking and you are spending the night in the lockup! You have come this far. Turn around, get going and finish this race!'
Do you agree that someone in our culture could go through their adult lives without any encouragement? It is something we don't often receive or give. Yet, when it is given well, it can transform lives and situations.
Think of teachers who inspired you in a subject or career. Or think of a loved one who encourages you to make a difference in your life. Encouragement keeps us focused on what matters. Encouragement inspires us to keep going.
The Bible gives the ultimate guide to encouragement
The ultimate book of encouragement is the Bible. The New Testament has six different words in the original Greek that we translate as 'encouragement'. This large number illustrates the breadth of meaning: from a gentle 'you are doing well' encouragement, right through to a stern 'take this very, very seriously! Get going!' encouragement.
The purpose of Biblical encouragement
Encouragement in the Bible is used to build people up; to 'spur' one another on towards love and good deeds. In Romans chapter 15, verses 4 and 5 it explains that the Bible encourages us towards the certain hope Jesus has promised. This theme of encouragement and endurance is seen in Hebrews chapter 3, verses 12 to 14:
'See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today" so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.'
And Hebrews chapter 10 says:
'And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.'
Jesus's return is the finish line and it is coming soon (described here in Hebrews as the 'Day'). We need to be focused on the task of love and good deeds with this motivation in mind. We need to encourage.
The task, by implication, is hard and needs encouragement. This means our job is to 'intentionally' encourage. That is, attending church services, encouraging others in our Connect Groups/Bible studies, building up our families etc. Encouragement has a clear purpose to help others in their endurance towards a Christ-focused life (sanctification) and faith in His promises (justification).
A living relationship with God is hard. Like Dave in the Ironman there are struggles and pain along the way to the finish line. The encouragement (pun intended) for you is to have an encouragement focus.
Be on the lookout for ways to encourage the people Jesus brings before you. This could be reading the Bible with family or friends, regular participation in church, giving a Scripture verse as an affirmation for someone's day, mentoring a younger Christian in their understanding of Jesus, involvement in a prayer group, or praying for your church pastor and leadership team.
Read Hebrews chapter 12 for an ultimate encouragement guide. Generations had faith in God's future rescuer, Jesus (chapter 11). These heroes of the faith are now the crowd at the finish line, cheering us on and calling your name! Like Dave we keep putting one foot in front of another, looking to Jesus as our focus and the Shepherd of our faith.
Back to my mate, Dave. Guess what happened? He kept going. As Dave was running towards town he could see the bright floodlights of the finish line in the distance. The Police Officer had radioed ahead to let them know he was coming.
In Ironman tradition the crowd always waits for the final finisher, and they were there chanting his name: 'Dave! Dave! Dave!' How do you think he felt as he sprinted down the finishing straight?!
I spoke to Dave the next day and he had just been down to the Police Station to thank the officer for his 'encouragement'. This true story highlights the importance of different types of encouragement.
The Bible gives both a reason and a method for encouragement. We need to receive it on our life journey. And we need to give it to others because it is a rare commodity in our society and churches.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html