We have all seen it, the power of encouragement. It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” The length of every football field is 100 yards, every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard. But one thing is different. One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t. The cheers of encouragement that fill the stadiums for the home team make a difference. People perform better when they are cheered on.
We also know the ravages of discouragement. Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a deadly downward spiral. Some remarkable people have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus. Tiger Woods has it when he has hit a series of bad shots or finished a bad round of golf. He keeps his spirits up. But most of us are more vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.
The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt. But God always encourages us, just as Jesus encouraged the heartbroken father whose daughter had died, “Stop fearing, only believe!” (Mark 5:36). God is our constant encourager. He believes in us. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). Moses’ success depended upon how well he encouraged Joshua. (Deu.1:38, 3:38).
During his father’s funeral, Ted Kennedy Jr. recounted the turning point of his life as a twelve year old boy. He had just lost his leg to bone cancer. He says, “ … a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. And my father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway.
And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn't easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, “I can't do this. I said, I'll never be able to climb up that hill.”
And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.’
Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed on to his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.”
Encourage someone who needs it. It might be the most important thing you will do today, this week or in your lifetime.