The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. The bases are 90 feet apart. Every basketball hoop is 10 feet high and every free throw line is 15 feet from the backboard. Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net.
But when the game is played, all things are not equal. One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t. The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement. It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.”
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.
We see it in athletes on the golf course or the tennis court. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game. Great athletes have the ability to resist discouragement and retain their focus. But all of us are vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.
The adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt. But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. 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). When a brokenhearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of the bedroom, gently raised the man's daughter to life. (Mark 5:36).
Heather Herschap was born with cerebral palsy. She is confined to a wheelchair with limited use of one arm. I first met her in 2004 after she had completed a college degree in psychology and was working on a master's in divinity.
She says the turning point in her life came when she arrived on campus as a freshman and was alone in the dorm for the first time. Her body became hopelessly stuck between the bed and the wall, and, with her paralysis, she could not work herself free. After hours of crying out for help to no avail she heard a voice, clear and audible, say “Don’t give up.” That experience led her to faith in Christ.
A few years later, aware that her prayers were focused on her own problems, she began to pray for others and God whispered in her ear, “India.” India became her passion. Her eyes sparkle, her face lights up and her body stiffens in excitement when she speaks of India. She has been to India three times counseling outcasts like herself who are handicapped, encouraging them and giving them hope.
Every day we need encouragement. And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school. Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone. It might be the most important thing you ever do.