The times in which we live are filled with discouragement. As I write this, the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments concerning whether homosexual marriage should be nationally legalized, while preachers in the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, are being told by officials that they are breaking a city ordinance when they refuse to marry homosexuals. Baltimore is being torn apart by the latest of a series of riots which have been taking place across the United States.
You might have been going about your day when suddenly a policeman knocked on your door or you received a call from the local hospital informing you that your loved one has died after being in a car accident, or after suddenly suffering a heart attack or stroke. Perhaps you have sat by their sickbed for long hours months on end watching them deteriorate from cancer or some other life-threatening disease, have held their hand as they slipped from this life, and now you are facing a future without them. Maybe you showed up for work at the job you so desperately need to put food on your family’s plate and a roof over their head, only to suddenly be handed the dreaded pink slip while you’re informed that the bad economy is forcing the company to make some changes and they have to let you go. Perhaps your spouse of many years has told you out of the blue that they no longer love you and want a divorce, or your child has grown and started their own life only to then fall away from the Lord.
Perhaps you are a preacher who has just been unexpectedly told that your services are no longer required in the congregation whom you’ve served and for whom you’ve sacrificed much, or who has spent many hours pouring your heart and soul into a lesson only to watch some sleep through it. You might be an shepherd who has just left the home of a wayward member, heartbroken that they have rejected your pleas to return to the fold. Perhaps you’re an elder or preacher who is worn down by the continuous complaining by those “well-intentioned dragons” who continually nit-pick every decision you make and find fault every day with everyone but themselves. You might be a deacon who finds it very hard to get some or all of the members excited and involved in various service projects. Maybe you’re a member of a local congregation who has just gone through a split, or a Christian who is heartbroken over the doctrinally liberal stances many are taking and the evangelistic apathy which exists among more and more in the church.
Faced with so many hurdles and obstacles, how can we stay strong and loyal to the Lord? How can we focus only on what is good and pure (Phil. 4:8)? The apostle Paul was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). We try to be like him and “not lose heart;” we try to let “our inner self (be) renewed day by day;” we want so desperately to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” and “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 4:8-9, 16, 18; 5:7). How did he do it? How can I do it?
Paul was not alone. Yes, he had the Lord with him always, a true Companion who can’t be surpassed. However, he also had his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with him. Timothy, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Titus, Philemon, the churches at Thessalonica and Philippi…all of these and more helped, refreshed and encouraged him throughout the dark times in his life. Fellow Christian, you are not alone either. You have the Lord Jesus, and you have his family, your family, his church.
Church, in order to be the beacon of light to both Christians and the lost who are groping through this dark world of discouragement, we must be what God would have us to be. Each of us must let our light shine (Mt. 5:16). We all must treat each other like family (1 Tim. 5:1-2). We must avoid complaining, grumbling, gossip, and backbiting, and strive not to produce it ourselves (Phil. 2:14; Gal. 5:15). Rather, we must “be at peace…encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient…(and) seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Th. 5:13b-15). We must bring the saving message of the gospel to everyone and live it in our own lives and in our dealings with each other (Mk. 16:15; 1 Pt. 2:12). Our assemblies must always be gatherings of edification and encouragement as well as worship in spirit and truth (Heb. 10:24-25; Jn. 4:24).
That’s how we “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) and bring others and ourselves out of the darkness of despair and into the light of hope. When peace, unity, true love, and encouragement exist in the local church, the lost soul looking for the hope and salvation found only in Jesus will be drawn to you. The new convert will not lose his zeal, and you and your fellow Christians will have your batteries recharged, ready once again to live for Christ in this dark world.
Look around you next Sunday during worship and remember that you need these precious, like-minded brethren…and they need you. — Jon