“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5.11 ESV).
My husband ran Beach to Bay, which is a relay marathon in our hometown of Corpus Christi, TX. He ran the fourth leg of the race out of six; but toward the end of his almost 5 mile run, he began to lose steam. Though he knew it had to be close, he began to walk the last half mile of the race. He was exhausted.
A woman jogging a medium cadence came up behind him. She wasn’t about to let my 6’5” athletic build husband ease his way to the finish line. She started yelling “encouragement” at him.
“Pick up the pace!” she called. “Don’t you dare walk. Get moving! You’re going to run to the end.”
My husband shrugged his shoulders and began to jog once more. A few seconds later he saw the finish line, and he began to run faster. Once he saw his relay partner, he was in an all-out sprint before he passed the baton.
My three year daughter fell into a pool near the steps where my five year old son was standing. As my husband ran to retrieve her, our son grabbed her out of the water and held her. We were all so excited because our son saved his little sister. However, our seven year old son who was next to his father at the time became angry.
When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I wanted to save her!”
I explained to him that he should be happy for his brother’s victory. I said that I was proud of both my boys, and I reminded my eldest of all of his many victories. I could tell he understood, but it was still hard for him to encourage his brother.
I realized that there are situations in our lives where it is easy to encourage others, but there are other situations where it is more difficult. And I wondered what made the difference.
The woman who encouraged my husband was not in the race to win. She probably ran for enjoyment or for a feeling of accomplishment, but she was not one of the professionals who fly from distant lands to our little city to compete for a prize. Some of the teams running in our marathon invest great amounts of money, sweat and time to win. And I can almost guarantee that they are not encouraging their competitors to pick up the pace! Although her encouragement is greatly value and shows her care for others, it comes from someone who has nothing to lose or prove–she wasn’t interested in first prize. She was having a good time and enjoyed gathering others in her bubble of joy.
On the other hand, my eldest son invests a great deal into his relationship with his sister. He holds her in the pool when they swim together, he compliments her wardrobe, he prays with her and—like his younger brother—he loves her. So when his brother won “first prize”–which is probably how he viewed it—he became jealous. He wanted to win, so it was hard for him to encourage his brother. He had to make the choice to do it anyway.
I believe there are two reasons that prevent us from encouraging one another. The First reason is that we have not asked God what He has planned for our lives. If we knew the victories God has already won for us, we would not covet the victories of others. I can be happy for missionaries in foreign countries because I know that I’m not called to it. I can be happy for worship leaders because I know that I’m not called to it. I am a writer. It may not be glamorous. I may type in my pajamas. I may not be around a lot of people. But I’m called to it!
However, it used to be hard for me to encourage other writers—especially writers similar to me—who are publishing, who are making a difference for Christ, who are so extremely gifted that they seem to create syntactical symphonies everywhere they go. I had to choose to encourage them. I used to examine all of the effort, time and resources I invested into sharpening my craft, and I’d wonder, “Why can’t I win first place?” But after watching my son’s difficulty with encouraging his brother, I understood the second reason it is difficult to encourage others: We forget that God’s favor, His blessings, and His victories are not finite–they are infinite, boundless and limitless!
God has all the natural and supernatural resources at His disposal, and He can choose to make more whenever He pleases. He wants to bless His children, and He has an infinite amount of victories available for each of us. We don’t have to be jealous of the people winning to our right and to our left because He has a path of wins right in front of us. When we choose to encourage those around us, we show God that we believe in His unlimited favor, we believe that He has great things planned for us, we believe that His glory has an endless supply, and we believe that He desires all of us to win!
So instead of being jealous, let us believe that we will all be standing across the finish line of heaven—each wearing our individually tailored victor’s crown and gold medal. We can joyfully encourage others in this race of life because our Father has a first prize for each of us that only we can claim. God has already won it for us; we just need to reach out and grab it!
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing” (1 Corinthians 9.24-26 NLT).