Ninth Sunday After Pentecost: The Ministry of Encouragement
- Austin B. Tucker Online instructor for Liberty Seminary and Anderson University who resides in Shreveport, Louisiana.
- 2014 1 May
Episcopal Bishop Herbert Welch was 105 years old when a younger minister asked him if he ever heard Phillips Brooks preach. "Oh, yes," he answered, "I heard him preach at our baccalaureate service. It was more than 80 years ago." When the younger minister asked what he preached, the aged bishop answered, "I don't remember anything he said, except that when it was over we felt we could lick the world!"
The ministry of Jesus was very much a ministry of encouragement, and don't we need that often?
Jesus Had an Encouraging Presence
The wind and the waves were beating the disciples and their frail boat, and they rightfully feared for their lives. Then Jesus came to them walking on the water. We need that presence. When we do, Jesus comes to us. When a child is afraid of the dark, we don't solve that problem by telling him or her there is nothing to fear. We dispel that fear when we take the child's hand and say, "I'm here with you."
In Hebrews 13:5, we are reminded of the words Moses spoke to the nation of Israel in the wilderness as he passed the torch to Joshua. The New Testament claimed that Old Testament promise for us in our need: "I never will leave you or forsake you." Then he adds Joshua 1:5, in which God commissioned Joshua after the death of Moses: "Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not leave you or forsake you."
Why would anyone decline claiming that divine presence? I love the hymn of Lizzie Edwards:
"I must have the Savior with me, for I dare not walk alone;
"I must feel His presence near me, and His arm around me thrown.
"Then my soul shall fear no ill, let him lead me where he will,
"I will go without a murmur, and his footsteps follow still."
Pastors speak of the ministry of presence. Sometimes when someone is going through a devastating sorrow or fearful trial, he or she does not need well-meaning words as much as needing someone who's simply present.
Jesus Had the Power of the Encouraging Word
"When the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the water, they were terrified. They cried out, ‘It is a ghost!' But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid'" (Matt. 14:26-27).
M.E. Dodd was pastor 40 years at First Baptist Church, Shreveport, Louisiana. When he retired in 1952, he was invited back to a student pastorate from his days at Union University in Tennessee. He told that church, First Baptist, Trenton, Tenn., about some words of encouragement he overheard when he was their pastor. One layman in that small church was unsure of the young preacher's ability to meet their need. The young pastor heard that prominent Judge Howard took up for him, saying, "Never mind, all Gibson County will be proud of Elmon Dodd some day!"
Dodd said, "Those words put steel in my backbone and fire in my soul that has stayed with me all these years." That day, in the last year of Dodd's life, the community feted him as "Gibson County's Foremost Citizen!" There is life-giving power in words of encouragement just as there is soul-robbing power in discouraging words.
Our 11-year-old granddaughter had a soccer game. The little girls played their hearts out but came up second best in the final score. The coach had an opportunity to call the team together and give them a group hug. He could have bragged on their teamwork and effort. There was a lot he could have affirmed.
Instead, he chose to harangue and berate them all. This tirade went on for some time until one of the mothers walked over and took her little girl by the hand, rescuing her from the coach. Right away other parents began to do the same thing until the coach was left with no one to browbeat. People need encouragement.