We all thrive on praise and encouragement. It motivates us and brings out the best in us. Encouragement is like oxygen to the soul. We tend to become what the most important people in their lives think we can become. Encouragement can be given in various forms – listening (Jas.1:19), empathy (Rom.12:15), comfort (2 Cor.1:3-4) and words of appreciation.
Jesus is a great encourager. The book of Acts gives us three specific examples of Jesus going out of his way to encourage Paul in his life and ministry.
1. Paul had been ministering in Corinth with good results but also with much opposition. Jesus appeared to Paul at night through a dream to encourage him (Acts 18:9-10). He said, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." [Acts 18:9-10. NIV] The Message Bible puts it this way: "Keep it up and don't let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I'm with you and no one is going to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city."
What was the result of this encouragement? Paul stayed in Corinth for eighteen months and established a flourishing church and reached out to the surrounding regions of Achacia (2 Cor.1:1).
2. Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem because of his witness about the Lord Jesus. There was much opposition and antagonism directed at him by the religious leaders and the Jewish people. Jesus appeared again to Paul at night to encourage him. He stood near him and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." [Acts 23:11. NIV] The Message Bible puts it this way: "It's going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You've been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you're going to be my witness in Rome!"
The result? Paul went on to preach the gospel in Rome. God preserved him from a death plot, shipwreck, imprisonment and many other difficulties. He finished his course well.
3. Paul finally made it to Jerusalem, barely escaping losing his life, and was then on the way to Rome as a prisoner on board a ship (Acts 27). Just to make things worse, they encountered very bad weather and lost a lot of time. Despite Paul's warning of further disaster, they kept sailing and were hit by a terrible storm, which caused the ship to lose control. Luke records that "it had been many days since we had seen either sun or stars. Wind and waves were battering us unmercifully and we lost all hope of rescue."
One night, Jesus sent an angel to tell Paul, "Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you." [Acts 27:23-24. NIV] The Message Bible says: "Don't give up Paul. You're going to stand before Caesar yet - and everyone sailing with you is also going to make it."
As a result, Paul was able to encourage the other 276 passengers and bring them all to safety after two weeks on the wild sea. Once on land, Paul was bitten by a snake but miraculously, was not harmed! The father of the main leader on the island, Publius, was sick and Paul prayed for him and he was healed. This resulted in everyone on the island who was sick coming to Paul and being healed as well as hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Here are a few lessons we can glean from the encouragement that Jesus gave to Paul:
- Understand that life and ministry can be both fulfilling and challenging (frustrating)! This is a FACT! There will be times of pressure. There will be storms, obstacles and opposition. God is building His church and it involves a spiritual battle (Mt.16:18-19; 11:12). Expect it and don't let it surprise you or stop you. Get used to it but don't be afraid. Don't allow other people, opposition or difficult circumstances to intimidate you or cause you to be quiet.
- Realise that perseverance is essential. Jesus told Paul to keep it up - to speak and not to be silent; to not stop or quit; to keep doing the right thing; to keep at it. Just keep going, doing what God has told you to do. Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't throw in the towel. God is with you, so keep on going. You will make it if you just hold on. Some things need to be continually done – over and over again (Gal.6:9-10. 1 Cor.15:58).
- Recognise that God is in control. God wants us to have an assurance that everything will be all right! He wants us to take courage – to not fear or doubt. Though everything around you seems to be falling apart, remember, God is in control (Rom.8:28). Nothing happens to you without God being aware of it and permitting it to happen. He is working out all things for an ultimate purpose. His promises are faithful and true. No matter what happens, God is with you. He will never leave you. He is working with you, in you and through you. We are co-workers (partners) with God as we live life and build the church. We can be assured of victory because He is with us. He will not let us fail or fall. He will uphold and strengthen us. God promises that you WILL get to Rome. You will reach the destiny He has for you. His word to you will come to pass. He will protect you. The storm won't stop you. You will make it through. God is in control. Your life is in His hands. You'll make it - you won't fail or fall. God is working all things together for your ultimate good that His purpose might be achieved.
- Know that God is pleased with faithful obedience. If you're doing what God asked you to do with the best of your ability, know that He is pleased with you and your efforts. You've done a good job. God is proud of you. You're learning, growing and applying yourself. You're doing great! Don't minimise what you've done or how well you're doing. God is pleased with you (Mt.25:21. Heb.6:10).
- Believe that the best is yet to come! Live with a sense of anticipation. You'll do a better job yet. God's purpose for you will be fulfilled. You'll reach your destination. It'll happen because God has planned it and ordained it. There is more yet to be done. You haven't arrived. God has greater things for you to do. There's more, much more. Keep a positive optimistic attitude about the future. There are many good things ahead. Your work is not in vain, but will bring a great harvest. There will be a reward for your work. There are "many people" in the city that will come to me. Everything will turn out for the best. Have a positive attitude of faith and hope about the future (Jer.29:11).
Be encouraged ... and don't forget to pass it on!