A 200-year-old church was being readied for an anniversary celebration when calamity struck: the regular Bell Ringer was called out of town. The Priest immediately advertised for another. When the replacement arrived, the Priest took him to the steps leading to the bell tower, some 150 feet above them. Round and round they went, huffing and puffing all the way. Just as they reached the landing, the new Bell Ringer tripped and fell face-first into the biggest bell of them all. Bing! Bang! Bong! Dazed by the blow, the Bell Ringer stumbled backward onto the landing. The railing broke loose and he fell to the ground. Miraculously, he was unhurt and only stunned but the Sexton still thought it best to call an ambulance. “Do you know this man’s name?” asked the Doctor when he arrived. “No,” the Priest replied, “but his face sure rings a bell.”
Today I want to write about our need of being encouragers and let me begin by giving you a huge piece of necessary counsel that will prevent you from suffering the greatest of embarrassment if you ever have to supply information about an injured Bell Ringer! One of the highest of all Christian privileges is the chance to look out for and care about those whom you have a daily connection with. But how can you truly call someone a friend or a colleague if you don’t even know their name? I can’t tell you how much it means to someone to not only ask them what their name is but to also remember it once you have been informed! “Hey You,” just doesn’t communicate “I Care!”
Now I know we can’t skip the preliminaries and jump right to the state of being “Soul Brothers and Sisters,” without beginning by at least entering into some shallow small talk! But the secret is that we can’t stay there on the surface! We must go deeper if we are ever going to develop the ability to genuinely meet the needs of one another. But in our pursuit of real relationships, we should not forget the importance of such simple acts of kindness like a smile, a wink, a hand squeeze, the positive touch such as a slap on the back a healthy hug and even an innocent kiss on the cheek. Hey, if you are going to go swimming in the Ocean, we all begin not in the deepest waves but by dipping our toes in the shallowest of water. Not every conversation needs to share the deepest most innermost gut stuff. Not every moment or interchange has to involve swapping blood types and social security numbers. But we can’t just assume that just because somebody follows you on Facebook or Twitter that you are suddenly joined at the hip. Social media can become nothing more than a cosmetic cover up to hide your heart deep inside away from public access! Sometimes to plumb the depths of a problem a submarine is required; sometimes just a dipstick will do. But if you want to draw refreshment from the well, we must all be willing to dig a little deeper!
In fact, if you are brave enough to put into practice this week’s article, then let me challenge you to dare to dedicate at least one day this week to making people your priority. Ask God to give you a significant conversation with at least 5 individuals every day! Initiate the impromptu date! Do something as simple as recognizing a piece of clothing someone may have picked out to wear that day, “Love that shirt!” Ask questions of those you are standing in line with at the store. Inquire of how their day is going and commit to being all in when it comes to listening to the reply! This is what we might call, “breaking the ice,” but if hearts are ever going to warm up to one another, you won’t get there via the icy stare!
I am not advocating that we will obtain a heavy and deep relationship with every person we meet.
In fact, you don’t need to be “heavy, deep and serious” at all times yourself. There is nothing worse than the holier than thou, stuffed shirt, and never smiling religious people. I love to imagine Jesus having fun with his disciples! I do believe that our Lord loved joking with his disciples, chuckling with them and shaking his head and maybe even telling Peter to go walk on a lake!
The world has its fair share of four-letter words, and Church, we have ours which was designed to bring life and the word is LOVE. If we showed love as often the world screams its four-letter words everywhere, I do believe we would see an improvement in the environment! I know our days can become overwhelming and anxious filled and distressing but if you lose heart, you eventually lose your hope and Believers we can’t let that happen on our watch!
I have met more Ministers than I care to count who are so beaten up and discouraged by their years of full time service to God. I actually call them “Tin Men,” after the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz who kept lamenting life because he felt that he didn’t have a heart! The truth is he once did just like those Pastors did and it was a heart with a calling and a beating passion. But without any cheerleaders, those clergy succumbed to the bloodsucking despair that can leech into the heart itself.
In the Wizard of Oz, we observed that at the end of that yellow brick road only revealed a con man hiding behind a curtain feigning to be more powerful than he really was! We all know that Oz never did give something to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have. In his song, the Tin Man sang, “I’d be tender, I’d be gentle, an awful sentimental; if I only had a heart!” He was very tender and his tears were always provoking the need to use the oil can so that he wouldn’t rust. It just took some comrades to share his journey to remind him who he was and would forever be!
The word encouragement is from the French and it literally means to put “heart” into someone. Who is that heartening presence and power in your life? Who reminds you to live, not by rote or by rules, but by heart? We may not have the authority or the ability to put heart into others but we can sure make a difference by putting people into our hearts! We are all on a journey with lots more at stake than making it to the Emerald City! We are on the race to Heaven and it is not just who finishes first who receives the prize, but the crown of glory is given to all who cross the finish line. Who needs a hug along the track? Who needs a cup of water given in Jesus Name? Who needs to matter? Do you see how much more there is to life than just trying to make it through another day?
In the late 1960’s Paul Simon had been listening to a lot of music by the gospel group “The Swan Silvertones.” His favorite was a “Swan Silvertones” song called “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep” and it contained the lyric “bridge over deep water.” When Paul Simon wrote the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he penned it so quickly that he actually asked, “Where did this come from? It doesn’t even sound like me!” Shortly after 9/11, I went to Carnegie Hall for a Gaither Homecoming Night of Praise and Healing for New York City. Much to my surprise- Bill Gaither said there was a musician waiting in the wings desiring to offer to sing a song of encouragement that he wrote for a beleaguered city. Out came Paul Simon and the song he sang is still a song I hear in my heart every time I think of the people that have been blood brothers and sisters in my life. Anybody can be a fair weather friend, but we all need those who will stand by us no matter how hard the storm, because God’s love comes shining through him and her and will always there to keep our logs burning to keep our light shining and our soul and faith on fire!