Suddenly we heard a rustling in the branches above us and a scattering of pebbles came rattling down around us. Up ahead two hikers were headed our way, having started on the other end of the trail and just come over the top. Ragged, sweating and panting, we must have looked like we needed some encouragement.
"You're almost there," the woman hiker said. "The top is really steep but the way down on the other side is all switchbacks."
It was hard to imagine anything steeper than we had already encountered, but it soon became that way. Only the knowledge that we were "almost there" kept us going, and the relative ease of the promised switchbacks meant the worst was almost over.
That is the power of exhortation and encouragement and that is one reason God designed fellowship.
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. (Rom 1:11-12)
For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, (Col 2:1)
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1Thess 5:11)
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:13)
Even when we do find ourselves alone, He has left us with "a great cloud of witnesses," pictured as spectators cheering us on in Hebrews 12. Too many times what should be the home crowd might as well be the heart of enemy territory. Why is it that a young woman announcing her pregnancy brings on every horror story of labor and delivery that every woman around her has heard or experienced? Probably the same reason that preachers who gather together for moral support in areas where the church is small and scattered wind up trying to top one another with their bad experiences. Brothers and sisters alike seem to focus on the negative rather than the positive. Just exactly who will that encourage except the enemy?
"We all sin all the time."
"Even the best of us sin every day."
"It's impossible for even a strong Christian to overcome sin."
I have heard these things all my life. They certainly give an unscriptural view of our power to overcome with the help of Christ. And they made me feel hopeless. Until I learned better I didn't even try that hard. That's what focusing on the negative accomplishes—failure.
God expects better of His children. He expects us to help each other, not cast stumblingblocks in the way. And He has some strong words for those who do the latter.
I might not have made it to the top of the mountain that day if those hikers hadn't come along with encouraging words. As you pass others making their way up the mountain of life, remember to lighten their steps with a supporting cheer. You wouldn't want them to give up when they are so close to the top.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:23-25)