Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it." (Deuteronomy 1:36)
I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve been encouraged not to quit, to keep trying, to refuse to give up or be overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s a friend or fellow Christian. But sometimes it’s someone I don’t know who’s read this column and said kind words to me about it when we passed in the grocery store. Those words of encouragement are precious to me
In Deuteronomy, Moses rehearsed Israel's history and restated God's law for the generation of Israelites that would enter Canaan. He had been their leader for 40 years while another generation that were saved out of Egypt died in the wilderness because of unbelief. Moses himself would not cross Jordan and enter Canaan, but he told the people that Joshua would be their new leader who would lead them to inherit the land. And the order from God through Moses to the people about Joshua was, "Encourage him."
God could (and did) speak directly to Joshua to strengthen and encourage him. He could have sent angels to do the encouragement. God spoke to encourage Elijah under the juniper tree, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and Paul on a doomed ship in a stormy sea. But he also wanted the people to encourage Joshua. This is important for us to understand.
You and I are supposed to speak words that build others up (Ephesians 4:29). We're supposed to encourage one another every day to keep each other from unbelief and forsaking God (Hebrews 3:12-13). We're commanded to encourage one another to provoke each other to good works (10:24-25). We may get great encouragement through other channels, too--through reading the word or hearing the word proclaimed, through seeing evidence of God's faithfulness in answered prayer, or by seeing what he is doing in our own lives or others' lives. But there's no escaping the fact that one channel of encouragement that God has ordained is people encouraging other people.
At some of the lowest, most desperate times in my life, I have been lifted up by a fellow Christian who cared enough about me to come to me with encouraging words. I am so thankful for those people who obeyed God and spoke to me when I needed it so much! How can I not take my own responsibility seriously to obey God and "pay forward" that debt of gratitude I feel for the encouragement others have given me?
It's true that God may use someone else to encourage a brother or sister if you don't do it. But that won't take care of your unwillingness to obey him about doing it yourself. In addition to the plain, specific command to encourage each other, we break the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do to you) and the Second Commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself) when we don't encourage each other.
Even if it takes a little time, seems a little awkward or makes us focus on someone besides ourselves for a little while, it is worth it to obey God and bless the people around you by encouraging them. It’s not that hard to find someone to encourage—it’s the gift that everyone needs. In this church, in your family, among your coworkers and friends, there are so many opportunities. May God grant you and me the wisdom and grace to be good encouragers!