Encouraging Words

Heaviness in the heart of a man maketh it stoop; but a good word maketh it glad (Proverbs 12:25).

Contrary to the feelings of many, no man is an island. No man (or woman) is entirely impervious to their environment or their circumstances.

We all go through times in life when our hearts are heavy. The reasons for heavy hearts are legion. Loved ones may hurt us or betray us, or we invest a lot of our emotional time and energy in their distress. They may pass away. We may be hurt by the words or actions of people around us. We may lose a job, develop a debilitating illness, or be in the midst of a very stressful period in life. Many times we allow the influences of the outside world and its continual panic to get us down.

Whatever the reason the distress is quite real. It is not as easy to live with a heavy heart as otherwise (cf. Proverbs 18:14). There is less motivation to engage in the simple functions of life, let alone anything else. It is hard to concentrate. It is hard to be civil and put on a false face in front of others. And it is especially difficult to “keep the faith” and believe that better times are ahead.

There is a natural tendency, in such circumstances, to retreat. It seems easier to not feel at all than to feel distress.

But the “unfelt life” is not really life at all. We all enjoy the highs/peaks of life. If there are highs/peaks, there must, at some point, be lows/valleys. We all experience them; we all have to live through them.

Yet there is something that makes it all just a little more tolerable, and that is a “good word.” Can we all not think of times when we were in distress (or perhaps just stress) and someone took out the time to encourage us and to build us up? Have we all not had experiences where we were laid low but the strengthening words of another lifted us up?

Words of affirmation and encouragement always have value. Little wonder, then, that God commands believers through the Apostles and others to encourage one another (1 Corinthians 14:23, Hebrews 10:25, Jude 1:20). Words of encourage sustain and uplift in times of distress and trouble. They reinforce us in the good times. There is no circumstance in which truly encouraging words cannot provide some benefit!

But for there to be good words there must be people who understand their value and are willing to freely provide them. Encouraging people are always in the minority; there is a superabundance of critics, cynics, and pessimists. Nevertheless, we all know the superior value of having a “Barnabas” in our life than the pessimists and cynics (cf. Acts 4:36-37). If we understand the value of having a “Barnabas” in our lives, how much more should we then strive to be the “Barnabas” for our fellow man!

There are few things that we can do that have a more lasting impression on others than to be there for them in times of distress with good words of encouragement, affirmation, and strength. Let us be a “Barnabas” and speak good words to all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Think on These Things

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The human mind is a most wonderful and profound entity. Its depths and its abilities are only now beginning to be plumbed and understood. There is much about the mind that is beyond our understanding; perhaps it will always be that way.

Yet there is one undeniable aspect of the mind– the power of its meditations. We humans have been given the ability to think our way through all kinds of challenges and difficulties. We have the ability to focus on the positive in the worst of times. But we can also focus on the negative even in the best of times. On account of our mental attitude we may survive and endure; we can just as quickly wither and fall apart.

This is why Paul encourages Christians to focus on the positive– that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Paul’s idea is that if we focus our minds on things like that, our attitude, emotions, and actions will conform to those excellent standards. We will be better able to express the love and joy that should mark believers (John 13:35, Philippians 4:4).

We all know what happens when we focus on the opposite. When we think about what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and grotesque, our attitudes and actions easily follow, and we find ourselves tempted in sin (cf. James 1:14-15). If our minds are focused on what has no virtue and can have no praise, it cannot be pleasing to the God Who is excellent, virtuous, and praiseworthy!

Yet there is an even more pervasive and subtle difficulty– the “middle ground.” In the “middle ground,” one might not be thinking of practices that are sinful, but one is surely not thinking about what is good. Instead, the mind is filled with anxiety, worry, and negativity. Cynicism and pessimism dominate such a perspective.

As it is written in Proverbs 23:7a, “for as he thinketh within himself, so is he.” While we may not always choose an instantaneous reflex, and while there are some circumstances when the brain’s chemistry is not properly aligned, in general, we have the choice about that which we focus upon with our minds. We may try to blame our circumstances, our past, or some other external factor in an attempt to justify negative or sinful thinking, but in the end, such is just an excuse.

In times of distress it is easy to focus on the worries and to believe that things will continually fall apart; at such times we must endeavor even more to remember what is of value, honorable, lovely, and praiseworthy, so that we can be sustained through the difficulty. Yet it is no less important to remember the positive when things are going well. Too many spend the good times worrying about the bad ones they know are just around the corner.

What Jesus says about the heart is also true for the mind: “for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If we know that we are of God, and that we belong to God, then we will direct our minds to God and to all of the blessings and benefits of this life. We will dwell mentally about all the good with which He has blessed us and all the wonderful things that He has provided in the creation and through His Son Jesus Christ. But if our treasure is in the perishing and fading world, then our thoughts will focus on the dark and negative, and will lead to our own fading and perishing.

While not everything is in the mind, the mind controls a lot more of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being than we would perhaps like to admit. Where have we placed our minds? Let us focus on what is divine, holy, and of benefit, and serve Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry