Follow the Leader
By Elizabeth Hodges
Romans 12:8 encourages readers to be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith. I recently experienced this mutual encouragement…at McDonald’s, of all places. After purchasing a large sweet tea, I took time to speak to my formerly homeless friend who sells newspapers on the corner. She was troubled and anxious, asking for prayer. Her military daughter has been deployed, and she does not know where she is.
I told her, “I understand, and I will pray.” My military son has been in similar situations, and I could pray with understanding. I thanked God for the nudge to get tea that particular morning so I could encourage Lisa. Throughout that day, God brought others to my mind who encouraged me in times of fear and need, and I found myself thankful for their obedience. I also began to reflect on various duets in the Bible who “mutually encouraged” each other.
Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:16-18)
You know the story well. When all three husbands died, mother-in-law Naomi decided to return to her hometown of Bethlehem. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ houses and continue their lives. Orpah obeyed, but Ruth refused. She chose to serve Naomi and her God instead. God blessed her decision, and Ruth found favor with Boaz. In time, she became the mother of Obed, grandfather of David, and ancestor of Jesus. I am so thankful Naomi’s imperfect faith challenged Ruth, and she was obedient to God in turn—mutual encouragers.
Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 18:1-5)
King Saul never understood the relationship between these two young men. Jonathan accepted David as God’s choice as Israel’s next king. He helped rather than hindering him. Throughout the chapters that describe their friendship, we find Jonathan seeking David’s wellbeing, even when his father sought to kill his friend.
Years later, David mourned the death of Saul and Jonathan, and then inquired if anyone remained in Jonathan’s household to whom he could show kindness. Enter handicapped Mephibosheth. David showered him with kindness, restored his family’s land, and gave him servants.
What an example of mutual encouragement over generations. Can you imagine Mephibosheth telling this story over and over to his children and grandchildren? We may never know in this life the full extent of our kindness to others—mutual encouragement.
Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-10)
As a child, did you ever say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like…”? What was it about that person that captivated you? Challenged you? Motivated you? I imagine Elisha saying something similar about his mentor Elijah. He walked closely with God’s prophet. He saw God work through him. So, when Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him, Elisha was ready, asking for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah.
Elijah told Elisha he had asked a hard thing, but Elisha did see Elijah caught up into Heaven, and the mantle fell to him. Can you imagine his account of that experience? Was he challenged to encourage others as Elijah had encouraged him? I have no doubt. Does your faith challenge, inspire, motivate…and encourage anyone?
Elisabeth and Mary (Luke 1:39-45)
Luke 1:39-45 records Mary’s hasty journey to the hill country after learning she would give birth to the Messiah. Her older cousin Elisabeth welcomed her warmly:
“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”
What a blessing! Elisabeth was six months along in her own miraculous pregnancy and could share with Mary. She could listen and share in Mary’s anxieties. God knew what this young teenager needed, and He provided for her. Who is your Mary?
Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark (Acts 9:26-27)
Had I lived in Jerusalem during this time period, I would have been terrified of Saul. The believers knew he had been intent on destroying them. They had witnessed his wrath and evil actions, and I’m sure they kept their distance. Yet Barnabas was willing to be obedient to the Lord and take a chance on this changed man. It is no coincidence that Barnabas was well known as the “son of encouragement.”
Later, Acts 15:36-41 records the dissension between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark. Barnabas thought he needed a second chance after deserting the previous missionary journey. Paul did not.
The disagreement became so sharp that Barnabas and John Mark began a new ministry together while Paul chose Silas as his new partner. However, Barnabas was right. Years later, in his letter to Timothy, Paul recognized that John Mark had become “profitable to him for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
We may not always agree with our “mutual encouragers,” but God may use those very disagreements to sharpen us, to make us better tools for building His Kingdom. We must be obedient, following His lead, even when the choice is not popular.
Paul and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3-11)
This passage recounts Paul’s friendship with Timothy, and Timothy’s faith, which encouraged Paul: “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” (verse 5). As Timothy matured, he became a traveling companion to Paul. Then, near the end of Paul’s life, he entrusted his ministry to this young man.
Can you imagine the emotions Timothy must have experienced as Paul’s successor? The doubts that may have plagued him? Perhaps that is the reason for Paul’s encouragement in verse 7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” How many preachers, pastors, and evangelists through the centuries have been encouraged by these words Paul shared with Timothy? God continues to use their mutual encouragement long after their deaths.
What about us? Who has played the role of “mutual encourager” in our lives? Have we thanked them? If not, we should. And then, we should ask ourselves, “With whom will I share ‘mutual encouragement’? Do others see my faith lived out daily? Consistently? Humbly? May they find me faithful…and encouraging.”
About the Writer: Elizabeth Hodges is director of Women Nationally Active for Christ: www.WNAC.org.