This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, the account of a Vietnamese pastor provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. (Romans 1:11-12)
When Communists took over Vietnam, Pastor Nguyen Lap Ma refused to relinquish the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Can Tho. For this "crime," he and his entire family were placed under house arrest in a tiny, rural village with no travel and with no mail for the first twelve years.
Finally, when authorities loosened the mail restrictions, Pastor Lap Ma was thrilled to see letters arrive at his home. The Voice of the Martyrs published Pastor Lap Ma's story and his address. Students, housewives, pastors, and businessmen wrote letters of encouragement to the pastor and his family. Vietnamese police were shocked when Pastor Lap Ma received more than three thousand letters from all over the world.
"I read every letter with prayers and tears," Pastor Lap Ma said. "I devour every letter and meditate on the Scriptures shared in them. I then share these words of encouragement and the Scriptures in Vietnamese with my family. We are glad and encouraged by the messages in them."
"God has strengthened and helped us," the pastor continued. "So we keep hoping in Him, and fixing our eyes on Jesus. We follow Him to endure the cross, scorning its shame to the point of death. While we are living, God uses us to comfort the other suffering Christians." The letters encourage them as they happily encourage other believers.
FURTHER: Encouragement is a necessary fuel for the Christian race. Without encouragement, as a runner without water, no one could endure the often-grueling stretch for long. As we make our journey, we learn that encouragement is a two-way street. We give encouragement to others and so receive it ourselves a long way in strengthening the weary and motivating those whose faith is languishing. We often find that the spiritual encouragement we receive from the prayer of those around us rejuvenates us for the second mile. In some cases, that is another twelve years in prison for our faith. In other cases, it is merely the ability to endure another day.
A moment of consideration: Times change, as we all in looking around can clearly see. As unsettling days as these are, we can seek encouragement from others, from our churches, from our families and friends, and others. The apostle Paul found encouragement in his own suffering and troubles, from the vibrancy of faith he found within the church: (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8 - "So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord." ) The church at Thessaloniki probably wasn't aware of their impact on Paul's life. Yet their faith spoke loudly. And Paul "stoked the fire", saying "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
The Life Application Bible Notes say, "As you near the end of a long race, your legs ache, your throat burns, and your whole body cries out for you to stop. This is when friends and fans are most valuable. Their encouragement helps you push through the pain to the finish line. In the same way, Christians are to encourage one another. A word of encouragement offered at the right moment can be the difference between finishing well and collapsing along the way. Look around you. Be sensitive to others' need for encouragement, and offer supportive words or actions." Sometimes, encouragement is as basic as helping a person grieve.
Her little girl was late arriving home from school, so the mother began to scold her:
"Why are you so late?"
"I had to help another girl. She was in trouble."
"What did you do to help her?"
"Oh, I sat down and helped her cry."
How often might we sit down, with pad and paper, having heard of the illness or death of someone dear and, with pen in hand, write a short note to encourage, to bear up, to stand beside and perchance weep together, to bring assurance of God's love and faithfulness, and more--as thoughts spill onto paper--and paper resembles more and more a heart. It is our hearts and Christ's own heart that we reveal as we come alongside in thoughts and prayers.
We, too, can be encouragers, right? Frequent news of suffering among Christians comes across our awareness--Christians languishing in prison, Christians mourning the loss of their family's breadwinner and father and friend, Christians denied the right to bury their loved ones in community plots, Christians driven from their homes by the riotous mobs, by Fulani marauders, by armed groups, by governments, by family members, etc. And God's Word says that, seeing and hearing and learning of these sufferings, we too suffer. (1 Corinthians 12:26) We have many opportunities to share the love of Christ and of our own hearts with our besieged Christian family.
Good encouragers are selfless--concerned primarily for others. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:14–15). Good encouragers give themselves away to others. F. W. Borham illustrated this concept beautifully:
“The highest art in dominoes lies in matching your companion’s pieces. Is he glad? It’s a great thing to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice. Is he sad? It is a great thing to be able to weep with those who weep. It means, of course, that if you answer the challenge every time, it won’t be long before your dominoes are gone.
But it is worth remembering that victory in dominoes does not lie in accumulation, but in exhaustion. The player who is left with empty hands wins everything.”
There is victory in caring, in bringing the hand and the heart of our Lord to offer to not only those we know, but those we read or hear or see about around the world. We empty ourselves and express Christ; as Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Philippi, "For me to live is Christ..." (Philippians 1:21; Galatians 2:20) John the Baptist humbly admitted the Christ must increase and John must decrease. (John 3:30) We, too, may put on Christ as Paul told the Church in Galatia (Galatians 3:27) and Rome (Romans 13:14); Christ lives in us as believers, and we show Him to the world in our caring, in our loving, in our bearing up and in our sacrifices of time and energy for Him and His Church.
Here are a few ways that we too can encourage our family of faith. Voice of the Martyrs in the US has maintained a website designed to give opportunity to write letters of encouragement to troubled Christians, imprisoned for their faith in Christ. Prisoneralert.com allows us to communicate with those who don't speak English, and to encourage them in their own language. What a blessed opportunity this is, to show Christ's love to the hurting members of Christ's flock. Pastor Lap Ma said it well: "While we are living, God uses us to comfort the other suffering Christians." We know the encouragement found in God's Word; we well may know encouragement from our family and friends in moments of uncertainty or pain. But our Christian walk and way is to be an encouragement to others.
Voice of the Martyrs in Canada offers a "Doing Time For God" printable resource (automatic download) that gives suggestions on writing to encourage Christian prisoners; look through their letter-writing website. This site and the US Voice of the Martyrs website www.prisoneralert.com work together to give you guidance in knowing what and how to write to the prisoners, how to protest via letters to governments, etc. International Christian Concern likewise has a letter-writing option; please explore it. And Global Christian Relief reports plans to resume letter-writing options by the end of 2023. Their websites bring us closer to our worldwide family of faith. Francis of Assisi prayed, and in his prayer we find purpose in writing to encourage our suffering family of faith:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
May we be instruments of God’s peace-- consolers, bringers of light and joy, understanders…lovers dying to ourselves and born to eternal life. Let us know Christ, share Him through our hearts and share these words of encouragement and the Scriptures with those of our family who need them. Be blessed.