We could all use a little encouragement these days. Amid unrest and uncertainty there are so many questions and so few answers. As Christian educators, what is our role in all of this? When questions like this arise that seem unanswerable, we need to seek guidance in God’s Word. I truly believe the Holy Spirit reveals the answers for every single question we have in the Word of God. As I was completing my reading of the Book of Acts during my quiet time, an answer to my question began to emerge.
I was fascinated by the accounts in Acts involving the apostle Paul. While there are many examples I could use, I want to focus on one particular event during Paul’s final journey to Rome. Let me briefly recap the situation. Paul was falsely accused by the Jewish leaders and imprisoned awaiting trial. He was questioned by Festus and King Agrippa, and although they found no fault in him, Paul appealed to Caesar. As a result, he remained a prisoner. He was sent to Rome by boat with two traveling companions and other prisoners. The trip was long. Rome is approximately 2500 miles from Caesarea. Driving would take close to 45 hours; sailing in those days took much longer. There were many stops and layovers to resupply. After leaving Myra on a new ship, sailing became difficult due to the change in season. Paul tried to intervene by offering some advice.
“Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. Acts 27:10-11
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised by this. After all, Paul was a prisoner. Why would the officer in charge listen to him? They pressed on, and the storm came. It wasn’t a short-lived storm either. The winds blew at typhoon strength as the sailors tried everything to keep from being blown out to sea. They even threw all of the cargo overboard. The Bible tells us the sun nor stars appeared for many days, and the storm raged. Everyone gave up all hope of being saved. (Acts 27:20)
Without a doubt the situation was desperate. Once again, persistent Paul stepped in. He didn’t panic, and he didn’t criticize. While he did remind them of his previous recommendation not to sail, his purpose was to use this as a stepping stone to encouragement. He wanted them to believe him when he told them they were going to survive!
But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Acts 27:23-25
Paul did not have to do this. Think of all he had been through. He had been wrongly imprisoned, beaten, and mocked. They wouldn’t listen when he tried to warn them earlier. If anyone needed encouragement, it was him. Despite this, Paul decided to be the encourager. Not only did he choose faith in the midst of his dire circumstance, he shared hope with those around him who were discouraged. His faith was a light for others, but it didn’t stop there.
The situation was still grim, and additional sacrifices were needed. So, Paul found a way to encourage them even further. Fourteen days later…
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Acts 27:33-36
As I read these verses, I see a man more concerned about others than himself. I often think of Paul as a debater, a strong personality, a force to be reckoned with. However, in this passage we see his heart. Paul was passionate—passionate about serving, passionate about encouraging, and passionate about sharing the reason for his hope. He didn’t wait for others to encourage him; he stepped up and became the encourager. Paul never let his circumstances get in the way of his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was an encourager extraordinaire!
This takes us back to our initial question. As Christian educators, what is our role given our current situation? While our storm pales in comparison to Paul’s, his actions serve as a shining example for us. We too can shift focus away from ourselves and seek to encourage others by taking action as Paul did.
First, acknowledge the current situation without complaining or feeling sorry for ourselves. Don’t deny there are issues. Second, speak hope into those around you. Assure them God is in control, and even when times are tough, we can trust him (Hebrews 10:23). Third, meet a need (Hebrews 6:10). Paul encouraged them to eat. What do those around you need? How can you help meet their need? Fourth, share the reason for your hope (I Peter 3:15). Remember Paul’s words, “I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Let me offer one final thought. As encouragers it is important to encourage without expectation. In other words, your encouragement may or may not yield a response. That’s okay. We encourage others to give, not receive.
During this time of uncertainty, let’s not sit back and wait for someone to encourage us. Let’s step up and be an encourager extraordinaire! After all, we have a living hope!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13