“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
On one of my frequent early-morning bike rides recently I noticed up ahead a cluster of folks gathered in the middle of the path doing calisthenics. As I approached it became obvious that these were high school age boys and girls, presumably cross-country runners from a nearby high school, warming up for their morning run. My first impulse was to consider how to get around them since they were blocking the trail, until I heard one of them shout “biker coming!” after which each one politely stepped to one side of the trail or the other allowing me to pass through, not unlike the parting of the Red Sea.
As I rode my bike between the two lines of young runners I gave a quick wave as to say thank you, then smiled and quipped, “thanks to all of you for coming out to cheer me on!” It was meant as a joke, except afterwards the most amazing thing happened, the whole crowd began to clap and cheer. Was their applause just as much of a joke as mine? Most likely. Or could it have been a sincere gesture in appreciation that a man my age would be out on an early-morning bike ride trying to keep himself in shape? Either way, joke or not, I could feel myself putting a little more pump into the pedals.
Encouragement is such a powerful motivator. Just imagine, if a half-joking impromptu encounter like I experienced on the bike trail can put a little extra spring in my step, what a difference more intentional encouragement can have. The story of Erin Gruwell is a good example, as told in the 2007 movie Freedom Writers. In 1994 Erin was a first-year English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, a racially mixed school plagued by gangs and violence. Yet, Erin was able to transform her classroom and the lives of the individual students by being as much encourager as teacher, first encouraging them to write down the tragic stories of their lives (all their stories were tragic) and subsequently sharing them with each other. Over time those diverse classmates, once bitter enemies, became intimate friends, most of them successfully completing high school, and many going on to college.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” It doesn’t take much, a kind word, a compliment . . . a cheer on the bike trail. The opportunities to encourage others are before us every day, and what a difference it can make. It can change a life.