I was tired and discouraged. The church we attended had been without a pastor for some years and Garry and I were in an unofficial position of leadership, but there seemed to be little enthusiasm for God and much internal wrangling among the congregation. Burdens seemed heavy on my shoulders and I remember feeling the weight of helplessness and inadequacy (something that could be said to be my besetting sin) which left me overwhelmed. I sat before God one morning and felt that I just wanted to run away and give up. I’d reached the end of myself.
I did what I usually do on such occasions: listened to music to fix my mind and heart on God. I can’t remember why I chose that particular CD (‘Worship’) by Michael W. Smith on that occasion or that I expected anything in particular. But the first track contained the song ‘Forever’ by Chris Tomlin and as I listened to the proclamation of God’s faithfulness, strength and presence, life and hope began to seep back into my soul.
Then I came to the third verse: ‘From the rising to the setting sun, His love endures forever/ By the grace of God we will carry on/ His love endures forever’ and God’s word came to me afresh. How would I carry on in this position, when I felt as though I just wanted to give up? By the grace of God. Somehow, as I listened, God breathed new life and hope into me. ‘Keep going. Don’t give up. You can do it. Not by yourself, but because of my grace. By the grace of God we will carry on.’
Sometimes we all need that personal word of encouragement from God. Paul received it when he wasn’t sure where to go, in a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9). He received it in Corinth. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10) Even the apostle Paul needed encouragement – the opposition and constant persecution left him ‘in weakness, with fear and trembling’ (1 Cor 2:3). We may think he was impervious to criticism and physical abuse, but he tells the Corinthians later on, ‘we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.’ (2 Cor 1:8)
God knows what we need, and He is well able to provide the encouragement and help we need. Time and time again, Paul received that word of encouragement, that word which specifically strengthened him and enabled him to continue in his service for God. We too can know the same encouragement, the same personal word which lifts us up and carries us forward. Tom Wright says, ‘you tend to get the guidance you need when you need it, not before, and not in too much detail’, but what counts is that the guidance and encouragement do come!