by Thomas Kopp/Word Weavers Online Groups
“I’ve always been lonely,” a colleague admitted to my wife and me. “Friendless to the point if I were to die, I believe no one would attend my funeral.”
Ever feel that way? Even though among people, it is possible to feel emotionally alone or ignored, not sought out, known, or valued, and needing refreshment. Even kings experience it.
“I am full of heaviness; I looked for … comforters but found none” (Ps. 69:20, NKJV); “…no one cares for my soul” (Ps. 142:4, NKJV). David penned these words even though He was one “who found favor before God” (Acts 7:46, NKJV) and was an individual about whom God declared was “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22, NKJV). As a king under God’s favor, if he could express his intense need for comfort and refreshment, and do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then that’s good news for us. Why? It gives us confidence the Lord not only understands when we long for refreshment, but He’s neither surprised by our need for it nor condemns us for expressing the need. Besides, He is more than ready and eager to provide the encouragement, which He often does through other people.
The Apostle Paul understood this and wrote to his friend Philemon. “Brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord” (Philem. 20, NKJV). If the Apostle Paul felt the freedom to express his need for encouragement, so should we. And if Philemon had the choice whether or not to give it, so do we.
In our current line of work, my wife and I frequently travel to parts of Africa and Asia for the express purpose of coming alongside national and missionary leaders in church ministries. Finding overworked and underpaid workers who are overly-criticized and undervalued is the norm rather than the exception. Exhaustion and discouragement are common. Feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of quitting ministry are frequent.
During the fall of 2012, we visited Asia. Since Asian believers often are listed among the most persecuted around the world, it’s common to find brothers and sisters in Christ who need serious refreshment at the deepest levels. Gathering in small groups of thirty or less to escape detection by authoritarian bodies determined to shut them down makes it difficult to form healthy fellowships where refreshment for the soul is readily available. In such circumstances, regular attendees usually eye unknown guests with suspicion and distrust.
My wife and I were invited to visit such an assembly in a highrise apartment building. By prior arrangement, we met a young man with a bicycle at a predetermined intersection not far from where we were staying. We couldn’t speak his language but, with a few English words he knew and hand motions, he directed us along the correct route.
Halfway along one of the city blocks, he stopped in front of a small shop. With hand motions and very limited English, he indicated he would be going into the shop while we were to proceed to the end of the block, then make a right turn. We understood he would eventually pass us on his bike, but we were to take no notice of him other than to watch which highrise he entered. He would meet us inside.
After entering the building, we followed him up the stairs as he carried his bike up to the eighth floor. He led us down an empty corridor to an unmarked door at the end. He knocked gently. Someone glanced through the security peephole before letting us into the apartment rented for their meetings. We were ushered to some chairs in the middle row, and watched as others quietly entered the apartment by ones or twos. Occasionally we were greeted. Most just gave us questioning glances.
We sat through the entire service, communion included, without understanding a single word sung or spoken. At the conclusion of the service, the approximately thirty individuals began quietly leaving as they had arrived, by ones and twos.
As we waited for our host, my wife said to me, “Tom, an elderly gentleman is standing by the back wall. He keeps looking at us like he wants to say something.” I glanced back, and when he saw me look at him, he walked toward us. He was a short man I guessed to be in his 80s.
As he approached, he extended his hand to shake mine. Looking up into my eyes, he very slowly and in hushed tones said, “Ha-lle-lu-jah.”
I gripped his hand, smiled, and responded with the same word. “Hallelujah.”
He was instantly animated as he shook my hand with enthusiasm, a large smile lighting up his face. He then began alternating between firmly tapping me on the chest and himself on the chest, indicating we were the same, both believers in Jesus, both in the same family, and all the while repeatedly declaring, “Hallelujah.”
It was one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve ever had, yet we uttered only one word. Frequently spoken and accompanied by exuberant hand motions, the senior man communicated, Though from opposite sides of the world, speaking different languages, belonging to different cultures, we both belong to Jesus and, therefore, to each other. Thank you for caring, for coming, for participating with us, for encouraging us. Hallelujah.
I’m sure you’ve noticed as a result of encouraging another person you are inspired yourself. Though my wife and I traveled many hours for the purpose of encouraging believers in SE Asia, we were hard-pressed to say who walked away from that one-word conversation with the greatest refreshment for the soul.
“Yes, let me have joy from you in the Lord” (Philem. 20, NKJV). Expect the Lord to graciously restore you as you choose to refresh others. It may be with only one word.
Thomas J. Kopp (DTh), twenty years a missionary, two decades a professor, ministers with the Paraclete Mission Group among church leaders in Africa and Asia.