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Be of Good Cheer!
J. R. Miller, 1912
"And now I exhort you—to be of good cheer!" Acts 27:22
In the story of his voyage and shipwreck, we find Paul not only cheerful himself—but a giver of encouragement to others. The storm had grown fiercer and fiercer. It had simply laid hold of the ship, torn it out of the hands of the officers and seamen, and was forcibly bearing it along in its teeth. There was nobody in command. The record says, "But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (a "northeaster," they called it) caught the ship and blew it out to sea." No wonder the long hope of being saved was gone. The people on the ship were in despair. Then came Paul with his inspiring word, "Be of good cheer!" That was a splendid message—and it was not a mere idle or empty word.
Some people's optimism has no basis. Some people's "Don't worry" is only meaningless talk. But when Paul said, "Be of good cheer," he had reasons for saying it. "I believe God," he said. And it was not an empty faith he had. God had sent an angel to him that night, assuring him of deliverance from the storm, both for himself and for all on the ship. So his words had power over the panic-stricken men on the ship. He besought them to take some food. They had been so terrified that they had eaten almost nothing for fourteen days. He urged them now to eat, and said that not a hair should perish from the head of them. Then, to encourage them by example, he himself took bread, and having thanked God before them all, he broke the bread and began to eat. Then they were all of good cheer, and took some food.
Note how the one man lifted up a despairing company of nearly three hundred men, and gave them encouragement. There is no mission of faith and love—which is more important and Christlike, than that of being encouragers, of giving cheer! Everyone needs encouragement at some time. Life is hard for many people—for some it is hard at all times. Some are always bending under heavy burdens. Some are in storm and darkness many a night.
I am not justifying worry. A child of God never should worry. Paul said: "Do not worry about anything." Jesus himself said: Do not worry about tomorrow." Discouragement and worry are unbelief—and unbelief is sin. None who love God—should ever worry. Yet there are many who have burdens, cares, sorrows and trials—who always need encouragement, and to whom we should ever be saying: "Be of good cheer!" There is scarcely a person you will meet today or tomorrow, who will not be helped on the journey—by the hearty word of encouragement which you can so easily give.
Jesus told his disciples, when he sent them out to preach, not to stop to greet anyone along the way. Their mission was urgent, and there was no time to lose in mere courtesies. He did not mean however, to forbid us to show kindness even on our busiest days, or to speak a word to the lowly and suffering ones we meet on the way, even when we are most hurried.
The example of Paul on this ship—is full of beautiful and inspiring meaning. We cannot know what those two hundred and seventy-six men would have done—if it had not been for his earnest and faithful encouragement. There was no other person to say a brave word to them. Think how he lifted them up and made their hearts strong.
Let us take the lesson. Tomorrow we may find ourselves in a home of distress, or in the presence of men who are discouraged or cast down. Even if there should be no special trouble, we shall meet people whose hands hang down, whose knees are feeble, to whom no one is giving encouragement or cheer. Have you ever noticed how many people were perpetual discouragers? They make life harder for every person they meet. They tell you, that you do not look well. They remind you of your paleness or sallowness of complexion. If you are sick and they call to see you, they talk ominously of your condition. They seem to think you like that kind of 'sympathy'. When you have had some sorrow or trouble, they appear to think it kind to dwell upon its painful features. They talk pessimistically about your affairs, about everything. It is hard to speak patiently of this miserable habit of discouraging others, which is so very common.
Many people who love you and mean well for you, unintentionally become hinderers of your progress, dishearteners, and make life harder for you!
They tell us in mountain regions, that avalanches are ofttimes hanging poised so delicately on the crags, that even the reverberation of a whisper on the air may cause them to fall with ruinous effect upon the homes and villages in the valleys! The guides caution tourists at certain points not to speak or sing, lest they cause disaster. Just so—there are human lives bearing such burdens of sorrow and trouble—that one disheartening word may bring them into despair! We should learn never to give discouragement. It is a crime against humanity. Beware that you never speak dishearteningly to any one. Only love can save the world. No matter how the person may have sinned, only gentleness can save him.
A newspaper writer makes the suggestion, that for men like himself some kind of league should be formed by which those who join should bind themselves to say some kind word, or do some kind act daily. The editor suggests, however, that only one kindness daily is too formal, and altogether too meager. There is need for kindness not once a day—to one person; but a thousand times a day—to a thousand people. There is need for encouragement continually. If you can truly say, "I believe God," you cannot but be an encourager. God himself is a God of encouragement. True religion is simply love and kindness.
Washington Gladden says that "religion is friendship; friendship first with the great Companion, on the Godward side. Then on the manward side the same is true." To be friends with everybody; to fill every human relation with the spirit of friendship; is there anything more than this—that the wisest and best of men can hope to do? So let us seek to encourage others wherever we are. You cannot possibly estimate the uplifting power of such a life as Paul's, moving among men. You cannot possibly estimate the uplifting power of your own life in the community where you dwell. Let us live so that everyone may go away from us heartened and brave. Let our message ever be, "Be of good cheer, for I believe God!"
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