I’m a runner. My favorite part about the sport is being a part of the running community. I recently completed my third half marathon (13.1 miles) with my best time ever. The race was something I had trained for. I kept track of the distance and time via an application on my phone. I tried to maintain healthy eating (I’m a sucker for Hot Cheetos) and I exercised regularly. I was familiar with the course and had studied the provided map that outlined water stops. I was as prepared as I could be for this race.
Around mile seven my hip began to hurt. It started as a dull pain but escalated to a throb in no time at all. I stopped for a second to gather my thoughts and pray that my body would make it. After getting back on the course, I looked up and noticed signs everywhere. All along the path, family members of runners, apartment complex residents, church congregants, and store employees were holding signs of encouragement for the runners. Those signs were like a breath of fresh air, an encouragement to the runners to keep going. After a little while, the pain went away and I was able to run at my regular pace. Those signs and the people holding them were exactly what I needed to get me through a hard spot.
I had run this race a few times previously, so I was very familiar with the course. At mile eleven, I made a turn and knew I only had a short distance to go. While my brain was excited about this, my legs decided to simulate jelly. I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to keep a bowl full of jelly from shaking, but it is nearly impossible. The very nature of jelly inspires wobbly movement. However, I had trained for that moment. I switched my running pattern and made the necessary adjustments for a smooth run. As I surveyed my location, what stood out to me were not the street signs and landmarks I was familiar with, but the encouraging signs. Strangers stood on the sidewalks urging “You can do this!” “Out of a 10, you are a 13.1;” “Pain is temporary, but that medal is forever.” Along with the signs, people were shouting, “You are almost there;” “That medal will look so good on you;” “You’ve trained for this very moment—keep showing up.” A burst of energy traveled through my body, and I knew I would be just fine.
As I crossed the finish line in record time and received my medal, I was overcome with emotion. Not because I completed a goal I had set for myself, although that was awesome too, and not because I didn’t give up. I was overcome with emotion because for two hours and forty–five minutes I was able to witness and experience what the body of Christ looks like on earth. I was privy to holy encouragement. My heart, soul and spirit were so moved in the final moments of my race that the only thing I could focus on was thanking God for those encouraging strangers. During my time on the course when I needed a pick–me–up, people were there. When I needed a push to keep going because things were hard, people were there to support me.
In Acts 4:6 we are introduced to an individual named Barnabas. The apostles nicknamed him “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas lived up to that name as in Acts 11:23 he is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
After Paul’s conversion, he was on fire to share the good news of Jesus with others. He stopped in Jerusalem to meet up with fellow believers and the disciples. Understandably, everyone was a bit wary of “the new guy.” As far as they knew, Paul was the very man they were running from. He had hunted believers to haul them off to jail or to kill them. Understandably, no one was signing up for Paul’s welcoming committee. However, Barnabas witnessed Paul’s transformation and scripture tells us, “Barnabas took him [Saul/Paul] and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Paul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27, NIV). Barnabas witnessed in defense of Paul and encouraged the other apostles to look at his life as evidence of transformation.
Ministry is hard. You can train regularly, download the right app, and be familiar with the course; but at the end of the day, it’s still hard. It is in those difficult moments that the body of Christ can step up and hold big, glittery signs of encouragement for other believers to embrace. Paul was starting his ministry journey, and when he encountered the scared and hesitant apostles, he needed a push to keep going. Barnabas stood by Paul and encouraged him while also reassuring the other believers that the good news of Jesus was worth sharing and that Paul was doing that.
Friends, we should imitate the running community and encourage other believers while they are on their ministry journey. Hold up signs that inspire them to keep going and make them laugh. Overwhelm them with the love of Jesus. We are all in this together!