Let us focus our attention upon the Old Testament for today's lesson. What Old Testament examples show the power of encouragement in changing people's lives? Moses certainly comes to mind. He constantly encouraged the Israelites to faithfulness. It is true that they had numerous problems, but can you imagine what the nation would have been like without Moses' positive influence?
I am also reminded of David. His courage to fight Goliath inspired the army who had been terrified of the Philistine giant. Incidentally, Jonathan, son of Saul, was a great encouragement for David, especially when Saul was bent on murdering him.
There are other Biblical characters prior to Christ who come to mind, but none more so than Nehemiah. Let's look at his life a little closer at this time. This cupbearer was an extraordinary leader and a wonderful encourager. Not only did he have a heart of compassion for his people, but he felt compelled to pray and act on their behalf (Neh. 1 & 2). Nehemiah was willing to sacrifice a comfortable lifestyle for the benefit of the children of Israel and implement a plan to begin rebuilding Jerusalem. Being able to encourage others often requires personal sacrifice and planning. Most encouragement simply will not happen on accident.
In 2:17,18, we see Nehemiah inspiring the people to action through his encouragement - "'You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.' And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. So they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' Then they set their hands to this good work." When faced with scorn, Nehemiah the encourager answered mightily - "The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build..." (Neh. 2:20). He would not allow himself or the people to get discouraged or sidetracked by their enemies. Those who intend to encourage others today must learn this lesson for there are an abundance of distractions and enemies to deal with in life.
As their work progressed and they became weary, their enemies conspired against them (Neh. 4:8,10). But, "the people had a mind to work" (4:6), and Nehemiah continued to exhort them - "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses" (4:14). Nehemiah spoke these encouraging words and wisely relied upon God for his strength (6:9). Thus, there was no reason to be afraid. This great man continued working and motivating the people until the job was complete. He knew they were doing a great work and would not allow himself or them to get distracted until the task was finished (6:3,15). Encouragers today must have that kind of resolve and determination.
The slogan of discouraged people is: "Why doesn't somebody do something?" The motto of encouragers like Nehemiah is: "If not me, who? If not now, when?" Which slogan do you subscribe to? May we encourage others as Nehemiah did so wonderfully (Rom. 15:4)! We can change people's lives for the better!