May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains (2 Timothy 1:16-18 NIV).
Years ago, on the day my son turned seven, we were in a large sporting goods store getting gear for his soon to start baseball season.
At the back of this particular store was a large rock-climbing wall, a wall that spans the entire two-story height of the building. John wanted to climb it, so I paid for the climb and one of the store staffers helped John into a harness.
Once he had finished with his climb and had been lowered back to the floor, my five-year-old daughter announced that it was her turn. At about the half-way point of the climb she decided she had had enough. “I want to come down now,” she said in a matter of fact tone.
I kept coaching, urging her to reach for this or that knob, giving her the benefit of my superior vantage point on the floor. Turns out my coaching was futile. My little girl had had enough. Anna responded to my exhortations and made her intentions clear by simply letting go of the wall.
And there she dangled.
She was finished, slowly spinning and flopping around like a marionette – but held firmly in place by someone on the floor with a strong grip on the rope. Thank God for a good belay.
When we can’t hold on, it’s good to know that someone else is close by; someone else has a hold on us.
Everybody Needs It, Anybody Can Give It
There’s a good chance that someone near you today is discouraged. Maybe they’re walking around lugging the heaviness that life has thrust upon them in some way. Things could be worse than that. Maybe they’re barley hanging on. Someone near you needs the gift of encouragement, the slightest word or deed that could strengthen their grip and renew their resolve.
Keep this simple truth in mind as you go through this day: Encouragement is something that everybody needs, and anybody can give.
Our need for encouragement is not something that we’re consciously aware of from day to day. We may go long stretches without a specific word of affirmation or act of support from others. But eventually we’ll find ourselves up against something that we can’t manage by ourselves. Even when it’s something that no one else can do for us, we know we can’t make it alone.
When a person is grieving, no one else can do that for them. But no grieving person can endure the season of grief in isolation. They may not want others trying to relieve them of their grief, but they will surely accept a word or gesture of encouragement, some simple assurance that they are not alone, not forgotten.
The power of encouragement is seen in the experience of the apostle Paul. The mighty missionary-preacher-church planter spoke tender words of blessing for a man barely known or mentioned in the New Testament. What Paul reports to us is not a spectacular deed, but ordinary friendship.
“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Timothy 1:16-18 NIV).
The Chains We Carry
When Paul was in a Roman prison he received encouragement from a man about whom we know almost nothing. Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. He was not at all hesitant to associate himself with the prisoner or the prisoner’s faith. He refreshed Paul. He sought him out diligently in Rome. He rendered service to Paul in Ephesus. Even the powerful Paul needed encouragement, and the no-name Onesiphorus was the one who gave it.
Sadly, we are too often put off by someone else’s “chains.” Those chains are forged from different things – but almost always it is some kind of trouble, affliction, or heartache. We step back. We say that we want to ‘give them space.’ Maybe we have no idea what to say. Or maybe, we just don’t want to deal with it, whatever ‘it’ might be.
If you’ll pay attention, there is surely someone around you today who needs encouragement. You may have to look or listen closely, for those who need it may go to great lengths to disguise the need. They hide their chains. Still, they are there, carrying the weight of some chain or another.
This is true wherever you are during the week, and it’s also true on Sundays. Sadly, even in church among others who follow Jesus, we work hard at hiding our chains.
“He was not ashamed of my chains,” said Paul. For those who carry them, chains will reveal who their friends truly are. And for those who have the courage simply to show up, that simple act of encouragement can transform the weight of burden to a bond of friendship.
How will you show up and give the gift of encouragement today?
By the guiding presence of your Spirit, O God, help me to show up today when it matters most. Show me who, where and how. Work through me to bring encouragement to someone else, lifting the weight of whatever the carry by the simple act of being present. By your Holy Spirit be present through me, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.