The Encouragee

So, last K of Parkrun . . . I’m fading a little. Not too much. Just a little. Parkrun? Don’t know it? It’s a national movement – literally – of people who run 5K each Saturday morning in parks around the U.K.

Successful? If you took the distance each parkrunner has run since it started and put those metres end to end . . . the moon? Nope. More like Mars.

So, I’m nearing the end and I notice a lady nearby who’s also flagging a bit. My back is tightening and the pain is starting to kick in but I’m starting to ease past her. Then, for no particular reason, I decide to gee her up.

“Come on, you can do it!”

“You’re doing great!”

“Not far now, come on, keep up with me!”

She smiles. I smile too. She speeds up a little. We run together. Doesn’t take much, does it? The power of words, the effect of encouragement is a powerful thing.

But here’s what I didn’t expect.

The moment I opened my mouth, something happened physically inside me. It was as though I had received an injection of endorphins straight into my veins. The surge of energy inside my body was remarkable . . . and unexpected. I thought, ‘I gotta find someone to encourage every week!’ I could run a marathon like this, just telling other runners they’re doing great!

I’m not telling this story to claim some kind of moral virtue. Far from it.

I have two points:

1) Encouragement is easily done, but often neglected. The NT is full of encouragement, but how often do we do it? Not enough. Not nearly enough. Is it our cynical age or embarrassment or not quite knowing how to do it? Here’s a quick lesson. See the woman who’s been serving coffee every week for the past year in your church. Here’s your line: “Hi Carol, just wanted to say how much I appreciate your service each week. You do a fantastic job.” It’s not that hard. Encouragement should focus on something specific, be sincere and yup, you have to remember to do it. It doesn’t cost you anything but it can quite literally change a person’s day, even week.

2) That surge of energy inside my body on Parkrun? There was a message in that, I think. For me, certainly, and maybe for you. Encouraging others, doing good to others, nourishes the soul. It certainly nourished my body. The act of speaking to my fellow-runner drove me on, generated increased energy for my own race. It cost nothing, helped her and made me feel like I could run the course again.

So, here’s a thought. The injunction to ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ maybe those two are so interconnected, they are indivisible. The best way, by far, to love yourself is surely to love your neighbour. And the degree to which you care for others – on Parkrun, that meant encouragement – is the degree to which you truly love yourself.

So, this next week, why don’t you identify someone in your life who could do with some ‘geeing up?’ Don’t be glib; don’t make it a joke. Mean it when you say you appreciate what they do. You may find your body surging with endorphins. Or your soul.

But one thing’s for certain.

Your encouragee will appreciate your words.

And you might even make their day.

© Richard Collins 2015

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Charlie bit my finger and now I’ve gone viral!

My video’s just gone viral! How fantastic is that?!

Viral. It sounds very much like a disease.

But who cares, when viral means, well, it means I might possibly become rich and famous. Hurray!

Have you seen Charlie bit my finger? This link takes you to a video watched just over 800 million times. 800 million! It’s extremely funny and when the parents took the video, they couldn’t possibly have known what would happen when they uploaded it onto Youtube. I’m told that the family has been able to generate sufficient income through advertising to live comfortably. From 1 minute of their sons’ antics. Not bad. Let’s hope Charlie sees some of that!

Viral. It’s enough to make one salivate over the possibilities.

In fact, bloggers like myself are tempted to go weak at the knees just thinking of ‘what might be.’ After all, anything on the internet has the potential to reach what . . . six billion people maybe?

‘Viral’ can quite literally change your life within a few weeks if . . . well, it’s a big ‘if’ isn’t it? And every single cyber-entrepreneur is working feverishly to try and work out the answer to ‘If only I did xx.’

So what’s wrong, apart from the fact that ‘viral’ sounds like a disease?

I have a few concerns.

In my opinion, ‘viral’ is code for shortcut. What do I mean?

Well, first let’s dispense with the allure of fame and fortune. There’s no getting away from a sobering truth which lurks in our souls. It’s this one: We tell ourselves that we trust God, but my goodness, that grass over there certainly looks exceedingly green. However, I’m more interested in some Trojan-horse thinking which I believe has entered on the back of technology. On the back of ‘viral,’ if you like.

It’s the offer of the quick-fix. Because both of those, ‘quick,’ and ‘fix’ sound sooo good. A solution to my problems. Right now. Little effort. Massive rewards. And no need to wait. Charlie’s parents’ bank account probably quintupled within a few months. Nice, huh?Maybe, but the attraction of the ‘immediate’ is not without consequences.

Nowadays, in technology-world, we no longer have to wait for anything. TV? Almost anything you can think of, instantly. Often for free. Consumer goods. Just click here. Information? Oh, we’re all experts on the Byzantine Empire now. After all, we have Google. And then we have apps up the wazoo! It’s all so easy. Too easy. Too cheap.

And yet there is an immense price to pay, if you allow yourself to live inside the deceptions of an instant, viral world. One in which everything is cheap (well relatively cheap), accessible and requires little expenditure of effort. And one which holds out the offer of fame and fortune if you could but crack the code.

There is a price to pay. At least there is for Christians.

What is that price? Let me quote Eugene Peterson, writing prophetically over 30 years ago before the vast spread of technology had draped itself across our culture. He writes,

One aspect of world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently . . . It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest.

How tempting to want to solve one’s problems instantly. What’s not to like about that? But for pilgrims who have walked along a path marked, ‘a long obedience in the same direction,’ (Peterson’s book from which I quoted), different values, beliefs and behaviours are called for.

Not only is the avoidance of suffering anathema to the spiritual life, the Bible is replete with examples of waiting. And the kind of waiting which induced agonizing suffering. I think particularly of my favourite OT character, Abraham.

Promised a son. Now wait 25 years. 25 years!

This was God’s plan. His doing. There is no getting around that. And I don’t think he’s changed.

For all its manifold benefits, technology can teach us nothing about ‘growing in trust and obedience.’ On the contrary, it is often offering shortcuts. It provides tantalizing stories which beckon us to live in a constant state of ‘if only . . . ‘

What did Joseph Goebbels say? If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. 

You may convince yourself that you don’t believe the lies of the ‘instant society,’ but one day you may find you’re living a life indistinguishable from those who do.

So beware the temptation of shortcuts.

Instead, embrace the agony and ecstasy of life lived faithfully and obediently before your Creator.

Learn to wait. Learn to trust.

And don’t, whatever you do, envy Charlie and his parents.

© Richard Collins 2015