In the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is found an exhibition of American treasures, items associated with significant events in the history of the United States. One of the most popular exhibits is the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated. The display contains the following: a penknife, a glasses case, a handkerchief with his initials embroidered on it, a wallet containing a $5 note, and nine newspaper cuttings.
What is noteworthy about those newspaper cuttings is that they all speak highly of Lincoln’s achievements. In fact, one of them contains a lengthy speech by a contemporary British politician who described Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest men of all time!
Today most people recognise that Abraham Lincoln deserved that accolade. He was an outstanding personality and leader, but not many thought that at the time of his murder. During his lifetime, his critics were vicious and numerous. So there is something very touching about a great leader who needed to encourage himself by reading the good things that others had said or written about him.
Leaders or people in positions of authority need encouragement. By the very nature of their responsibilities, they often walk a lonely path.
But it is not only leaders who need encouragement – we all do! A timely word of appreciation has a powerful influence. There are few things more helpful than a word of encouragement. It gives us fresh strength and spirit to keep going when we are experiencing difficult times. The great car manufacturer Henry Ford regarded the ability to encourage others as one of the greatest talents that a person can possess.
And this is a work in which we can all be involved. One of most beautiful examples of encouragement in the Bible is the kindness Onesiphorous extended to Paul when the apostle was in prison (2 Timothy 1:16-18). ‘May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorous, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.’’ (1:16) His frequent visits were like a breath of fresh air to Paul. They gave him fresh hope and courage when the apostle had felt like giving up. Paul was the great Christian leader and missionary; Onesiphorous was the ordinary church member, so to speak. But it was the latter who carried out the great work of encouragement, and it was a wonderful work that was truly Christ-like.
A book on the British constitution contains these words: “The Sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to warn, (and) the right to encourage.” I suggest that encouragement is not the preserve of a monarch, but a right open to all of us. Let us all be encouragers in our realm of influence.