This past summer, we had the privilege of visiting Berlin. We walked along the path of the Berlin wall, we visited several memorials to the Berlin wall, and we even stayed in the part of Berlin that was once considered “East Berlin”. It was an amazing eye-opener to all of us to see with our own eyes the oppression of the East Berliners, and to come to understand just what the Berlin wall represented to these people.
After learning a bit more about the history of Eastern German and East Berlin, it wasn’t at all hard to understand why thousands of East Berliners risked their lives to try and escape. Many of the escape attempts were successful; however, many were thwarted, and as a result, many of these poor, oppressed people lost their lives. It kind of made you understand how significant the oppression must have been, that people would risk their lives to this degree to escape it.
But there was another class of stories we learned as well. We learned of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of West Berliners who put themselves into significant danger to bring East Berliners out of their oppression and into the west. Many of these attempts succeeded, motivating many of the West Berliners to go back into East Berlin and bring more and more of the oppressed into the freedom of the west. Unfortunately, many of these attempts were also thwarted, and often it was the West Berliners who were helping their oppressed brothers and sisters who were killed.
Why would these westerners put their lives at risk for the easterners?
Some were motivated by love. Many times a young woman or man would meet an East Berliner and fall in love. Sometimes it was to bring out the families of the ones they had already helped escape. But sometimes the motives were completely unselfish.
They all knew the danger. Why would they do such a thing?
Three years ago, I “rode God’s Train” through the valley of Breast Cancer. There were moments during this dark year of my life when nothing could shake my faith. There were also moments when I was weak. During one of these weak moments in my life, I received a card of encouragement from my best friend’s father. He was a man I barely knew. I had met him only a handful of times. But what was the most significant fact was that he was nearing the end of his cancer walk and was suffering significantly from the radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In fact, his walk ended shortly after I received his note of encouragement, and he is now pain and cancer free, resting in the arms of Jesus.
Why would someone who was going through so much suffering in his own life, reach out to someone like myself? After all, my cancer was only Stage 1. I was certainly not considered to be “palliative” at that time.
Another interesting part of our trip this past summer was a visit to two WWII concentration camps: Dachau and Auschwitz. What an eye-opener from thousands of angles. One thing that really touched me, however, was a story of a priest who willingly traded places with a young man who was to be killed. He was, after all, a prisoner as well, his suffering was far beyond anything that most of us will ever have to bear, yet he reached out and gave up his life for a total stranger.
Why would he do such a thing?
One final example:
There is a prayer warrior in Africa. Despite the fact that he had serious problems of his own, he decided to put his own problems on the back burner and put all of his efforts into praying for the needs of others.
What was his personal motivation to worry more about other people’s problems, which were often insignificant, comparatively speaking, than his own substantial problems?
When we are in the midst of problems, isn’t it usually the case that we tend to focus on ourselves? Even the most unselfish among us see our own suffering as a time when we need to focus on ourselves. After all, haven’t we spent most of our lives worrying about the needs of others? Isn’t it our time now to receive?
I see this so often in my own life. I love praying for others. I love watching what God is doing in their lives. But when I have a need or when someone close to me has a need, guess where the focus of my prayers turns? To myself! After all, isn’t it my “right”? My “reward” for always caring about and praying for others?
Fortunately for all those East Berliners, the westerners who attempted to rescue them didn’t think so. Fortunately for the young man in Auschwitz, the priest didn’t think so. Fortunately for those in need who come to the attention of that prayer warrior in Africa, he doesn’t think so. And fortunately for me, in my weak moment during my cancer walk, my friend’s suffering father didn’t think so either.
What motivates these people?
The Bible tells us that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). I would like to propose that all these people understood this concept. They truly knew that it was more blessed to give, to think about others, to help others, than to receive.
Encouragement is powerful, friends. It saved a young man’s life in Auschwitz, it blessed hundreds of needy people around the world, it brought thousands of East Germans to freedom, and it brought me out of my self-induced depression. But that isn’t the only benefits of encouragement. Join us next time for The Benefits of Encouragement, Part 2: The Payback.
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two, Author — “Aboard God’s Train — A Journey With God Through the Valley of Cancer”, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries. Follow Lyn on Twitter @lynchaffart.
(To access the entire “Benefits of Encouragement” mini-series, please click here.)