Last fall I planted tulips around the church sign and anticipated how beautiful they’d look in the spring.  Through the long winter, I wondered at times if I’d planted them deep enough.  Would they make it?  In the early days of spring, I was delighted to see them poking through the cold dirt and receding snow.  Every so often, I checked on their progress.  As the temps went up, then down and back up again, they seemed to be doing well, but I’ll admit, sometimes I felt a bit impatient at how slowly they were growing.  For days it seemed like they were so close to blooming, but they remained tightly shut.  Then the day finally came when they bloomed—revealing the vibrant color I’d been waiting for.  Oh, the joy!  Passersby have remarked on how beautiful the flowers are.  However, one corner seems conspicuously empty to me.  To my great disappointment, a few had been chewed off long before they bloomed.  The wind broke another at the stem after it bloomed.  I’d wanted to see ALL of them do well, but sadly, some had fallen prey. How easy it was for me to be upset about the ones that didn’t make it.

I’m reminded me of those who have invested their life in others. Pastors, youth leaders and teachers, professors, missionaries, mentors…all express how much joy it brings to hear good reports about students over the years.  In turn, it affects them deeply when they learn that a student has fallen and is not living for the Lord.

In our Sunday School Class, we continue to focus on Philippians.  In a recent lesson, our attention was drawn to Philippians 2:19:  “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.”

Paul described in this verse how encouraging it was to him personally to receive a good report about those in whom he had invested himself spiritually.  Yes, the great Apostle Paul found much encouragement and comfort in good reports:

Romans 1:8 “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world…”

Romans 16:19a “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you…”

Ephesians 1:15-16 “…ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

In Colossians 1:3-5  “We give thanks to God…praying always for you since we have heard of your faith… love… hope…”

In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, Paul says how he did not cease to give thanks for the believers in Thessalonica whose faith was so boldly proclaimed that “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it”

Paul cared so much for those in whom he had invested himself in that he considered them “his” children.   III John 3-4  “It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

The first lesson is that as Christians, we should want to live the sort of life that brings joy to those who care about us.  Paul expressed heaviness of heart when disappointing news reached his ears.  (See I & II Corinthians, Galatians 1:6).  Ultimately we are to live our lives for the glory of God, but please consider that the choices you make matter to fellow believers and those who have mentored and or invested their time and energies in you.  These people are affected by your testimony!  How encouraged they are to see you grow and bloom!  In turn, how disappointing, when they learn that you have fallen prey to the Deceiver.

I’m not suggesting that we live by the expectations or for the approval of others.  That gets tiresome and can lead to the casting off all restraints (think of Frozen’s “Let It Go” which for all its popularity, ironically, portrays the danger in thinking your actions are simply your business and shouldn’t affect anyone).  When you are living for God’s honor and glory, your testimony blesses others in the community of faith like nothing else can.  Paul expressed his yearning that the Philippians would “shine as lights…holding forth the word of life” so that he could “rejoice in the day of Christ” that his labor was not “in vain.” (Philippians 2:16)  When we are rooted in God’s Word and “bringing forth fruit” those who are observing are encouraged.  Billy Graham once said “Courage is contagious.  When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” In the same way, when you stand tall for  God, you strengthen others.

Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that many are watching “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”   This includes the believers around us on earth as well as those mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11.  That’s a pretty big cheering section that should discourage us from sinful choices and encourage us in our faith.

The second lesson is that we should not let the devil steal our joy.  As leaders and friends, while we should be saddened by those whom the enemy has taken, it’s not usually in our power to do anything about it. We get hung up on the disappointments.  We can spend so much time mourning the losses that seem to be increasing in our world that we fail to cheer on the faithful.  When was the last time you encouraged a brother or sister in Christ by telling them how much their example, their faithfulness, their unselfishness, or their perseverance through trials brings joy and gladness to your heart?  In the busyness of life, we can be negligent in this area.  Send a note of encouragement to others and tell them that their testimony moves you to a deeper commitment to Christ, that it strengthens your resolve and encourages you to persevere knowing that your labor “is not in vain in the Lord.”