Read: Ephesians 4:1-6; Hebrews 10:24-25
In August 2019, I learned about a very unique grandma and grandson. The story of Grandma Joy Ryan and her grandson Brad chronicled their adventures as they attempted to visit every national park in the U.S, and as of that date, they had already thoroughly enjoyed 29 of them. The grandma who had spent most of her days in Duncan Falls, Ohio and only seen mountains and oceans through the Travel Channel was on her way to experiencing more wonders than most people ever dream of seeing. Their joyful times were displayed for others to enjoy on Instagram, and I wrote about them in the devotion I called, "As We Have Opportunity." I thought of this unique pair earlier in the year and wondered if they might still be on their quest. After all, Grandma Joy was 89 in 2019. Was she still alive and able to continue their adventures? I easily found the answer. Yes! In March, an article said that Joy and Brad Ryan were on schedule to visit their last U.S. national park in American Samoa in April. April came and went without and up-date. Then came May, and this week, I read the good news. They had reached their goal, and they were enjoying their 63rd national park. What's more is that Grandma Joy was looking more vibrant than she had when they embarked on their adventure in 2015. What next? They might visit each of the seven continents. One thing is surely true. Lots of people have followed and helped fund this unique road trip over these past seven years, and I for one, share in Brad Ryan's and his grandma's joy.
We too are on a road trip, and we are not alone on our quests. We are not trying to visit every national park. Instead, we are in what Paul the apostle calls a ‘race’, 2 Timothy 4:7. Our paths intertwine with many who are also sharing the road with us, and Grandma Joy's story reminds me that God has given us one another to encourage us and share our joys. Think of it. We have cheer leaders who understand the pitfalls and obstacles we face. They are able to empathize with us because they have experienced what we have. The joy of sins being overcome and little victories when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us. We know, of course, that we have fellow travelers who like us have been born again. A massive group of saints from all nationalities and tribes are in the race with us, Revelation 5:9-10.
However, it is a much smaller group of people who are the ones who, more than not, help buoy us up. Those who do life with us in local fellowships. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews urges us to not neglect meeting with others. It is these brothers and sisters that can help us know where we might serve and encourage us not to give up when faithfulness seems less than fruitful, Hebrews 10:24-25. What a joyful thing it is to both give and receive the gift of encouragement. To be real and say that we sometimes struggle too. To tell one another that we are weary and ask for their prayers. Why does it bring joy when we are vulnerable like this? It is then that we discover that someone wants to help carry our load through their intercession and help, Galatians 6:2; 1 Timothy 2:1. It isn't only the hard things that we share. It is the victories.
Sometimes small and sometimes grand, but they are all reasons for joy.
The time we held our tongues and didn't say that foolish thing.
The time we didn't give into temptation and take that drink.
The time we spoke a word of kindness rather than joining in with the gossip.
Jesus honoring times when we know that the Holy Spirit enabled us to do what was good at the time. Why not share that joy? No, not to puff ourselves up but to honor the Master Whose grace helped us.
In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul tells us to maintain the unity that we already have with true believers. The importance of standing together with one another and guarding the unity that God has given to His children who have been born again. There is great joy in knowing that even if we see some non-essential things differently, we stand up with all who have received Jesus, John 1:11-12. We can encourage one another and be encouraged by one another because we are on the same team. We can treat one another with Jesus' love.
Perhaps a story from baseball history might illustrate the joy of being affirmed by a team member when it is truly needed. This was told by Jackie Robinson:
“I’ll never forget the day when a few loud-mouthed guys on the other team began to take off on Pee Wee Reese. They were joshing him very viciously because he was playing on the team with me and was on the field nearby. Mind you, they were not yelling at me; I suppose they did not have the nerve to do that, but they were calling him some very vile names and every one bounced off of Pee Wee and hit me like a machine-gun bullet. Pee Wee kind of sensed the hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while. He didn’t say a word, but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me through him and just stared. He was standing by me; I could tell you that. Slowly the jibes died down, like when you kill a snake an inch at a time, and then there was nothing but quiet from them. It was wonderful the way this little guy did it. I will never forget it.”
What a gift Robinson received. He wasn't alone. There was someone on his side. He was truly a part of the team. There was joy in receiving that kind of affirmation in a world that was often not ashamed to spew out venom. Think of the joy the small children or the elderly gentlemen can give the saint who feels down-trodden and invisible.
Luke 15:7 tells us that when someone repents, there is great joy in heaven. Surely that joy that will also be around Jesus' throne should also be a part of our fellowship with one another even now. That believer who sits next to us? The angels rejoiced when he was born again, Luke 15:10. If we share in his road trip, we might just find ourselves celebrating with him and sharing his joy.