“…that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” (Rom. 15:32; NASB)
As a boy, Larry Crabb stuttered. Now a speaker, writer, and counselor, Dr. Crabb recalls an incident in the church he attended as a young man. Young men in that church were customarily encouraged to participate in the communion services by praying aloud. Feeling the pressure of expectation, the young Crabb stood to pray. In a flustered and confused prayer, he recalls “thanking the Father for hanging on the cross and praising Christ for triumphantly bringing the Spirit from the grave.”
When he was finished, he privately vowed that he would never again speak or pray out loud in front of a group.
At the end of the service, not wanting to meet any of the church elders who might feel constrained to correct his theology, Crabb hastily went for the door. Before he could get out, an older man named Jim Dunbar caught him.
Having prepared himself for the anticipated correction, Crabb instead found himself listening to these words from that older man: “Larry, there’s one thing I want you to know. Whatever you do for the Lord, I’m behind you one thousand percent.”
Reflecting in his book Encouragement: the Key to Caring, Crabb notes: “Even as I write these words, my eyes fill with tears….Those words were life words.”
Those were words of life, because they were words of encouragement and refreshment. We all thrive under those kinds of words and those kinds of friends. One young boy who instinctively understood that went to his father one day and said, “Let’s play darts, Dad. I’ll throw, and you say, ‘Great shot!’”
But not only do we need those kinds of friends in our lives, we also need to be that kind of friend for others. So how does one provide refreshment to the heart and soul of others?
For Paul, being with the Roman church was encouraging and refreshing (Rom. 15:32). Early in the book he reveals why they gave rest to his soul — because of a mutual exchange of the fruit and evidence of faith (1:12). When believers practice their spiritual gifts and spiritual obedience for the express purpose of ministering to others (as the gifts were intended to be used), it will bring spiritual refreshment to others.
You may not know the names Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaiacus, but Paul certainly did, and so did the Corinthian church, because like the Romans these men were dedicated to using their gifts to minister to the needs of those in the church body (1 Cor. 16:17-18) — and that ministry provided soul-felt refreshment.
Another thing that will bring refreshment is forgiveness. When genuine confession and genuine forgiveness (the releasing of the sin, refusing to hold it against the offender any longer) occur, there is delight to the heart of those involved as well as delight to those who see the conflict resolved (Philemon offers a compelling example of this; cf. especially v. 20).
Forgiveness is refreshing because through that act we demonstrate and reveal the presence, character, and nature of Christ Himself (Eph. 4:32). And it is refreshing because it gives evidence that we are more interested in meeting the heart needs of others than caring for ourselves.
So provide rest for others: minister to the spiritual needs of their hearts, and be a forgiver.