The winter of 1955-56 was a significant time for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. December 1st, 1955 marks when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on the public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Before long, the Montgomery bus boycott was organized and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) came into being. The 26-year-old Dr. King, the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, was chosen to become the president of the MIA. What would happen in the next few months would propel Dr. King into the national spotlight and world history.
On January 30th, 1956, Dr. King was speaking at a meeting for those who supported the boycott. Some two-thousand persons were in attendance. Dr. King was doing his best to encourage the people and dispel their fears. There was no end in sight to the boycott and people were getting tired. Toward the end of the meeting Mother Pollard, one of the senior members of the community, walked her way up to the front of the crowded church. This was not uncommon, because many older people in the community were regarded as heroes. Walking everywhere took an extra toll on their aging bodies, yet they persevered with pride.
Historian Taylor Branch records what happened next:
Mother Pollard drew a hush of recognition and the automatic right to speak. “Come here, son,” she said to King, and King walked over to receive a public, motherly embrace. “Something is wrong with you,” said Pollard. “You didn’t talk strong tonight.”
“Oh no, Mother Pollard,” King replied. “Nothing is wrong. I am feeling as fine as ever.”
“Now you can’t fool me,” she said. “I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you? Or is it that the white folks is bothering you?”
Pollard looked right through a smiling but flustered King. Before he could say anything, she moved her face close to his and said loudly, “I done told you we is with you all the way. But even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” With that, Mother Pollard inched her way back toward her seat, as the crowd roared and King’s eyes filled with tears (Parting the Waters, 163-164).
Can you recall a time when you received needed encouragement? I had my own Mother Pollard moment a couple of years ago. It was my last Sunday at our previous church, as my wife and I would be moving on so I could begin my pastoral role at our current church. I stood up to say goodbye in front of the congregation who had loved us so well and the tears immediately began to flow. I was a mess! In the front row, just to my left, sat a dear older member of the church. As she watched me struggle to utter a single word, she said just loud enough for those up front to hear, “It’s alright, you just come on now.” Her southern accent was thick, and her raspy voice reminded me of my grandmother. Knowing that she was in my corner was enough to get me through a difficult goodbye.
There have been other moments where my soul was deeply strengthened by the encouragements of others. When I am exhausted from delivering a sermon and it just doesn’t seem like it bore any fruit, my wife’s reminders that God approves of my labor is enough. The friend who reminds me out of the blue that they’re thinking of me and praying for me lifts my spirits. My colleague who declares God’s call on my life when I feel weak gives me strength to persevere through challenging circumstances.
Dr. King would look back on his conversation with Mother Pollard and say that her words came over him in the form of raw energy. And I think that is exactly what encouragement is. Encouragement is raw energy that fuels us to stay faithful and true to whatever God has for us in this present moment. Our encouraging words have an amazing ability to bring power and strength to those whom we give them to.
The psalmist declares that God’s promises give us life (Psalm 119:50). When we apply God’s promises to others, they are strengthened by the raw energy of God’s grace. In moments when we are weak and fainthearted, what we need most is the encouragement of a friend to pick us up and strengthen our soul (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
As it turns out, Dr. King would need the raw energy Mother Pollard gave him that same day. As she returned to her seat, King noticed some commotion in the back of the room. One of his friends slowly worked his way up to the front and said to King, “Your house has been bombed.” This was the first time Dr. King would experience such terror; it would not be the last.
Encouragement is raw energy that fuels us to stay faithful and true to whatever God has for us in this present moment. Click To Tweet
Our high school physics teachers taught us the difference between potential and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of an object due to its movement – while it is in motion. Potential energy is energy stored up when an object is in a position of rest. The more we experience Christ’s kinetic grace toward us, the more we will be filled with the potential grace to bring encouragement to others.
We never know when those around us are going to need the energy our encouraging words can provide. Part of the Christian life is growing in our ability to speak life and grace to those around us (Ephesians 4:29). Never underestimate the difference you can make to someone by giving them the raw energy of your encouragement.