The constant flood of depressing news around the coronavirus pandemic could easily drag us down into John Bunyan's famous "Slough of Despond". As someone has rightly said, "Encouragement is oxygen to the soul, it is like ice cream in the Sahara, it is like sunshine after rain."
Everyone needs encouragement and it doesn't take too much effort either. All it demands is a bit of thoughtfulness. I realised this again when a letter arrived in the post containing a cheque and a note from a church in Gwent telling me that it was the gift they would have given me if they hadn't cancelled the service. I can't tell you how much it lifted my spirits.
It wasn't so much the amount they gave me as the church's concern that really impacted me. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised though; it's a concern that goes way back into the mists of time! They supported us as a family when I was training for the Baptist ministry and we have never forgotten their kindness. It should come as no surprise to learn then that I make sure I am free to preach there every year.
I happened to mention this little story to a friend and, much to my delight, she went on to tell me that she was planning to do something similar. She plans on sending a gift to her hairdresser who had been forced to cancel her appointment. All of which has made me more determined to share the many good stories I come across, if only to counteract the constant drip, drip of "the bad and the ugly".
Thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that these generous people are simply trying to take Jesus seriously when he says we should not only love God with all our hearts but that we should also love our neighbour as ourselves.
So what does it mean to love our neighbour? Well I reckon loving our amazing healthcare professionals will mean staying at home as much as we possibly can. It will also mean staying in contact with those who are living alone and probably fearful. And let's not forget that lots of older folk won't be all that familiar with social media. A phone call, for example, could prove a lifeline for some.
It's not so much what we do as our willingness to put ourselves in their shoes and figure out the appropriate course of action that really counts.That's where my surprise letter proved so encouraging. That church's amazing act of generosity will genuinely help pay my bills.
Here's a challenge. I have quite a few people reading a Psalm a day, and it's proving an immense encouragement. When commenting on the first Psalm, I pointed out to them that God has promised to bless us if we spend some time every day 'meditating' on the things He has said to us.
So why not spend a little time pondering what Jesus has said about loving God and our neighbour? And as you do, it might help you to know that the Psalmist actually said we should 'murmur' (quietly repeat) the words.
You needn't panic. No one will think you're going crazy; they'll simply assume you're talking on your smart phone!
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.