The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate. The bases are 90 feet apart. Every basketball hoop is 10 feet high, and every free throw line is 15 feet from the backboard. Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net.

But when the game is played, all things aren’t equal. One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t. The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We’ve all seen it, the power of encouragement. It’s what sports calls the “home-field advantage.”

Unlike last year, when the World Series was played with eerie silence amid cardboard cutouts, this year’s classic was greeted with thunderous crowds that vibrated the stands and echoed in the rafters.

In Houston, Astros fans were quick to forgive any past sins and welcome their heroes with standing ovations. In Atlanta, the Braves fans tomahawked their way through three games and went delirious with a first inning grand slam in Game 5. In all of sports, it’s a different game when fans are present cheering the home team.

We also know the ravages of discouragement. Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a downward spiral. We feel it when the stands go silent. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game.

We’re all players on the field. We’re all listening for the voices that will lift us up and cheer us on. We’re all vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.

When a brokenhearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life (Mark 5:36). The adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt. But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager. He believes in us. He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5).

Every day we need encouragement, and every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her children, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school. Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone. It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit www.tinsleycenter.com. Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.

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