Down home, a man decided to go into business for himself. He had always wanted to have his own sawmill; so when he had the opportunity, he bought one. He moved the mill near his home and was soon in business. He carried his old mule over to help pull some of the heavier loads around the mill. He also hired three men to help him run the mill.

With high hopes, he and his mule would head to the mill every morning to meet the three men who were working for him. All day long, they would cut ties and lumber. For three months, the mill was a beehive of activity.

Then one day, a passing neighbor saw the mill was idle. Concerned about the shutdown, the neighbor visited with the owner to ask what had happened.

The owner of the mill explained. He said, “Well, at the end of the three months, I sat down to figure up how I was doing. I figured up all my income and all my expenses. That is when I discovered something. The only two at that mill who weren’t getting paid were me and that old mule.”

For any of us to continue in an enterprise, we must have some return on the investment. That return does not have to be monetary, but it does have to be something that we value — affirmation, a sense of accomplishing something of value, a sense of doing something important, or some other return. When that return is not felt, then discouragement is the order of the day.

Kierkegaard said that just as a physician might say that there is no one in perfect physical health, so one might say that there is no one in perfect spiritual health. Everyone is to some extent in despair. All of us feel discouragement in some areas of our lives.

How can the church help? The church can be a fellowship where we can jumpstart each other if one is low. We can be a fellowship of encouragement.

In a basketball game, you will see the player who scores a basket after receiving a pass always point to the person who made the pass. It is a way of expressing gratitude and encouragement. John Wooden, longtime coach at UCLA, used to encourage his players to do that. One of his players asked, “Coach, what if you point to the player and he’s not looking at you?” Wooden responded, “Don’t worry, he’ll be looking.” Everyone hungers for appreciation and affirmation.

We can provide that. We can be a fellowship of encouragement. The writer of Hebrews urged, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).

LYNN JONES is a retired pastor, supply preacher and author who lives in Oxford. He can be reached at

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