By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
What makes the hard times tolerable? I don’t mean the heartbreaking trials nothing can make good. I’m talking about those more than mild but less than terrible times we constantly face: things like receptions, yard work, and committees.
One thing makes such times bearable: refreshments! Meetings at work are probably the most miserable, and the quality of the refreshments usually determines the attitude of the employees. There has to be caffeine. Then the healthy people have to have their fruits and nuts. The dip-aholics hope for their crackers and encrusted cheese ball, while the chip-aholics hope for more than the token bag of Lay’s. And if somebody brings a crockpot full of little barbeque sausages, the happiness level skyrockets.
Of course refreshment isn’t all about food—it’s spiritual as well. It appears throughout the Bible where it’s always perceived as a good thing. Scripture suggests many ways to be refreshed, many good sources of refreshment, and many instances where people were praised for refreshing others. God’s Word reminds us that we ought to do the same.
The Bible includes several words for this idea of “refreshing.” In the Old Testament, refresh is translated from root words meaning everything from offering a drink to spreading out a bed. Shathah, ”to imbibe,” is used in 2 Samuel 16:2 regarding the offering of wine to King David and some weary travelers. One of the more well-known verses from the Song of Solomon is 2:5: “Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love “ (NIV, 1984).
Here the word raphad comes from the idea of spreading a bed for rest. It’s a good example of how words can take on metaphorical meaning. Solomon’s beloved is not looking for a bed of apples to lie on. She wants to be refreshed, her health restored, her heart (and perhaps also her belly) fed. God promises to refresh or satisfy the thirst of the weary in Jeremiah 31:25. The word ravah in this verse suggests an abundance of refreshing water—enough to bathe in or drink until completely satisfied. A similar word, yarah (Proverbs 11:25), is rooted in the image of flowing water. In Exodus 23:12, however, the symbolic image is of air as God commands his people to rest on the seventh day so that they “may be refreshed” (naphash)—that is, that they may have an opportunity to breathe or be breathed upon. Proverbs 25:13 says, “Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.”
Shuwb, in this verse, is rooted in the idea of retreating. At first we might take this negatively, but think about the idea of going on a retreat—of withdrawing from everyday life for a while so we can be spiritually refreshed.
In the New Testament, refresh can be rooted in the idea of lying back in repose (anapauo—see Philemon 20 for a spiritual application) or of being awakened or aroused (diegeio), as when Peter tells his readers that “it is right to refresh your memory” (2 Peter 1:13). In the first idea of refreshment we are given rest, but in the second we are stirred up to renewed action. Paul uses the word sunanapauomai in Romans 15:32 to express the idea of being refreshed by joining together with believers in fellowship. The image of air we saw before appears in the New Testament as well in the form of anapsucho (2 Timothy 1:16) which means “to cool off” and anapsuxis (Acts 3:19) which suggests the idea of recovering one’s breath.
Sources of Refreshment
The Bible suggests several sources for our refreshment, the first of these being God. Psalm 68:9 says, “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance.” God says he “will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” (Jeremiah 31:25). In one of his earliest sermons, Peter urged his audience to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Here we see how God’s refreshment comes in response to our obedience in faith.
Another source of refreshment can be our own actions. When Ziba brought refreshments to King David in his time of need (2 Samuel 16), Ziba was rewarded for his good deed. Solomon is even more specific: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25). Generosity refreshes others and refreshes us.
The most commonly referred to source of refreshment in the Bible is refreshment through friends and fellow servants. We’ve already been introduced to this idea from Romans 15 where Paul says, “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” (Romans 15:31, 32).
The word for refreshment here is actually rooted in a word meaning something like “to join a group.” What a contrast to our modern idea of rest which we often view as getting away from people and curling up on a couch or lying back in an easy chair to watch TV or play on a computer.
Besides gathering together with friends, the Bible celebrates the work of believers who refresh those in need. Notice in the instances that follow how many people Paul identifies by name because of their ministry of refreshment:
“I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition” (1 Corinthians 16:17, 18).
“In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you” (2 Corinthians 7:13, 14).
“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Timothy 1:16).
“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philemon 7).
“I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ” (Philemon 20).
Paul often praised individual people, but I don’t know if he ever praised so many different people for this single act of refreshing others.
Refreshing Others Today
Exactly how they refreshed one another in New Testament times we don’t know, but the verses we’ve seen suggest fellowship, feeding, looking after visitors who had come from a distance, and going long distances to refresh those in need. Doubtless we can do the same thing
With so many distractions in life, both for work and leisure, it’s easy for American Christians to forgo fellowship with each other. But the mere presence of fellow believers can be a huge encouragement. My best friend does something he doesn’t consider a ministry, but it has provided refreshment to dozens of men for almost 30 years. Bryan is that one friend from college who keeps the other old friends from college in touch—even to the point of hosting an annual reunion for a bunch of guys who often need a retreat with like-minded friends and to be refreshed. Without Bryan’s ministry of fellowship, these friends would never get together.
More than most other people in the world, Americans are in a unique position to refresh others through generosity. Though we tend not to think of ourselves as rich, we are among the wealthy of the world. And it doesn’t take much to bring refreshment through our material blessings.
Last Christmas, my wife and I, in a small way, were able to bring refreshment to a group of people we’ve come to know. Becky and I frequent one of those tiny breakfast diners with great comfort food and cheap prices. We’ve been doing our best to get to know the cooks and waitresses there while leaving sizeable tips, especially on Sundays.
Last November we decided we were going to buy Christmas presents for everyone who works at the diner—the whole staff, even the ones we don’t yet know. The gifts we bought were small and generic, the kind of thing everyone would like. We delivered the presents wrapped but otherwise didn’t make a show of things. It was just a little something at Christmas to let a few people who work in a tiny diner know that someone cares.
Doubtless there are more important ways to offer refreshment, from feeding the homeless, to taking care of missionaries and ministers, to going on our own mission trips. Big things or little, though, there’s a lot we can do to refresh others and so be refreshed ourselves.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky and is a regular columnist for The Lookout.
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