Years ago, I attended the New York City 26-mile marathon (as a spectator, mind you), to cheer on my good friend who was running in the race. I planted myself around the 22-mile marker, as I assumed those last few but still far miles were what needed the most encouragement. I watched runner after runner go by, surrounded by people shouting out inspiring words to the other struggling athletes. Before our friend reached us, I noticed that there were several people shouting out words of encouragement to multiple people. After weighing, and ultimately discarding, the idea that maybe these people just knew a lot of the runners, I came to the conclusion that what these onlookers were doing was reading the t-shirts of the runners for numbers and names and then shouting them out, boosting the spirits of these supposed strangers. I smiled and thought the practice adorable, that the result was a small lift in the runners’ long struggle. However, I severely underestimated the result, as I recently discovered for myself. I was running a short but quick 3-miler around a nearby lake and was just entering the last mile. I had been pushing myself, but found that I was hitting a proverbial wall. I mindlessly glanced over to some people hanging out on an adjacent lawn, when one of them stood up, gave me a big toothy smile, and put both thumbs in the air. I’m not really sure what happened after that, but I remember smiling back after getting a quick boost of adrenaline, and when I finished that mile, I was a good 30 seconds faster than the previous two, a huge difference in the world of running. His well-timed, well-placed, good-natured gesture made an enormous impact in my struggle, and we’ve never even met. It’s no secret that the Bible is filled with commands to lift up and encourage each other. 1 Thessalonians 5.11 tells us: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Yet what many of us don’t consider is that we should encourage and lift up all people that God puts in our life, including people that we don’t even know. This outside-of-the-box approach to Christian living is a chance for believers to take a step out in faith and give a much-needed lift to the many that struggle around us daily. It’s a chance for Christians to affect a strong positive change in the world, developing it towards one that values kindness over opportunity. And these interactions don’t even need to be aimed at those who, like the runners in the marathon, are clearly struggling towards their goal. I remember a stranger who gave me a compliment on my tie in a gas station from fifteen years ago, and I still smile every time I see that tie. His comment brought a little more lasting light into my life, and I wasn’t even in need of any at the time he delivered it. As a result, I now tend to go out of my way now and compliment people who have clearly and purposely altered their appearance (new haircut, tattoo, piercing, hair color, whatever), even if it’s not my particular taste, because I know that every time they look in a mirror, a compliment can help them smile and accept themselves a little more than they do at that time. If God is truly purposeful in all His decisions, then everyone you run into in your life is there for a reason. The challenge to us is to step out of our comfort zone and try it with someone we don’t even know. With a few words of encouragement, you can be the difference that we Christians so desire in this world, and that difference may just ripple out well beyond the two of you and that moment. Amen.