Sunday, February 7, 2010

Be an Encourager

“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.” (Acts 4:36-37)

A couple of weeks ago one of my readers honored me with a Best Blog award. The award did not come with a golden trophy. No fancy dinner was thrown in my honor. The event was not televised or written up in The New York Times. But to me the award was special. It meant that someone cared enough about what I have been writing about to show me some appreciation. The award came at a good time, because I needed a few words of encouragement.

I have since passed the honor on to 15 fellow bloggers, and I have found by reading their comments and blog postings that many of them were just as encouraged.

Inspirational writer William Arthur Ward once wrote, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”

We live in a world that has so many let downs and disappointments that it is refreshing when you receive a few words of encouragement.

The Bible records the life of one man who made it is mission to encourage others. If we could be more like this person, it would transform our homes, churches, and communities.
The book of Acts introduces us to this man: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)” (Acts 4:36).

Barnabas lived during the first century. His given name was Joseph, but the custom of the day was to give a person a nickname that best described that person. Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement,” and since Joseph was a man who encouraged people, it was natural that he would be called Barnabas.

I thank God for people who have been like Barnabas to me over the years. My sister-in-law Bessie is one of them. There have been times in my life where I have felt the pain of discouragement, but God graciously put her in my life to encourage me to lift my head high and continue on. She has a knack for bringing out the best in others through her simple words of encouragement. God has given her a special gift that she shares unselfishly.

The world desperately needs more encouragers like Bessie and Barnabas. Barnabas was the kind of person who didn’t walk away from those who faltered, failed or stumbled. Instead he would help them back on their feet, and give them an encouraging word.

Evidence of the encouraging nature of Barnabas can be found in the book of Acts. Acts 9 gives us the account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a man who hated Christians. He believed that it was his mission to wipe out the Christian movement. His plan was to go to Damascus and bring back in chains any Christians he found to Jerusalem.

However, on his way to Damascus, an amazing thing happened to Saul. In the hot Syrian sun, there appeared the blinding presence of Jesus.

The blinding light caused Saul to lose his sight “And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul cried out, “Who art thou, Lord?” It was then that Saul was introduced to Jesus.

Yes, the light had caused Saul to lose his physical sight, but he realized that he had been blind much longer; not in a physical sense but in a spiritual one.  He had been blind to the truth about Jesus.  Saul was saved that day.

If you want to learn more about the conversion of Saul I would encourage you to read Acts 9.  What I will tell you is that Saul's sight is restored and instead of bringing chains to the Christians of Damascus, Saul began preaching about Jesus.

Saul returned to Jerusalem, but not with Christian prisoners in tow. Instead he wanted to be a part of the Christian community. He was ready to work for the Lord.  Why is it that so many of God's best workers are new converts?  Unfortunately, the Christians feared Saul was trying to trick them and that he really wanted to betray them.

It was Barnabas who went out on a limb for Saul. You can almost hear his words of encouragement to Saul:
  • "Don't be afraid!"
  • "Let God use you."
  • "God didn't bring you this far to let you fail."
  • "I believe in you!"
  • "Don't give up!"
It was Barnabas who brought Saul before the apostles and “declared unto them how he [Saul] had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27)

No, Barnabas is not known for doing miracles, but it was through the God-led encouragement of Barnabas that Saul was able to gain the trust of the Christian Church and go on to become Paul the great missionary leader of the Bible.

Words of encouragement cost nothing, but the power they weld can change lives.

Know that that we need people in the church like Barnabas. We need people like Barnabas who will be encouragers. We need people who will reach out to those who have stumbled and fallen. We need people who will reach out to those who are discouraged and broken. We need people who will help draw them back to the Savior. We need people like Barnabas who will make it their task to be sons and daughters of encouragement.

Many times in the New Testament we see the word “exhort.” The word literally means “to encourage.” See how we are told to exhort, or encourage, one another.

• “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

• “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

• “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.” (1 Timothy 2:1)

• “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.” (Acts 15:32)

We need to regularly encourage one another. The church should be a place where we receive encouragement and strength. It should be a place where people help one another rather than hurt one another. If we don’t start encouraging people in our churches, then we are going to continue to see people who were once very active in the service of the Lord simply walk away.

We need people like Barnabas who will make it their task to be encouragers. We need people to be on the lookout for those who are hurting, doubting, fallen, and who have lost faith. They are the ones who need the most encouragement.

I challenge you today to start encouraging one another. You might begin by telling someone how much they mean to you, or how they have touched your life in a special way. You might share with them your testimony of how God brought you back from the blink of despair.

You never know, that person you encourage today might just change the world for the good tomorrow.

If we could all become like Barnabas it would transform our churches, homes, and communities. I encourage each of you to start today.

May God bless you!