I don’t really like this time of year. All the fun of Christmas is gone and all the bills from Christmas are arriving. Sunny green spring seems far away on these short and dreary days. Most people don’t claim January as their favorite month, and we could all use a little good cheer right about now.
Years ago, my husband gave me a plaque that reads: “Be An Encourager.” When I opened it I was offended, because I thought he was implying that I wasn’t. He didn’t know he had touched a nerve- I was already uncomfortable with my critical tendencies. Once, when I was teaching high school English, I had a student bring me with his “A” paper and say, “You never tell us what we do right, only what we do wrong. I have no idea why I got an A on this paper.” Ouch.
Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” That’s what an encourager does: lighten the burdens, loosen the chains, open the windows and coax out the smiles. On the “About” page of Sow Love, I have a list of synonyms for encourage that makes me happy every time I read it:
The mission of Sow Love is to
Boost Buoy Brighten Cheer Comfort Console Embolden Energize Enliven Excite Exhilarate Galvanize Gladden Fortify Hearten Inspire Instigate Rally Reassure Refresh Restore Revitalize Rouse Spur Strengthen Steel Stir
you as you hope and trust in the Lord, and to help you do the same for others.
That’s some high-voltage vocabulary right there. But the key principle lies in the line that follows. The greatest encouragement I can give anyone is to remind him of the finished work of Christ, and all that means for us. If we really want to gladden, reassure, or stir anyone- including ourselves- the most lasting, effective, dependable good word we can speak is the gospel.
It makes sense if you think about it. Encouragement based on anything temporary or potentially unreliable- such human talent or effort- only goes so far. But encouragement based on the person of Jesus Christ and all He has done for me- that has real, lasting strength. Don't get me wrong- I REALLY appreciate it when someone cheers me on. I need it! But I need to be reminded of Jesus's love for me, His power on my behalf, His faithfulness.... even more.
Another way to encourage is by example. The sight of someone living out . I think of Tuck in the worship band at our church. He’s a great musician, but what I love about him is the way he always just shows up. He is reliable and cheerful, never seeking the spotlight or applause. His humble steadiness reminds me of Jesus’s dependability, and for that Tuck is a light to me. Or, I think of my friend Allison. I hope everyone has a least one friend like Al. God made her such a good listener. When we talk, she’s all in, asking great questions, challenging me sometimes, but she always lets me know that what I say matters to her because she responds with real thought. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s hilarious.) Talking with Allison is always refreshing because she’s really present when she’s with me, and that makes me feel loved. We can encourage each other simply by being who God made us to be.
When I get to heaven, one of the first people I want to meet is Barnabas. I’ll bet he was a hugger. With all due respect to this man of God, someday I want to get a big fluffy dog and name him Barnabas, because that man had a gift that we all need in our daily lives.
Barnabas had the gift of seeing God’s image in other people and loving them well. As you can imagine, everyone loved and respected him too, for he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:23-24) His real name was Joses, but he was such an encouraging guy that the other apostles actually gave him the nickname “Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement.” He was known for generosity, both spiritual and financial, but he became truly famous because of his friendship with a notorious former Christian-killing hater named Saul. When Saul encountered Jesus and tried to join the church, the apostles were skeptical, but Barnabas stepped in. On Barnabas’ recommendation, the church accepted Saul - whose name was changed to Paul- and of course the rest is history.
The two friends traveled together, sharing God’s Word and transforming the world. Paul wrote roughly half the books in the New Testament, and with his friend Barnabas, took the gospel to the Gentiles. Eventually Paul and Barnabas parted company because they disagreed over John Mark, Barnabas’ young cousin. Barnabas believed that John Mark should be allowed to travel with them, in spite of an earlier mistake, but Paul was not willing to trust the younger man. Barnabas left with John Mark and continued to minister, and Paul did the same. Later church letters show that Paul came to recognize the valuable ministry of John Mark, who was of course the eventual author of the Gospel of Mark. It seems likely that Mark needed both Barnabas for support and Paul for correction so he could become the man God was calling him to be.
Twice Barnabas extended God’s grace to an undeserving younger man, and twice he brought exceptionally valuable workers to the church. Clearly these young men were marked by the Holy Spirit, but other believers couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. Barnabas took a risk each time he supported a controversial newcomer, but he trusted that God was at work in Paul and Mark, and would not let anything, even his best friends, stand in the way of encouraging God’s work in their lives. Barnabas embodies the active love and grace of a true Christ-follower, and in fact was one of the first disciples to be called by the new name “Christian.” (Acts 11:26)
So during the dreary days of January, let’s look to be light and warmth for each other. See below for the link to pray for ourselves, and for others, to follow in the footsteps of Barnabas.