Friday, November 8, 2013

How do we give this gift of encouragement?

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.  Act 11:23-24

The gift of encouragement is a real blessing, especially when it is so easy to find discouragement in this world. It's so easy to find people to tell us why something can't be done instead of why it can be done - people who are all too willing to throw cold water on the warm fires of our hopes and dreams. But there are special people in the world who have the gift of encouragement.  They can build us up with words of encouragement instead of tear us down with words of despair.  Barnabas was one such person.  In fact, Joseph was his real name and the apostles changed it to Barnabas which means Son of encouragement. His name said it all.  He looked for the best in people, not the worst, and this is an important part of giving encouragement. Look for the promise in a person and not just the problem.  Barnabas was able to give the priceless gift of encouragement, just as we are called to give that gift today

Saul, Sad, Lonely and DesperateSaul, the persecutor of the church, has just been converted and is starting to preach the gospel. The Jews think he is a traitor and are out to kill him. For his own protection, Saul needs to go into hiding, but the Christians don't want to risk taking him in. They remember how zealously Saul had hounded the church and they fear that this conversion is a trick to find more Christians and send them to their deaths. Of course Barnabas comes to the rescue.  He personally takes Saul to the apostles and vouches for his sincerity. Barnabas opens the door for Saul; he makes Saul acceptable to the church. If it hadn't been for Barnabas, Saul might have remained caught between the Jews and the Christians. He might never have become Paul, the greatest name in the church after Jesus.  All of this happened because Barnabas was willing to take a chance on someone

Everyday Encouragement
Of course, we can also be encouraged in just the everyday affairs of our lives. It is so sad to see parents putting down their children and calling them "stupid" or "lazy." Call children enough names and they'll become what you call them. Like all of us, children need positive motivation to grow and learn - they need that precious gift of encouragement. When someone falls and breaks a hip, it is sad to see people come to visit them with long, drawn out faces, trying to show sympathy for their friend. Yes, the person is in the hospital, and yes, they've got a long road ahead of them. But they don't need gloom and doom; they need encouragement! They need inspiration and rehabilitation. They need to know that things will be all right for them in the hands of the Lord. No matter how old or young we are, encouragement brings hope and healing; gloomy attitudes and misplaced sympathies only bring despair.  God has given us all the job of Barnabas.  He wants us to be encouragers. 

How do we do it? How do we give this gift of encouragement?

The verse from the eleventh chapter of Acts, shows two ways
1.    First, we see Barnabas coming to the church with words of encouragement: "And he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose." Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. "The tongue is a fire," says James, "and a restless evil" and so it is when the tongue spreads doom and gloom about the future. But when the tongue speaks words of encouragement and faith, it is an instrument of power and grace. We all have the choice every time we open our mouths to speak. Let us be people who encourage others and build them up with our words, instead of tearing them down with our pessimism and making them discouraged.
2.    Second we see Barnabas encouraging others by doing something for them: here, he is bringing food to Christians who are hungry. Do not neglect the encouraging gesture, the step you can make, the action you can take to lift up someone else. Real encouragement comes not just from what we say but from what we do, when we show someone else that we care for them and believe in them.

Barnabas was "a good man and full of the Holy Spirit" - this is why he looked for the best in people and tried to help them along. That's just how it is when we are moved by the Lord. We believe in the future because we believe in God and so we want to give that gift of encouragement to others.
What about yourself? Remember how easy it is to speak the discouraging word. Remember how easily someone else has deflated your own hopes and dreams with the discouraging word. Let's all of us be people of the Lord's Way in the manner of Barnabas - people who are filled with promise and conviction - God's people who are brimming with grace and eager to share with others that precious, priceless gift of encouragement.

Scripture to Claim:
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  Hebrews 3:13

Adapted from a sermon by Erskine White

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