Summary: This is basically a shortened version of Brian Winslade’s excellent sermon on encouragement. Much gratitude to him on a week of a funeral!
Acts 9:19-31 – Being Children of Encouragement
You might have heard the story of the married couple asleep in bed on a stormy night who were awakened by a loud knock on the front door. The man crawled out of bed and grumpily went downstairs. When he opened the front door he found a man dripping wet and obviously very drunk who said to him; "I can’t get my car started. Can you give me a push?" To which the man of the house replied sharply; "NO! Go and sober up and we will sort it out in the morning!" He slammed the door and stormed upstairs.
When he got back into bed and explained what had happened to his wife she was indignant and said to him; "That wasn’t a very kind Christian response. He could be in trouble and you have just sent him out into the storm for the rest of the night!" Reluctantly the man got out of bed a second time and put on his coat and went downstairs. He figured he wasn’t going to get any peace until he did something for the man out in the rain. When he got to the front door the rain was teaming down and he couldn’t see the other man. He could hear a faint noise out in the front yard so he called out; "Hello? Are you still there? What can I do to help?"
To which the other man replied; "Could you give me a push?"
"I’d be happy to if I could see you, where are you?"
"I’m over here, on your swing!"
Have you ever had the experience of being out some place and the car won’t start; the battery is flat? Everything else in the car works fine but the "get-up-and-go" in the battery has "got-up-and-gone". Leaving aside the more serious reasons as to why batteries run down, the short term solution is usually for another car to come alongside and hook up a set of jumper leads from their strong battery to your weak one. Drawing from the alongside energy and power your car is able to start up again and function normally.
That action of drawing alongside or lending energy to get another going is the basic idea behind a key word in the New Testament. The word is "encourage". Over the last little while we have been tracking the life and example of a man in the New Testament who had a particular reputation for encouragement. His parents named him Joseph but the leaders of the early church called him Barnabas, which literally meant "son of encouragement".
Barnabas was a person who you felt good being around. He was a man who believed in the potential of people – particular those whom others were cautious or suspicious of. Barnabas was willing to give a failure a second chance, and because of his predisposition or default setting towards encouraging people the leaders of the early church gave him the nickname of "son of encouragement".
I believe you and I are called to be like Barnabas. To be a Barnabas towards others is to exercise a powerful influence on people. Now, the root meaning of the word encourage simply means "to put courage in". It means the imputing or infusion of power or advice or inspiration that makes another person perform better.
There are times for each of us when our battery runs flat. Encouragement means the coming alongside and the inputting of courage or perspective or attitudes that makes us get up and get going again.
There are many things in life that cause us to experience discouragement - the draining of courage. Sometimes it’s a crisis, sometimes it’s simply tiredness or sickness, or sometimes it’s the cutting words or actions of another person. To encourage is to do the direct opposite. Where courage has faded away, encouragement is the putting back or refilling of courage. It represents the replacing what has been taken or what has leaked out of us.
So how do we do it? What are some practical ways that we can be Barnabites to the people we associate with? Let me offer 2 specific suggestions from Barnabas’ life:
1. Allow people to grow
By that I mean believe that God is working on people and that perhaps their spiritual maturity will grow. People change and do better as the Holy Spirit works on them. A Barnabas encourager expects people to grow and as God continues to work on them.
There is an interesting illustration of this in the relationship that Barnabas had with Paul the Apostle. In the early days after Paul’s conversion it was Barnabas who was willing to give him a go. The other Christians leaders were suspicious of Paul but Barnabas took a risk and brought Paul to meet them. Later on it was Barnabas who went and got Paul and launched him into pastoral ministry in the church at Antioch. In his early days Barnabas mentored Paul and coached him in the ways of Christian ministry.