My friend and childhood pastor, Dick Hester recently sent me this challenge, and I wanted to share it here. I’m not nearly the encourager that I wish I was, or that I strive to be—but by the end of my life, I hope it can be said that I was an encourager. Pastor Hester is one of the greatest encouragers I’ve ever met, so I know his words below will challenge you to grow as an encourager:
“I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew!” Ever feel that way? Difficult ministry situation, finances devastated by unexpected expenses, family member gravely ill. (Maybe not you, but a brother or sister in Christ.) You see stress on a colleague’s face, somebody has cancer, somebody’s son is on drugs.
When we encounter this, our first impulse may be to give advice, but better may be to give encouragement. The purpose of this letter is to help you to be an encourager. This is a reciprocal command given over and over in Scripture— “Encourage one another”. We may not feel we have the gift of encouragement, but we must do it! In Scripture I can name several great encouragers. Of course, the Holy Spirit is our greatest Example, as He comes alongside us as our Comforter. Then there’s Barnabas—three episodes are given in Acts of Barnabas being an encourager, along with the results of his encouragement.
On the Day of Pentecost 3,000 people came to faith in Jesus as Messiah. That is explosive growth, an immediate mega-church! New believers were seeing so many signs and miracles, nobody wanted to leave. The consequence was the Church had to house, feed, and care for these converts—it was overwhelming. Acts tells us all the early believers shared everything they had. Many sold houses and land, giving the money to the Apostles to distribute as needed. In the midst of all this, one who encouraged the early Church is singled out. His name was Joses, but after observing his life, the Apostles changed his name to Barnabas, “son of encouragement”. He sold his land and gave the money to help the needy. Later he is described as being “full of joy and the Holy Spirit”. That describes an encourager.
A second characteristic of this encourager is seen when he befriended and endorsed Paul. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul wanted to join the other Apostles in Jerusalem. But they did not trust him. They remembered his fierce persecution of Christians—as Saul—and were still afraid of him. It would be like an Adolph Hitler coming into a Jewish ghetto and saying, “I am converted. I am one of you.” Paul was left out, but Barnabas trusted him. I think it must have been discernment given by the Holy Spirit that assured Barnabas. He stepped up, using his own good standing with the Apostles, to convince them that Paul was a true believer. Later, Barnabas needed help with ministry in Antioch; he went and got Paul to help him there. After a year, they embarked on “Barnabas’ and Paul’s excellent adventure”. With John Mark as their helper and the Holy Spirit as their Guide, they planted churches all across Asia Minor. So Barnabas included Paul when he was left out. He commended him to the Apostles in Jerusalem, brought him into ministry in Antioch, and travelled with him on a missionary journey.
The third incident is found in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas had a deep disagreement about taking John Mark on their next missionary journey, as he had deserted them on the first one. Later, Paul would send for Mark, but at this point it caused a split. Now, realize how close Paul and Barnabas were—they’d been through everything together: they’d travelled together for months; they’d preached and done miracles; they’d worshipped together; they had been threatened and stoned and had to run for their lives. But Barnabas gave up his best friend, Paul, in order to encourage John Mark. It was not done lightly or easily. He was an encourager filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Barnabas encouraged many, but perhaps especially Paul and John Mark. Look at the later ministries and writings of these two. We could say that by simply encouraging Paul and Mark, Barnabas indirectly influenced a significant portion of the writing of the New Testament.
How can we be encouragers? In Barnabas’ life we saw three standards: help the needy, include the “left out”, and believe in everyone’s potential. Barnabas’ biography makes me want to be an encourager. We all have that opportunity. Our lives, and those of others, mostly walk a tight line, juggling and balancing time, energy, and money. Often when the slightest thing goes wrong people lose their balance. They need encouragement. They may be thinking, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew”. What can we do to encourage them, using the three standards of Barnabas? Let me suggest a few:
Give something— Barnabas had the ability to sell land and give money. Another way is to help provide transportation needs, or a meal, or babysitting; maybe just talk or listen. Often we can find our own solutions if someone will just listen.
We can write notes of encouragement. In fact, I save notes and emails of encouragement to me. What do you say when you write these notes? Just say, “I thought of you this morning, thank you for ____________ … you’re doing a good job”. A model to me is Howard Hendricks, who writes three notes of encouragement every day.
Spoken compliments—a sincere, simple compliment can lodge itself into a person’s heart and encourage long after we are gone. There are cases where we can say that we are in awe of a person, and that we know God will use them. Or to a person with limited abilities, that you appreciate the effort it takes for them to do something. The key is, don’t just think it, but SAY it.
Be a friend to one who is alone—especially a person from a different background, country, or culture. Make a point to engage them. Learn people’s names. They may be a server in a restaurant, or a person who changes light bulbs. Ask their names and thank them for their service. I heard of a college professor who asked this question on a test: What is the name of the cleaning man on the first floor of this building? It was a serious—for credit—question. Could you answer that type of question?
Pray and let people know that you’re praying for them. To people who are stressed, tell them you will pray for them regularly, or for a predetermined time. To the person whose family member is seriously ill, go to them and say, “I love you, I will be praying for you and your family.”
Finally, show up—at hospitals, hospices, funerals, weddings, birthdays. Go! Sometimes there is no substitute for showing up. It can change a person’s life! One act of encouragement can have a ripple effect. Who knows how far one word of encouragement will reach?
As you are filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, consider whom you can encourage today. My prayer is that God will continually fill us with joy and the Holy Spirit. May the Lord make us encouragers!
(Written By Pastor Dick Hester)