Have you considered what your legacy will be?
What will you be known for one day?
What will your colleagues remember you by?
What will your kids imitate (either intentionally or unintentionally)? Or what are they learning from you now?
What is your influence right now? When you leave the office today, or the dinner party tonight or the Bible study group this evening, what do people say of you after you’re gone? What are you known by?
I WANT TO BE A BARNABAS
Imagine being known and remembered primarily for being an encourager. I want to be that guy! Joseph, a Levite of Cyprus, got the nick-name “Encourager” (“Barnabas”) by the apostles and the early church (Acts 4:36-37). His ability to encourage was so influential that he is still remembered today by that name. What a legacy! This Encourager had much influence in the early days of the church and missions. For instance after the zealous persecutor Saul of Tarsus had his life-altering encounter with the Lord Jesus and became Paul, the Encourager was the one who went to look for him, encouraged him and brought him to the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28). When the believers fled from Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom and resulting authority, witnessing as they travelled, they “accidentally” established a big church in Antioch with Gentiles (Acts 11:19-24). The Encourager was delegated by the Apostles to discover what was going on; he saw God was at work and encouraged them to continue what they were doing. Afterwards he went to look for Paul, and encouraged him to join him in Antioch and to pursue the ministry he received from the Lord – the ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 11:25-26). Years later, while the church was praying, the Holy Spirit set apart two people for missions to the Gentiles – Paul and the Encourager (Acts 13:1-3). Again we read of the Encourager when he and Paul had an argument over John Mark (Acts 15:36-40); Paul considered him to be fickle and untrustworthy, but Barnabas could see God at work in and through him, so he encouraged him and took him along on his ministry trip. It seems whenever there was a new thing or a big change about to happen, God positioned the Encourager right there in the middle of the crisis, to put strength in the hearts of his people so they might press on amidst uncertainty and difficulty.
PUT STRENGTH IN THE HEART
To encourage literally means to PUT STRENGTH INTO THE HEART (en = into, courage = strength). Fear does the opposite; it takes away the will to fight. So in times of uncertainty or hardship with much opposition, people lose the will to press and as their hearts close up or cower away. In times such as this people need to be strengthened in heart, they need to be encouraged to press one.
See how encouragement can produce strength and endurance in a very practical way in “Death Crawl Scene” from Facing the Giants: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sUKoKQlEC4]
Everyone needs encouragement at times. And a need for encouragement is not a sign of weakness just a desire for water is not a sign of weakness.
SCRIPTURE AS ENCOURAGEMENT
It is helpful to keep in mind that the Old Testament history, poetry as well as prophesies were written during times of tremendous uncertainty and hardship. The intent of the writings is to remind the reader of God’s promises, God’s power, God’s proximity and God’s personal commitment to his people. Every book in the Old Testament is very encouraging. That’s why Paul referred to it when he said “whatever was written in former days was written for our learning, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Likewise most of the New Testament was written during the three periods of most severe persecution of the first century (around AD 45, 60 and 92). Many of these communities also suffered from internal conflict, so understandably the Apostles wrote with the intent to encourage the believers to remain faithful to Christ in their worship, witness and works.
Thus the New Testament is a great place to learn about this skill much-needed ministry skill of encourage. So how do you encourage another?
- DELIBERATE INTENT IN MEETINGS
When the author of Hebrews moves from orthodoxy (right belief) to orthopraxis (right practice) in the 10th chapter, he encourages the scattered, persecuted church to maintain “full assurance of faith” (10:22) in Christ while “holding on in hope” of eternal reward (10:23). These instructions come as no surprise, but he goes on to instruct this fearful group to “not neglect to meet together” (10:25). These believers may die when they meet together openly in their hostile environment! Why should they risk the public association as Christians? He writes says believers should meet together to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:25). He says “think about ways to encourage one another to greater love and more good works!” Continue to come together so that you may effectively encourage one another!”
- VERBAL CULTURE OF UPLIFTMENT
We look for gold within the dust.
Such a deliberateness requires a disciplined community that – amidst personal hardship – have trained itself to only speak words that are encouraging and leads to the edification of another (Ephesians 4:29-31). Therefore there is no room for complaining, criticizing, slander or gossip in their communal verbal culture. Rather, the tone of conversation is always one of affirmation, thanks, recognition, exhortation – always encouraging, even when correcting.
Notice the way the apostles start and end their New Testament letters with affirmation, thanks and encouragement. Jesus speaks the same way in Revelations to the seven churches around Ephesus, starting and ending each message to these congregations with affirmation and praise, and ending each letter with hope – a promise of reward. What an example of verbal encouragement!
- ALWAYS LOOKING FOR THE GOOD
The verbal encouragement obviously stems from eyes that have been trained to be “light” and not “dark” as Jesus taught (Matthew 6:22-23), in other words they have trained themselves to recognize whatever is good and godly, and not to fixate on what is negative and evil. As a pessimist sees the glass “half empty” an optimist sees the same glass “half full”, so one who has trained his eyes to see good can see goodness in great difficulty and thereby become an exceptional encourager when everyone else complains.
Eugene Person’s paraphrase of Proverbs 11:27 (MSG) sums up this disciplined attitude well: “if anyone can find the dirt in someone, be the first to find the gold!” An encourager always seeks what is good and Godly in someone, and when he finds it he praises it, drawing attention to it so others can also see and celebrate it. Because, as Andy Stanley puts it, “whatever gets celebrated gets repeated!”
- RELAYING GOD’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH PROPHESY
New Testament Prophesy is exactly that – a message from the Lord that reveals and affirms what is good and even praiseworthy, meant for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:4). Prophetic words from the Lord – whatever the message – communicates to the receiver that “I, the Lord know who you are, what you are going through. I care and I am for you!” Indeed very uplifting, encouraging and comforting! That’s why Paul encouraged this very charismatic but persecuted church in Corinth to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy…” (14:1). Everyone needs encouragement, and the Lord wishes to encourage His church (also) through prophesy!
- LET NO-ONE SUFFER ALONE
One of the best ways of encouraging one who goes through hardship is by simply being with them in their times of hardship, and to encourage them to not give up. Paul wrote to the Galatians that they ought to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), or more literally to “stake yourself to” the one suffering, using the imagery of strengthening an injured leg, to prevent it from folding under the load. Whatever the hardship, your presence with one suffering is encouraging and helps preserve the person’s spirit.
The affirmation that “you are not alone, you are not forgotten” is an extremely powerful motivator to press on through hardship. Community, love and a sense of belonging is in itself a reason to live and not give up. Jesus knows that, and therefore, in various forms we find these words of comfort to persecuted congregations “Behold, I am with you! I will never leave you or forsake you.” (see Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20 etc). May times our presence and ministry to hard-pressed people reaffirm this encouraging truth: “God knows about you and He is near to you.”
- ENCOURAGED TO PRESS ON THROUGH HOPE
One of the primary ways in which believers are encouraged within the New Testament writings is through hope – the certain promise of reward that give sense and meaning to the current suffering. As for the athlete, the student, the pregnant mother and fighting soldier, anyone who undergoes suffering will hold on if they know that what they go through is rewarded in some way. Like Paul says “these light afflictions do not compare with the glory that awaits us” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
The most common hopeful encouragement in the New Testament is the promise of rewards on “the Day of the Lord” – Judgment Day or the Return of Jesus, where the Lord will reward faithfulness and obedience amidst suffering, and judge the wicked. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:2-14 as example). But even temporal hope is a strong encouragement, and the Bible abounds with examples of encouragement to push on with the promise of reward in this life, such as David’s prayer “I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen [encourage] your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14)
THE GOD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Just as long-distance runners need water and cheers throughout the race, so the people around you need encouragement to go on. God is “the God of Endurance and Encouragement” (Romans 15:5) who wishes to encourage his children, cheering them on as they do good, comforting them with his presence, promising that their efforts are worth it.
You and I have the privilege to imitate this loving, encouraging God who cheers his children on. You and I have the privilege to put strength into the hearts of fatigued, faithless and fearful people. And for that, you will also have your reward!
So look up. Chances are the first person you meet now will need a cool cup of encouragement. Be ready!