By Victor Knowles
Since 1944 the slogan of the Hallmark card company has been, “When you care enough to send the very best.” The Jerusalem church was a “Hallmark” church. Because they cared for the new church in Antioch, they sent one of their very best leaders (Acts 11:22). His name was Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, but the apostles called him Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement” (4:36).
Barnabas traveled to Antioch and encouraged the new Christians to remain true to the Lord and to do their very best. A “great number” of people turned to the Lord as a result of Barnabas’s heartwarming ministry of encouragement (11:24). Encouragement is an essential element of church growth.
The word encourage and its equivalent appear more than 100 times in the Bible. Sometimes it is translated exhort and it means, “giving inspiration to hope and service.” Is there a church today that could not benefit from the ministry of an encourager like Barnabas? George M. Adams said, “We should seize every opportunity to give encouragement. It is oxygen to the soul.”
The Need for Encouragement
Last year I was admitted to the hospital twice because I was suffering from pneumonia. For the first time in my life I had to be on oxygen day and night. We might say the world is not getting enough oxygen today (the oxygen of encouragement). Every day newspapers, talk radio, and 24-hour cable news stations report discouraging events and happenings. The constant drumbeat of discouraging news exacerbates fear, anxiety, worry, and concern. People are drained of faith and courage.
Our fleshly nature lends itself to discouragement rather than encouragement. When we focus on self, the tendency is to become discouraged. When we focus on others, we can get discouraged because we do not think we measure up to them or their perceived success in life. When we focus on our problems, they seem almost insurmountable. Someone has said, “Discouragement is disenchanted egotism.”
Sometimes even the church can be a discouraging place. We get beat up through the week and then go to church where we sometimes get beat up once again. It has been said that when a person is down, an ounce of help is better than a pound of preaching. We need a breath of fresh air—and encouragement is the needed oxygen for our souls.
Paul encouraged the church to be encouragers. “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The prophet Isaiah describes the human condition and the divine remedy: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . he will come to save you’” (Isaiah 35:3, 4).
Sources of Encouragement
We won’t find encouragement in the world, our fleshly nature, or environments that are constantly accusatory and negative. So where do we look for “inspiration to hope and service”?
The Word of God is the prime source of encouragement. In 2002 I made a trip to
Zimbabwe, Africa. The situation there was extremely bleak because of a cruel and oppressive dictatorship. Food was scarce, prices were high, and farmers had been driven from their land. I preached a message of hope from the book of Habakkuk. The ancient prophet offered seven “rays of hope” to people under similar circumstances. One Christian lady took copious notes of the sermon, saying, “This is exactly what we need right now! I’m going to share this with all my friends and neighbors.”
Joshua was told that he would find strength and courage from the Word of God (Joshua 1:6-9). Romans 15:4 says it is through “the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures” that we have hope. The Christians at Thessalonica were told to “encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Preaching, teaching, and sharing the Word of God with fellow Christians is a tremendous source of encouragement.
The Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, is another great source of encouragement. Following the conversion of Saul, the one-time “Terror of Tarsus,” the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). The Holy Spirit is the promised Comforter (Helper, Counselor, Advocate) who stands by us and stays with us forever (John 14:16, 17). He transforms us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), strengthens our inner life (Ephesians 3:16), sheds abroad God’s love through us (Romans 5:5), produces a lovely cluster of ninefold fruit (Galatians 5:22, 23), helps us understand Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14), aids us in our prayer life (Romans 8:26), and grants assurance of our right relationship with God (1 John 4:13). Talk about encouragement! Where would we be without the Holy Spirit?
We also get encouragement from being with Spirit-filled believers. Barnabas was one of the best in the business. He was a generous, infectious, and magnanimous individual.
Encouragement is one of the eight gifts Paul mentioned in Romans 12:3-8. It means, “to come alongside of in order to give aid.” It has been said that more people fail for lack of encouragement than for any other reason. Thomas Carlyle said, “Tell a man he is brave, and you help him to become so.” Scripture encourages us to be encouragers (Hebrews 3:13).
Working with God
George MacDonald said, “If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.” Isaiah declared, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary” (Isaiah 50:4). We must be careful in our choice of words. Several years ago a reporter used the word chubby to describe Karen Carpenter. That one word started Carpenter, a wonderful singer, down the anorexic road that led to her death. Proclaimers need to speak “so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31).
Never forget the power of visitation, a physical touch, and a word of cheer. The apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. One day the living Christ appeared to John, who fell at his feet as though dead. John testified, “Then he placed his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid” (Revelation 1:17).
Christians are the only Christ some will ever hear or feel. Sometimes just your presence or touch is all the encouragement others need.
In addition to proclamation and visitation there is affirmation. Several years ago I placed a small card next to my office telephone that read, “Affirm people.” People need to know they have worth and their life has value and meaning. People blossom under praise but wither under criticism. My wife loves to send encouragement cards to people. Mark Twain said he could live two weeks on one good compliment. My friend Charlie Gash carries a pocket notebook and calls dozens of old friends every Saturday. Chuck Swindoll said, “Encouragement is awesome. It can actually change the course of another person’s day, week, or life.” When you say “Well done!” to a person who has done a good work, you have boosted her morale beyond comprehension.
Interceding for Others
Paul told Philemon, “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philemon 1:22). Christians have the great privilege of intercessory prayer (1 Timothy 2:1). When you have prayed for others, let them know you have prayed for them. Our hospitals, nursing homes, and neighborhoods are filled with people who need prayer—and most would not refuse a prayer if you offered to pray for them. In 45 years of ministry, no one has ever said “No!” when I asked if it would be all right if I prayed for him or her.
Many are floundering and failing today for lack of encouragement. They need oxygen for their souls. You are the keeper of the oxygen bottles. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, Missouri.
Encouraged to Gain New Perspective
Jesus’ life on earth was marked by his encouragement of others. But more often than not, Jesus didn’t encourage in ways people expected. When people asked Jesus questions, he told stories. These parables encouraged people (then and now) to take on new perspectives.
Take time to study Jesus’ parables:
Inverted by Tom Ellsworth
When lived out, Jesus’ words will cause us to become grateful, compassionate, forgiving, gracious, faithful, authentic, perceptive, and vigilant. Now that’s encouraging!
Find out more: www.standardpub.com