By Kayleen Reusser
If you’ve never given much credence to the act of encouragement, consider that if not for it, we may not have one of the books in the Bible.
John Mark was a young man whose family home was one of the first meeting places of the early church. Peter made his way there after his miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:12). John Mark’s cousin Barnabas, a leader of the Christian church, introduced Saul of Tarsus to John Mark’s household. It must have seemed natural for Saul and Barnabas to invite John Mark, always underfoot and possibly eager to work for the Lord, to accompany them on their first missionary journey (12:25).
Perhaps anticipating excitement and adventure as the crew sailed for unknown places, John Mark may have expected to find an unending amount of inspiration in the service of Christ.
Discouragement Affects Decisions
Things likely didn’t go as John Mark had imagined. I picture that he was thrilled by the invitation to leave his family and home, yet was disillusioned to discover the trek was long, difficult, and uncomfortable. John Mark might have been afraid during the journey, especially as Paul’s uncompromising fearlessness aroused the bitterness of some Jewish leaders. Boredom, seasickness, homesickness, the need for an unflagging amount of faith in God’s plan, maybe an unrequited desire to preach the gospel—any number of factors could have combined to convince John Mark to abandon his mentors and return home. “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).
Thankfully, John Mark’s spiritual attitude improved. Two years later, he was older, wiser, and more equipped to venture out again in the goal of spreading the gospel. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance, but Paul did not. Sadly, the two men quarreled and separated. “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. The two had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus” (Acts 15:37-39).
Despite the conflict with his friend, Barnabas, whose name means “Encourager,” used the opportunity to strengthen John Mark’s confidence and spiritual and emotional well-being.
Discouragement Affects Leadership
For the rest of his life John Mark would be known as the one who caused a great division between the two Christian leaders. He may have carried that guilt forever if not for Barnabas’ encouragement that all was not lost. Barnabas would have emphasized to John Mark that he was not inferior because he had erred. John Mark could be assured that he, like every human, was fashioned by God as one of his finest creatures (Genesis 1:26).
Barnabas’s divine efforts were not in vain. John Mark must have exhibited such Christlike behavior and leadership that eventually even Paul was impressed by the changes. When certain churches hesitated at accepting John Mark’s presence, Paul commanded that they receive him into fellowship. “You have received instructions about him [Mark]; if he comes to you, welcome him” (Colossians 4:10).
The younger man’s heart must have jumped when he was told about Paul’s words to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). The great apostle who had previously refused to recognize John Mark’s value in Christ’s ministry now eagerly requested his service.
John Mark responded as Paul could have hoped. Later John Mark recorded encounters he heard among the disciples regarding Jesus’ ministry into a collection of writings that eventually became known as the Gospel of Mark.
Forgiveness Leads to Encouragement
Sometimes encouragement is tied to forgiveness. When Peggy Littell’s missionary husband, Matt, was killed by a Philippine jeepney (a small bus made from a jeep), she grieved but was compassionate. In the Philippines the person who causes a death is imprisoned until the matter is resolved. Peggy knew the driver’s family would go hungry without his income. Despite her pain, she asked a church member to go to the police station to have the jeepney driver released.
The next night during her husband’s funeral viewing, the jeepney driver arrived to thank Peggy for her thoughtfulness with his release. She told him she did not blame him for her husband’s death, and she encouraged him to know Jesus Christ as his Savior.
The next Sunday the man arrived at church with his family. His wife and mother sobbed their gratitude to Peggy. Each Sunday afterward the jeepney driver brought his family and friends to church in the same vehicle that had killed Peggy’s husband. After some time, they all accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Despite her intense sorrow, Peggy forgave the driver who had caused her husband’s death. This enabled him to understand the love of Jesus and encouraged him to act upon that love.
God demonstrates the tandem practices of forgiveness and encouragement. Zechariah wrote about God’s forgiveness to the people of Jerusalem after they turned from lives of sin and idolatry to live in peace and honesty: “I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God” (Zechariah 8:8).
God’s Promises Bring Security
In the movie Mary Poppins, two lonely children become enthralled with their new nursemaid. One night after a particularly exciting day, they implore her, “Promise you’ll never leave us!”
Mary Poppins replies wisely, “That’s a pie crust promise—easily made, easily broken.”
People crave stability. Unfortunately most of us have had to deal with discouragement and upheaval—a friend’s promise that crumbles; a business partner who absconds with company funds; a spouse who decides he/she is happier living with someone else. Challenging circumstances leave us frustrated, miserable, and ready to give up. Life can deal powerful blows that cause us to emotionally lose our footing from what was once a solid stance.
God’s promises in Psalm 94:18, 19 securely hold us up: “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
When life’s circumstances cause us to feel shaky, we can call out to God for help. His love for us is unfailing, and he is always there to support us when we slip.
“For great is his love toward us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 117:2).
Challenges and trials can make us feel uncertain, but God is faithful to hold us up as we trust in him. God gave us the supreme example of forgiveness and ultimate encouragement when he sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins (John 3:16).
Encouragement helps people try for a second chance in life. Think of what people could accomplish for God if we offered them encouragement. Whom do you need to encourage today?
Kayleen Reusser is a freelance writer in Bluffton, Indiana.
5 People Who Need Your Encouragement
1. Your kids.
2. Your parents.
3. Your spouse.
4. Your neighbors and the people you work closely with.
5. Your minister and church staff.
5 Ways to Encourage Others
1. Say thank you for something specific.
2. Give a hug.
3. Say, “I’m proud of you.”
4. Listen and ask thoughtful questions.
5. Take on a mundane task for someone who’s overworked.
5 Ways to Jumpstart the Encouragement Habit
1. Put names of people you want to encourage in a hat; draw one out each day.
2. Schedule days of the week for each person on your encouragement list.
3. Have your small group help brainstorm ways to encourage people in your life; then have them hold you accountable.
4. Challenge yourself to pay back encouragement to people who’ve encouraged you in the past; you can even make a checklist.
5. Start the day by telling yourself something encouraging; if you appreciate yourself, you’ll be more likely to show appreciation to others.