The Encouragers

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Easter Sunday 2
April 11, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Life includes plenty of sources of discouragement, but encouraging others is a true Christian ministry. We can encourage others by building them up, praying for them, stating the vision and offering direct words of encouragement.

Remember the old cowboy song "Home on the Range"? It sings of a place "Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day."

Well, where is that place? Lord knows there is no shortage of discouraging words in our lives today. All you've got to do is check the daily news to get a whole passel of them. One man says that he won't even watch the nighttime news, because it's too much bad news right before going to sleep. He says that it is not that he doesn't care what's going on in the world, but that his energies are too low at that time of day to handle more bad news. Discouraging words are draining.

Actually, isn't it true that some of us come to church in part to hear an encouraging word? Most of us have enough downers going on that we yearn for a true word of encouragement.

What's more, we'd like to be able to offer some real encouragement to others. In fact, to do so is a real Christian ministry.


But where does encouragement come from? Often, it comes from other people.

Think about the first-century Christians. According to our reading, "There was not a needy person among them." That's because those who owned property sold it and handed the proceeds to the apostles for distribution "to each as any had need." With that kind of news, those early Christians could sleep without a troubled mind.

If we read the next two verses beyond those assigned for today, we find an example of one of those people who sold property and gave the money to the apostles for the good of others. His name was Barnabas. He will play an important role further on in the book of Acts as a companion on Paul's first preaching tour, but we first meet him here as a believer who demonstrates the depth of his faith by giving his money away for the common good. In Acts, he's eventually overshadowed by Paul, but Barnabas was a believer long before Paul was on the scene. In fact, Barnabas was the person who brought the newly converted Paul to the larger church community.1

Barnabas actually was a nickname. The man's given name was Joseph. But the apostles called him Barnabas, because it meant "Son of Encouragement."

What a great name! Barnabas must have had a real gift for encouraging people when they needed it. In fact, the passage for today tells us that Barnabas sold a field he owned and gave the money to the church to help those members who were in need.

Some time later, after the persecution of Christians caused many believers to leave their hometowns and settle elsewhere, the Christians started telling their new neighbors about Jesus, and some were converted. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of this, they sent Barnabas to help, and the Bible points out that Barnabas encouraged these new converts to remain true to the Lord.2

The ability to truly encourage other people is not a gift given to everyone. If it were, nobody would have bothered nicknaming Barnabas, because his ability would have been so common. No, he was noted as an encourager precisely because the gift is fairly uncommon. Nonetheless, all of us who claim the name of Christ can notch up our ability to encourage others. After all, contrary to popular pessimism, no news is not good news. Good news is good news, and if we who know the Good News of the Gospel and don't spread it around, who will?

Well, how can we boost our encourager quotient? Let's talk specifics:

Build people up

First, we can build people up. In Ephesians, Paul wrote, "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."3 What good advice! Say what is useful for building people up. It's so easy to find things to say to tear people down, but God's word here tells us to do just the opposite.

One of the things many congregations are very good at is building children up. Most of the time, when a child does something in church - such as sing a solo - adults are quick to lavish praise. And kids need that. In school, often it's only the "stars," those who excel in sports or music or academics, who get the praise. But in church, we hand it out more freely. And that should be a model for how we deal with adults in the other areas of our life, too. A lot of people are carrying big loads on their shoulders - or have heavy hearts. A word of praise can be very encouraging.

Next time a good word about someone passes you by, why not latch onto it and pass it along to that individual? What if Christians were known as people who surprise others with good news?

Pray for people

Another form Christian encouragement can take is prayer. There are people who contact others periodically just to say, "I'm praying for you." The only agenda in these calls is encouragement. These conversations are rarely longer than three minutes. But the lift they give can last for days. You can pray for people and let them know you are doing so.

To pray for others means we have to think about who needs our prayers. As a result, we end up thinking about others maybe more than we'd do if we didn't pray. So prayer helps us to see those in need.

Several years ago, Lloyd John Ogilvie, the then newly appointed U.S. Senate Chaplain, wrote that the previous year had been the most difficult one of his life. His wife had undergone five major surgeries, radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Several key staff teammates moved on to other assignments, which added pressure and uncertainty to Ogilvie's work. Problems which he could have tackled with gusto under normal circumstances seemed to loom in all directions. Discouragement lurked around every corner. Prayer was no longer a contemplative luxury, but the only way to survive. He adds:

My own intercessions were multiplied by the prayers of others. Friendships were deepened as I was forced to allow people to assure me with words I had preached for years. No day went by without a conversation, letter or phone call giving me love and hope. The greatest discovery is that I can have joy when I don't feel like it.4

State the vision

We forget sometimes, in the midst of discouragement why we've made certain choices and decisions. "Why did I ever decide to become a teacher?" "Why did I ever agree to teach a Sunday school class?" "Why didn't I stay single?" "Why didn't I take that job which promised more money?"And so forth. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the view of life we had when we committed ourselves to the directions we've chosen.

I can imagine the apostle Paul, after being flogged and run out of yet another town saying, "What made me think I could make them understand about Jesus?" and Barnabas gently reminding him about the time Paul saw the Lord in a vision on the road to Damascus.

The writer to the Hebrews says, "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds."5 Sometimes we just need someone to tell us again about the meaning of following Christ.

Offer direct words of encouragement

Wilfred Reynolds, a Christian writer from Illinois, tells of being in the public library one day when he was disturbed by a woman at a nearby table who was talking to herself in loud tones and gesturing freely. She didn't appear to be focused on anything in particular, but her tone became more and more strident. Clearly, the woman was not in touch with reality. Eventually the woman got up and left, making little chopping motions with her hands, as though giving a speech.

It happened that while all this was taking place, a young man came in, sat down at the same table with Reynolds and saw what was going on. This young man had a physical handicap - probably cerebral palsy - which contorted his facial features and made him walk with difficulty.

After the ranting woman left, there was an awkward moment that seemed to invite comment. Reynolds turned to the young man and said, "I imagine people like that have a lot of loneliness. It's likely they need human companionship an awful lot, but probably drive it away. It's a vicious circle."

At that moment, seeing the physical difficulties of the young man, it dawned on Reynolds that it was insensitive to address those remarks to this particular person. But the young man responded:

Everybody has their problems. But every time you stand up under a hard experience, you're a little tougher and better able to handle the other things down the road. The trouble is, lots of people give up too easily. They give up and get buried under it, and they expect someone else to solve their problems for them. If God wants anything for people, God wants them to keep going. I think that's where God's inspiration comes in, in knowing that God wants you to keep trying ... no matter what.

The man then added, "Don't give up. Don't you give up."

Reynolds writes that he didn't know how the young man knew he - Reynolds - needed to be encouraged just then, but somehow he did.6

Apparently this man, living every minute with a body that wouldn't serve him very well and that made him an object of pity, had learned something that made him a Barnabas, a son of encouragement.

With the ups and downs life brings, there are times when all of us can best fulfill Christ's call to love our neighbor by being a Barnabas to them - offering the encouraging word.

And there are other times when we are the ones who need to hear that word. For those of you who may be in that position today, let me be a Barnabas for you.

Don't give up. Don't you give up.