Think of the last time you were encouraged, genuinely, deeply encouraged, by someone. Pretty sweet, wasn’t it? We all need encouragement in our lives, and we all need to learn to be encouragers of each other.
If we would learn to be a better encourager by example, there’s none better than one of the first followers of Jesus named Joseph. Wait, you probably don’t even recognize his given name Joseph, but his nickname Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” That’s the kind of guy he was, a man known for his encouragement. His encouragement was so important to the church that he is mentioned by name 33 times in the New Testament, more than anyone else who wasn’t an apostle.
So, how did Barnabas do encouragement? Studying him, it’s clear that he was known as a God-focused encourager. No matter where he went or what he did, his heart remained focused on God, and his encouragement to others flowed from a heart filled from God and with God.
There is one key verse in Acts that gives us some clear yet concise insight as to why Barnabas was such an effective encourager:
When Barnabas came (to Antioch) and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. (Acts 11:23)
First, we see that Barnabas let God lead him to people. He did not wait for someone to come to him. He traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch with the specific purpose to encourage the Christians there. The Bible records that the church in Jerusalem specifically asked him to go to Antioch. If we are focused on God, He will guide us to people to encourage, either through the guiding of our church or friends or circumstances or through the Spirit. Don’t you think that God has someone for you to encourage today? If you remain focused on Him He will show you who.
After he came to Antioch Barnabas saw what God was doing. One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is, “What is God doing in the life of this person? Where is God at work?” Being a God-focused encourager doesn’t mean throwing out generic “Have a great day, hang in there, trust in God, blah blah blah” cliches. It means taking the time to listen, to observe, and to ask God to show you a person’s true need.
We next see that Barnabas was filled with joy at seeing God’s grace. The old saying goes that there is more “caught” than “taught.” That principle is absolutely essential in encouragement. As we move into another person’s life, our hearts should be filled with God’s joy. Seeing who God is and where He is moving in another person’s life is incredibly energizing and empowering. Sharing our joy in God with both our words and our lives is the most powerful encouragement we can ever give to each other.
Finally, we see that Barnabas encouraged others to be God focused. We all need encouragement in every aspect of our lives. I’m sure Barnabas was known for saying things like, “Say, have you lost a few pounds?” “That’s a great job you did with your house.” “You’ve got a great sense of humor.” “That’s the best stew I’ve had all month!” But most of all, he was known for encouraging people to look to God in all they did. Being a faithful Christian was a terribly hard thing in 1st century Palestine, but Barnabas clearly saw both the challenge of leading a faithful, God-focused life and the absolute necessity of it.
So, will you be like Barnabas today? Will you be God-focused enough to let Him lead you to the people that you can uniquely impact, to see what God is doing in their lives, to move with joy into their lives, and encourage them to fix their eyes on God? I know, it sounds like a tall order, but as you let God guide and empower you He will surely accomplish great things through you for His glory.