Gary was having a yard sale. A minister bought a lawn mower but returned it a few days later, complaining that it wouldn’t run. “It’ll run,” said Gary. “But you have to curse at it to get it started.” The minister was shocked. “I have not uttered a curse in 30 years.”
“Just keep pulling on the starter rope—the words will come back to you.”
According to Murphy, things that can go wrong, do go wrong: The other line at the store always moves faster than the one you’re in.
The chance of the bread falling with the peanut butter side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet it is falling toward. No matter how long or hard you shop for an item—after you’ve bought it, you will see it on sale somewhere else cheaper. Any tool dropped while fixing a car will roll underneath to the exact center of the car. You’ll remember that you forgot to take out the trash when the garbage truck is two doors away.
There are even teen versions of Murphy’s pessimistic list. For example: The shortest distance between two classes never takes you near your locker. Even the most absent-minded teachers never forget a test. According to Murphy, the world is a discouraging place.
But scripture says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, encouraging one another.”
One dad remembers when one of his children opened his eyes to being more encouraging. “When Ryan was a toddler, she said to me one time, ‘Daddy, talk to me like you talk to Jake (our dog).’ I had to think, ‘What is she saying to me – talk to me like you talk to Jake.’ And then I understood that when I talked to Jake, I used a real high-pitched, loving voice, telling him what a good boy he was. And I was barking at her, ‘Don’t. Stop. Quit.’” It’s amazing how easy it is to move into a way of doing that undoes us or someone else.
The fact is, thinking negatively is second nature to a lot of people. We often do it and don’t even realize we’re doing it. Someone drives poorly it’s because they’re a poor driver. When we drive poorly, it’s just a momentary mistake. We may blame another while rarely faulting ourselves? Criticizing others is often simply a negative habit. Being attracted to drama is negativity
being given a stage again and again. Having a victim mentality means a person continually believes there are larger negative forces at work in his or her life. Don’t slip into something more negative. Do the opposite.
We need to have more heart. And we should put more heart into others. That’s exactly what encouragement means, by the way. To encourage is to put heart into someone, because courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor. “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today…” scripture says.
Believe you are much more in control, first of yourself and, second, because you’re in control of yourself, you’re in more control of what happens next. Replace criticism with compliments. This is how you will grow into being an encourager. If an encouraging thought comes to mind, share it! It may not have the same effect if you wait. When you introduce someone, add a few words of praise for the person’s abilities, accomplishments, about how they’ve helped you. It’s encouraging to be praised in front of others.
There are different ways of being an encouraging person. It’s not always about words. Actions do the trick also.
One person tells us: “My husband is a tractor-trailer driver and he dreads runs to New York City. His greatest fear was realized one day when his rig broke down on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. At 4:30pm after he’d been waiting for assistance for over an hour, a police car stopped, and the officer called a tow truck for my husband. More hours passed. Then at 8:30 a young man stopped his car and walked over to the truck. He handed my husband a white bag with the familiar golden arches and said, ‘I saw you here about 4 o’clock, and I saw that you were still here when I went by again a half-hour ago. I thought you might be hungry by now.’ With that he gave my husband the bag and drove away. The tow truck got there a little before 10pm.”
You know who a great person is? It’s the person who makes others feel great. God doesn’t have all of us set up for a greatness that will cause historians to write our story decades from now. Greatness comes by being in the long, long line of encouragers whom God has used forever to keep hope and goodness alive. Ours is a shared project. Yours is a sacred duty to bring the heart and keep the heart and grow the heart in an often heartless world.
When it comes to scripture, Barnabas seems like a minor character. But he was very important, at least at first. In Acts 4:36, Luke tells us that the
apostles gave Joseph the name Barnabas because it meant “son of encouragement.” The very next verse says, “He sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Why did he do this? So the earliest church could meet the needs of the poor among them. This is what Luke associates with Barnabas’ being a “son of encouragement.”
I wonder if you had a nickname, what would it be? What would you like it to be? Of course, we would have to be someone who has more of the good than the bad, otherwise the whole nickname thing could turn on us. Although I’ve got to say, having known so many people as a pastor, folks have a way of looking on the bright side of each other, seeing the good and resigning the negative to the waste basket of personal idiosyncratic history. We’re pretty kind to each other, when it’s all said and done. But we definitely want to live so that it’s an easy decision for people to give us a good nickname. Offer more to others. Play up your good side. Put the dark stuff away. Let your light shine.
The truth is there were a number of leaders in the early church, but few were as humble and influential as Barnabas. Acts 11:24 uses a whole verse to describe his character and the effects of his ministry: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
When the church in Jerusalem heard that a church had been planted in Antioch, the one man that they thought would be a good encourager for the new Gentile believers was Barnabas. Barnabas could always find something good say. So Acts 11:23 says, “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad.” He had a good eye and a glad heart for the potential of grace. The church was new and imperfect, but Barnabas saw the work of grace and it made him happy.
Our lives are always imperfect. That’s a given. The question is do we still see God’s grace in spite of imperfections abounding. Keeping hold of gladness isn’t all that easy. We need to be flexible. In fact, people who’re less flexible will be less happy, less encouraged and obviously less encouraging. Be careful when you find yourself talking in absolutes like nothing, never, everyone and everything. This black-and-white world view is rigid and doesn’t permit room for imperfections and God’s grace to be in the same place at the same time. It’s either one or the other—and we know which one usually wins out.
Let go of such words. You’re able to see how things can be more than one way at a time. Find a silver lining so that if something isn’t good right now, you can see how the Lord is going to turn things around. Have faith that what you can’t see yet will come to pass. God doesn’t do magic but miracles, at least seen from our very limited view, are what the Lord works all the time.
When Paul was a new convert he also went to Jerusalem and tried to contact the believers there, but he was known as a Christian hater. He was the one who stood watching and giving approval of Stephen’s stoning not long ago. What if he was just pretending to be a believer in Christ? What if he was only trying to find and arrest them? Not surprisingly the disciples were all afraid of him! Barnabas saw what was happening. He took him with him to the apostles. He became Saul’s advocate and they accepted him.
Barnabas insisted on believing the best of others. When others suspected Saul of being a spy, Barnabas believed Paul was genuine. The world is largely divided into those who think best of others and those who think the worst, between those who give the benefit of the doubt and those who hold to their doubts.
We owe a lot to Barnabas—at least two Christians whose legacies are foundational to our faith: Paul, who went on to write 14 epistles, and Mark, who wrote the earliest Gospel in the Bible. This means Barnabas gets an assist on almost half of the New Testament, even if he didn’t write a single thing. In Acts 13:1–3, Barnabas and Paul (Saul) are appointed for a missionary journey to Cyprus and Galatia. When they arrived at the city of Paphos on the island of Cyprus, the proconsul invites them to speak to him, and in Acts 13:7 Barnabas still has the honor of first place: “He summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” We see however things change in verse 13. Luke says, “Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos.” Barnabas is not even mentioned. In verse 16 it is Paul not Barnabas who delivers the sermon in Antioch of Pisidia. When both are mentioned, it is now “Paul and Barnabas,” not “Barnabas and Paul.” Barnabas’ sun had been eclipsed.
One could easily guess that it meant nothing to him.
Barnabas was famous in his day because he gave heart to others by being generous, affirming God’s grace among them, standing with someone
when they needed another to believe the best in him, and being humble. You could call this the Barnabas Effect.
Be generous in all the ways you can. Believe in silver linings. Know the Lord is turning things the best way. See where God’s grace is having an impact, even if not everything is perfect. Be an encourager. Stand up for others when they need an ally. Have courage. Give heart. Keep to the positive.
Can the church say Amen?