Rev. Dr. Loren L. Nielsen
This past summer I had rotator cuff surgery on my shoulder. The surgery went well but recovery and rehab were another story. I was always hurting. I had a hard time sleeping. I couldn’t drive the car for the longest time. It seemed all I could do was watch the weeds grow in our flower garden.
One day I unloaded on Mark, my physical therapist. I was discouraged. He listened. He had good tips on how to manage the pain. Then he said, “Loren, I hear what you are saying. The program you are on works. It will get better!” And he was right.
Sooner or later all of us hunger for words of encouragement. We need to hear from a trusted friend that the struggles we are going through will get better. Encouragement is so simple. Yet, it has such great power to enliven others. It stirs up in us courage, hope and faith to move on even during difficult times. Encouragement is one of the tools that all leaders of the church need to practice. It brings Good News of God’s care.
We don’t know much about Barnabas except a few references in the Book of Acts. Some scholars labeled him the “Son of Encouragement.” I can see why. The early church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was going on. God was at work in a new way. Were these new Christians faithful and authentic? This is what Barnabas discovered:
When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion…. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch
Barnabas encouraged those early Christians. They pressed on with greater zeal because others now supported them in their ministry. They were not alone.
Why did Barnabas go looking for Saul? Was Saul drifting away from the faith? Was he becoming a loner? We don’t know the reason why Barnabas went looking for Saul. When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. The church surrounded them with the love of Christ. Encouragement prepared them for their upcoming missionary journeys.
Members of Congregation Councils, rostered leaders, and faithful members of committees should make it a high priority to practice encouragement in all they do. What might that look like? I’ve noticed that most encouragers focus on personal relationships. They have good eye contact. They know how to read the feelings of others. They listen to what others are saying, never giving false hope but linking them to the promises of God. Encouragers are mindful that they are the presence of the Lord.
Page through the scriptures, listen to the words of Jesus and Paul, reflect on the Psalms, and sing a hymn like Lord of All Hopefulness (ELW 765). These things will help us sharpen our skills of how to encourage.
Remember, someone close to you needs to hear, “It will