There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)
He was named Joseph. When the people in his church saw the way he lived, they changed his name. They started to call him Barnabas, which means “Son of encouragement.” There’s not a lot of detail about what prompted the change, but it’s always filled me with admiration for the guy because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need encouragement.
We read about Joseph/Barnabas, in the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles. If biblical casting awards were given, he’d be a supporting actor at best. Maybe a cameo role. His fifteen minutes of fame have to do with the ministry he shared with St. Paul. He introduced Paul to Christian communities suspicious of the recent convert. Together, Paul and Barnabas traveled from town to town, establishing new congregations. We read about their successes. We don’t read much about the failures, but I’m guessing that their holy sales job would call for lots of encouragement. Truth be told, I don’t think Paul was particularly easy to get along with. Paul and Barnabas ultimately parted ways over a disagreement. (Can you imagine such a thing happening in the church?) We don’t hear much more about Barnabas.
Barnabas came to mind because the word “encouragement” has come up in several different contexts lately, a sign to me from the Spirit that I should pay attention. It has at its core the word “courage”. Our work with congregations is focused on spiritual growth understood as a deepening love of God and neighbor. In other words, spiritual growth is a matter of the heart. And the word “courage” is also really about heart. (Note that the French word for heart is coeur.) To encourage, to be encouraged, is a matter of spiritual growth. It is a matter of the heart. While news headlines and poll results can be disheartening, I am encouraged by what I see as I move around the church.
I just came back from 3 days with 75 teenagers, a retreat/event/happening having to do with growth in love of God and neighbor. I guess I was a leader, but I really was a learner from these young people who led the weekend, and showed great courage, showed great heart. They encouraged each other, and they encouraged me. I came away encouraged about the future of our church. It was beautiful. Inspiring. So I’m wondering in my slightly sleep deprived state: How can we all participate in the process of encouragement?
In this season of Lent, marked by a call to self-examination, take this Monday morning to think about encouragement. Give thanks for those who have encouraged you in your journey. Maybe as a Lenten discipline, let those folks know that they have in some way widened your heart and helped you grow.
Think about who you might encourage in the spiritual journey. Maybe there is someone who comes immediately to mind. Maybe not. If the latter is the case, ask God to cause someone to cross your path, someone who could use encouragement. They are all over the place. It may be that our eyes need to be opened to that opportunity.
And as the week begins in this season of repentance, think about a time when have you been discouraged. What caused that to happen? How were you lifted out of that? Did you ever have a discouraging influence on someone? Newsflash: It’s a clergy pitfall. I occasionally run across a prayer in the Psalms that offers this chilling plea: “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me.” As I consider the number of people I meet who have been wounded by organized religion, I fear for my own participation in hampering the spiritual growth of others. I want to repent of the ways I have missed the opportunity to encourage.
Our service of Holy Eucharist ends each week with a prayer that we will be sent into the world with strength and courage, to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart. That is a beautiful description of what it means to practice the gift of encouragement. It’s a gift we each have, one that we use sometimes, sometimes not.
How will you put that gift to work today? Let me sharpen the question: How is God calling you to put that gift to work today?
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.– Romans 15
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy.-Philippians 2:1
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.-I Thessalonians 5
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