The right words at the right time have the ability to make an incredible impact. I recently read the following story that illustrates the power of encouraging words. The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?” (Bits & Pieces, July 1991)
Example of Powerful Encouragement
Encouragement changed this young boy’s entire outlook on life. One day he had no hope. The next he was given hope through simple encouragement. Barnabas was a man who made a huge impact on the early church. His name means, son of encouragement (Acts 4:36). His name sums up what he did with his life. The first thing we see him do is to make a financial sacrifice. He sold a plot of land and gave the proceeds to the apostles to use for the edification of the church.
Just 5 chapters later we see Barnabas take a substantial risk to bring Paul into the Jerusalem church. You can understand why the Jerusalem church wasn’t laying out the red carpet for Paul. Before Jesus changed Paul’s name he was known as Saul, “The Persecutor of the Church”. Then Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus and Saul became Paul, “A Preacher for Christ.” There was still great distrust of this man Paul. But Barnabas took the risk and spoke with Paul. Paul shared his testimony with him and Barnabas took action to bring this new brother into fellowship with the church that Paul formerly had sought to destroy.
When the early church saw the need for leadership in a growing but struggling church in Antioch they chose Barnabas as the man for the job (Acts 11:22). The church began to grow and they needed another pastor to care for the people. Barnabas probably could have had his pick on anyone in the church but he chose to seek out Paul. It took him quite some time to find Paul who had gone home to Tarsus to share the gospel. Barnabas brought Paul back to the church in Antioch where they together earned the nickname, “Christians.” (Acts 11:26).
It wasn’t long until God called Barnabas and Paul to expand their ministry. They travelled together on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:4). When it came time to leave for the second missionary journey they had a hot dispute over a young man, John Mark, that had abandoned them on their first missionary journey. This dispute caused them to part ways (Acts 15:39). Paul traveled with Silas and Barnabas traveled with John Mark. Barnabas made quite an impact on John Mark because at the end of his life Paul asked, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).”
Why was there such a change? Because of one man Barnabas, the son of encouragement. Throughout the biblical record of Barnabas we see him continually at the work of encouraging. The impact of his life is astounding. We see the growth of the church in Jerusalem, the growth of the church in Antioch, the growth of the church in the uttermost parts of the earth, as he travelled as a missionary, the growth and acceptance of Paul, the writer of the majority of the New Testament, all because he chose to make encouragement an important part of his life.
Implementing Powerful Encouragement
I believe that encouragement is one of the most powerful and yet least accessed tools in the arsenal of the church. If encouragement is so powerful why don’t we utilize it more often? I believe it is due to the consumer driven attitude of many people in the church. Church to these people is about what it offers to them. Their focus in the church revolves around what they get out of church. How does the worship style, children’s program, preacher, etc., serve or help me? This attitude breeds a culture of selfishness. “It’s all about me.” But the church isn’t about the individuals, programs, worship, or even the preacher. It’s about the glory of God.
How can you and I make an impact by encouraging? When you join a church leave your “wants” at the door (Ephesians 5:21). The church isn’t about serving you its about serving Christ. The best way to establish this attitude of service is through our encouraging speech and attitudes (Ephesians 4:32). This attitude of encouragement has been something that the Lord has been working in my heart about for quite a while. I have been encouraged to see growth in my ability to give encouragement. I have been impressed by the power of simple encouraging words. Here are a few phrases that I have seen work wonders; “You are very good at …” “God has gifted you in …” “You are a blessing to me.” “God has amazing plans for you.” “God is doing great things with your service.” This list could go on and on. I wrote these things out so that you can see just how easy it is to encourage. As Harvest Baptist Church lets make a goal to live focused on serving others through encouragement and not on what the church or others can give to me. I believe that if our church would grow in encouraging each other, we would see God do some amazing things.