What Encouragement Can Do?

-Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Yesterday, I read a blog from a woman who is a teacher to teenagers.  Her purpose in the blog was to help others to see how vital their role can be in helping people (teens in particular) to address the uncertainty within their lives.  I came away from the article thinking: What a gift this woman is to those teens!  She recognizes the areas of uncertainty in their lives, and then speaks to those places with words of encouragement.

This blog started me on a path of wondering: What would the world look like if we intentionally practiced encouraging one another?

It seems to me, at least in my life experience, that it is rare to find those who are willing to build others up.

I am from stoic German stock.  My upbringing did not include a great deal of encouragement, and therefore, I did not learn how to encourage others.  It has only come from experience and a sense of letting go of myself that I’ve learned that to encourage others does not take anything away from me.  Rather the ability to encourage others is a gift of incredible worth.  Encouragement is not a natural part of me, but I’ve noticed that when I do give unwarranted (albeit clumsy) encouragement, I am amazed at the change that comes over the other person, almost immediately.  I can predict the reaction.  These people often respond in a surprised way, and then begin to soften and move to a confidence that wasn’t previously visible.

When I think of encouragement, I’m reminded of the story of Paul and Barnabas:

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41 NIV

If you remember, John Mark had gone with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.  But somewhere along the way, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem.  (Acts 13:13) Nothing is said about his reasons for leaving, but it wasn’t that far along in the journey when he went home.  Amongst scholar’s there is quite a bit of speculation, but no one really knows.

So fast forward to the time when Paul and Barnabas are planning their next missionary journey.  Barnabas wants to take John Mark again, but Paul says, “Nope.”  They split, and the rest is history.  Barnabas goes into obscurity, and Paul is used by God to evangelize the western world.

But it really isn’t the end of the story.  We know about John Mark from sporadic New Testament accounts.  His life is an illustration of reconciliation and restoration.  For instance, at the end of Paul’s life, he views John Mark as one of his faithful companions. (2 Timothy 4:11)

What happened?

Barnabas is often credited with the gift of encouragement.  Sometime after Paul’s conversion, Barnabas sought out Paul (who had tried to work with the disciples in Jerusalem but was rejected) for help with the congregation at Antioch. (Acts 11:25) Barnabas recognized in Paul his ability for leadership, evangelism, and a real zeal for the Lord.  He gave Paul an opportunity, and Paul blossomed into the evangelist he was and as the writer of a great deal of the New Testament.

The same thing happens with John Mark.  Barnabas gives him a chance.  He comes alongside of John Mark, and it allows John Mark to flourish.  Later in John Mark’s life, he worked in Rome with Peter for a time.  Their relationship became so close and beneficial that Peter actually calls him, son. (1 Peter 5:13) Many feel that while the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, he wrote it from Peter’s viewpoint on the time Jesus spent on the earth.  In the end, John Mark’s ministry became far reaching and beneficial to the kingdom of God.

What would John Mark’s life have been like if Barnabas had not followed his discernment in encouraging John Mark?  Obviously, we don’t know, but isn’t John Mark’s life an incredible example of what someone can do who was encouraged?

I don’t know about you, but this story inspires me.  What would happen if I became more intentional about encouraging others?  Even if it isn’t necessarily my gift.  Even if it doesn’t come natural to me.  What an unbelievable offering to give to the Kingdom of God.

For me, it becomes a prayer to be made aware of and seek out opportunities for encouraging.

Who might you encounter today who needs encouragement?  What would it look like for you to be intentional in becoming an encouragement to someone?