“Dale, you’re our big gun. We need a hit here. You can do it! Let’s go!” As a young boy I heard a Little League coach say this to his cleanup hitter. It was the bottom of the last inning and the game was on the line.
Dale nodded and walked resolutely to the plate. A couple of pitches, later he hit the ball real hard. It sailed over the center field fence for the game winning home run! The ballpark exploded in cheers as Dale joyfully rounded the bases with a giant smile on his face. I have always remembered this incident as a great example of what encouraging words can do.
In Acts Chapter 4, we first hear about Barnabas, whose name means “the son of encouragement.” He sold some property and gave the money to the apostles. The early church was growing by leaps and bounds. 3,000 people were added on the day of Pentecost and 5,000 more a little while later, among them the needy. Barnabas had a generous heart, which is needed to be an encourager. He invested in people.
Saul of Tarsus, the infamous persecutor of Christians, (and who later became known as Paul the apostle), was one of those people. Saul was present at, and approved of the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Acts 8 tells us Saul “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
Miraculously, Saul, later known as Paul, met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was wonderfully transformed into a fearless follower of Christ. To the great amazement and skepticism of those who heard, Paul did a total 180-degree turn around and began preaching that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. Acts 9:26 says Paul “…tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”
The next verse says Barnabas “took Paul and brought him to the Apostles.” Somehow Barnabas was able to convince them of the reality and sincerity of Saul’s radical transformation, which was no small task. Barnabas was not only trusted, respected, and willing to take a risk, he was persistent and very persuasive as well.
Paul was accepted as a follower of Jesus and went on several fruitful missionary journeys, boldly preaching about the resurrection of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen. He taught in the synagogues, in house churches, in the public square and even in jail. He endured many trials, tribulations, dangers, shipwrecks and beatings, (See II Corinthians 11 for
details) yet nothing could stop him. Paul ended up writing about half of the New Testament.
In Acts 13, we read that a young man named Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey but abandoned them when times got tough. Two chapters later, we learn that Barnabas was determined to take Mark back to visit the believers in the towns where they had preached, but Paul was having none of it; we are told that they “had such a sharp disagreement that they departed from one another.” Paul went with Silas to Syria and Cilicia while Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus.
Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second chance, and it paid off. Years later, when Paul was in jail and soon to be martyred for his faith, he wrote to Timothy and said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very helpful to me for the ministry.”
Mark made the most of his second chance. He later became the author of the Gospel of Mark.
We all need encouragers like Barnabas in our lives — people who will believe in us, speak words of life to us, take a risk for us, champion us, and give us a second chance.
In the same way, we should look for opportunities to provide encouragement to others who need it as well. Let’s be thankful for those who have encouraged us, and be inspired to champion, and even give a second chance, to someone else; it may pay off beyond our wildest dreams.
• Guy Cockroft is the executive director of Love INC. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.