The Power of Encouragement
“Encouragement is oxygen for the soul,” says John Maxwell. As much as our lungs need oxygen for our physical survival, our souls need encouragement if we hope to blossom in life.
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is introduced in Acts 4:36 as Joseph. But that is the only time his given name is mentioned. He is consistently referred to as Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.” The apostles gave him that nickname because that’s the kind of person he was. He was an encourager of others.
When the apostles feared Saul (who became Paul) because of his reputation for persecuting Christians, it was Barnabas who reached out to Saul then brought him into the company of the apostles (Acts 9:27). When new Christians in Antioch needed some encouragement, the apostles sent Barnabas to them (Acts 11:22). When the early church didn’t know what to do about non-Jewish converts, it was Barnabas and Paul who advocated for their full inclusion in the family of believers (Acts 15:12). When Paul ostracized Mark for having failed him once, Barnabas took Mark under his arm (Acts 15:37).
People like Barnabas—sons or daughters of encouragement—can mean the world to us!
Jeanne Zornes tells of her experience with encouragement: “I learned about the power of encouragement during one of the lowest times of my life. I was 30 and single, attending Bible College on my meager savings, fighting sickness, facing constant car repairs, and watching my parents battle cancer and heart problems. Then one morning, a professor asked for our prayers for some overwhelming things in his life. We were stunned to action. Several of us formed an anonymous ‘Barnabas Committee,’ named for the New Testament’s ‘Son of Encouragement.’ Throughout that semester, we sent our professor notes (attached to little gifts like candy bars) to remind him that we were still praying for him. We did the same for other professors facing personal challenges. As I helped encourage these teachers, I discovered the truth of Proverbs 11:25: ‘He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.’” She discovered that encouragement is oxygen for our souls.
As a young man in the English Parliament in 1791, fighting for the abolition of slavery, William Wilberforce grew discouraged and was about to give up. When the elderly John Wesley heard about this, he called for a pen and paper to be brought to him—even upon his deathbed. With trembling hand, Wesley wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Oh be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery shall vanish away before it.” Six days later, Wesley died, but taking Wesley’s encouragement to heart, Wilberforce battled on for abolition for 42 more years. The English Parliament finally abolished slavery three days before Wilberforce died. Wesley’s encouraging letter was oxygen for Wilberforce’s soul.
William Barclay explains how Benjamin West, the great early American artist became a painter: “One day his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his little sister Sally. In his mother’s absence he discovered some bottles of colored ink and began to paint Sally’s portrait. In the doing so he made a very considerable mess of things with ink blots all over. His mother came back. She saw the mess, but she said nothing. She picked up the piece of paper and saw the drawing. ‘Why,’ she said, ‘It’s Sally!’ and she stooped and kiss him. Ever after, Benjamin West used to say: ‘My mother’s kiss made me a painter.’ Encouragement did more than rebuke could ever do.” His mother’s encouragement was oxygen for his soul.
When we become aware of someone who is in need of encouragement, may we not hold it back, for as Proverbs 11:25 says, “The one who refreshes others will also be refreshed.”