During the Boer War (1899-1902), a man was convicted of a very unusual crime. He was found guilty of being a "discourager." The South African town of Ladysmith was under attack, and this traitor would move up and down the lines of soldiers who were defending the city and do everything he could to discourage them. He would point out the enemy's strength, the difficulty of defending against them, and the inevitable capture of the city. He didn't use a gun in his attack. It wasn't necessary. His weapon was the power of discouragement.
Too often I think many fellow Christians in the body of Christ could be convicted of the same crime. We have many discouragers, few encouragers. Henry Drummond's words are painfully true:
"How many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside!"
One of the "unlovely characteristics" frequently found in Christian circles is a lack of encouragement in our relationships with one another. To illustrate the point, when did you last encourage someone? Honestly now, when was the last time you said something or gave something or wrote something or did something with the single motive of encouraging someone else? I firmly believe that one is never more Christ-like than when he is full of compassion for those who are down, needy, discouraged, or forgotten.
The truth is, we are all fragile individuals. We often fall prey to the enemy's attack. How quickly we can panic and become victims of fear and discouragement. How rare are those voices of firm confidence and reassurance. And yet, how we desperately need them!
Woven into the fabric of the book of Acts is the quiet, yet penetrating life of a man who is a stranger to most Christians. Barnabas came from the island of Cyprus, destined to an abstruse role of "minister of encouragement." He once was described as a man characterized by a gracious personality, a generous disposition, a keen desire to spot potentialities in others and a freedom from petty narrowness or self-centered ambition. The Bible states that Barnabas was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith, and inclined to encourage others (Acts 11:23-24). In fact, his name means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36). In comparison to the greater men of this book -- Peter, Paul, Silas, James and Apollos -- Barnabas is virtually insignificant. . . but, oh, how essential!
When Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, the early church members didn't jump up and down with enthusiasm. Saul had been the chief persecutor of believers, and it is likely that the early Christians were at first skeptical about the validity of his conversion. Some may have wondered if Saul was planning to trick the Christians by pretending to be a convert. When Paul arrived at Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was faking! Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Paul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus, what the Lord had said to him and all about his powerful preaching in the name of Jesus. Then they accepted him, and after that he was constantly with the believers. (Acts 9:26-28)
Can you imagine how Paul must have been encouraged by the confidence in him that Barnabas showed? Barnabas took a risk. What if Paul had turned out to be a deceiver after all? It was a risk which Barnabas took courageously -- and Paul was encouraged.
Is there someone who could use your confidence in him or her? Is there someone who would be encouraged by a simple word from you? Sure there is! Every one of us could encourage someone if we could look beyond our own needs and struggles.
How greatly we need more Barnabas' in the body of Christ! Let's become contagious encouragers! Let's show that we are people who care. I agree with the man who wrote:
One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement. . . . It is easy to laugh at men's ideals; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.