Thursday, December 1, 2016

Encouragement: Priceless Gift That Costs Little

Have you gotten over election campaign fatigue yet? Shortly before the Presidential election, a retailer told me sales were markedly down – seems the American public was simply worn out by the overwhelmingly negative campaigning. Feelings of widespread discouragement had set it, to the extent that people lacked even the initiative to go out and buy stuff!

But it doesn’t take rancorous rhetoric, or even the media’s fixation on accentuating the negative, to feel discouraged. Challenges at work can drag us down. Financial pressures – particularly at a time when TV commercials are urging us to give lavishly during the Christmas season – can easily keep our smiles turned upside-down. Sometimes we feel like the person working out on a treadmill or exercise bike who’s going no place really fast.

So as we’re pondering our Christmas lists, wondering what’s the best gift for Aunt Susie, Uncle George or cherished friends, perhaps we should consider giving a gift that’s priceless, yet in reality would cost us very little: Encouragement.

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Barnabas, whom we meet for the first time in Acts 4. We’re told about “Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement)…having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).

It doesn’t take long to discover why this fellow deserved the “Son of Encouragement” nickname. As the previous passage points out, he was generous, a wholehearted giver who was eager to support the early Church.

Later we learn that after the conversion of Saul, the formerly zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers, it was Barnabas who took the risk of coming alongside the Pharisee who had literally seen the light. Barnabas became a mentor for Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, and they joined in several miraculous missionary journeys.

When they parted ways, it actually was because Barnabas was continuing to encourage. This time it was his nephew, John Mark, whom Paul had written off after the young man had deserted their mission, perhaps struggling with a case of homesickness. Years later, without mentioning Barnabas and his resolve to give his relative the benefit of the doubt, Paul wrote to his own protégé, Timothy, Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Can you imagine the impact it had, first on Saul and much later John Mark, to hear Barnabas say, despite evidence to the contrary, “I believe in you”?

We don’t have to be mind-readers or equipped with extraordinary powers of observation to recognize that many people around us are weighed down by discouragement. Whether it’s the widespread malaise that seems to afflict the world around us, or very personal struggles, lots of folks are discouraged. Do they need to go to professional counselors, or make a series of appointments with psychologists? Or get prescriptions for mood-shifting medications?

For some, that might be the case. But for most of us, simple words of encouragement or kind gestures that say “I care” and “I’m here for you” are enough to lift spirits and enable them to recapture the “merry” usually associated with this Christmas season.

With email, texting and instant messaging, few people actually write notes anymore. So why not send one to someone who could use a lift? Not only will they become heartened to know they’re not alone, but also might be so shocked to receive an old-fashioned pen-to-paper note that they’ll even forget what had them so discouraged.

Perhaps as you’re looking past Christmas and pondering goals or resolutions for the New Year, you might make coming alongside someone desperately in need of encouragement a practical and, as I noted, very inexpensive gift. All it would take would be a little time, a bit of energy, and a willingness to let him or her feel important, that they matter, and offer assurance that better days lie ahead.

In whose life would God like to use you as a Barnabas, an encourager, in the coming days? You might not have to look far. That person might be right in front of you at work, in your church, your neighborhood, or even in your home. It’s the gift that fits any budget.

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