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The Legacy of Encouragement

“There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’).”
Acts 4:36

“To be opened only by the Librarian of Congress.”  Those words were written across an old package, no larger than a shoebox, wrapped in brown paper and bound with faded tape.  Following these instructions, the Librarian of Congress in 1976, Daniel J. Boorstin, carefully opened the package on Lincoln’s birthday before a large crowd of reporters.

As Boorstin opened the package he discovered a handwritten note that read: “Contents of the President’s Pockets on the Night of April 14, 1865.”  These were the items treasured by Robert Todd Lincoln from the night of his father’s assassination.   They were everyday, common items precious to the great man’s family: two pairs of glasses and lens cleaner, an ivory pocketknife, watch fob, linen handkerchief, brown leather wallet containing a $5 Confederate note, and newspaper clippings encouraging the President and his polices.

It is those last items of encouraging news clips that grab my interest.  Scholars write about Lincoln’s frequent “depressive episodes” during the dark day of the Civil War.  There is Joshua Shenk’s book, Lincoln’s Madness, and psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi’s, A First Rate Madness.  We ought not to be surprised that Lincoln carried with him encouraging newspaper clippings.  We all need encouragement!

Today’s scripture remembers one of the Bible’s great encouragers: Barnabas.  His birth name was Joseph, but he was nicknamed, Barnabas, by the apostles because he was such a great encourager to them.  Eventually, the Book of Acts refers to him only by his nickname, Barnabas, as sidekick to the apostle Paul and mentor to John Mark, author of the third Gospel.  We not have heard of either Paul or (John) Mark had not Barnabas encouraged them and helped them to get going.

It is telling that our English word “encourage” comes from an old French word meaning “to put heart into,” and “to make strong.”  That is exactly what encouragement did for a discouraged Lincoln, and does for you and me.  How we are heartened and made strong by such simple words as “I appreciate you”, “I am praying for you”, and “thanks for what you do.”   Encouragement can be given by a phone call, an email, or handwritten note, or pat on the back.  I try to remember the old adage about a pat on the back, though only inches removed from a kick in the pants, is miles more effective.

Just as the apostle Paul found himself so blessed by Barnabas’ encouragement (e.g. Acts 11:22-25), so Paul often encourages other believers to be encouragers: “Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). 

As a pastor I have been honored to conduct hundreds of funerals and to hear many departed loved ones eulogized and remembered.  “He encouraged me”, or “She encouraged me” are loving words, I often hear!  I am often reminded of how people are in need of encouragement.

It is how people even today remember Joseph, that native of Cyprus!  He became Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement!

Be encouraged today to join the ranks of Barnabas!  Be an encourager!   Pick up the phone!  Write a note, or email.  Give a pat on the back! 

A fellow traveler,

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