There are many people named Joseph in the Bible. You might be most familiar with Mary’s husband, or the Joseph in Genesis who becomes second-in-command to the Egyptian Pharaoh. But my favourite Joseph has to be the one who is not commonly called Joseph at all. In Acts 4:36–37 he is nicknamed Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement.”
We are often exhorted to be like Joseph-turned-Barnabas in how we encourage others. He brought great joy to the apostles when he sold his field and gave the money for the work of the Lord. He travelled on missionary journeys, often with Paul, to proclaim the gospel and strengthen believers. What a gift he must have been to the church!
But in all our talk of encouraging others, have we neglected the exhortation to also be encouraged?
My natural bent is towards pessimism and cynicism. I might often say I was encouraged by a particular Scripture passage, but less often by people. A group I was once training were talking about each of the women in our congregation, thinking about where they’re at in their faith and how we could help them grow. One name came up and I was about to (gently, I like to think) mention a few areas where she could grow.
But another woman immediately burst out, “Oh, I’m so encouraged by her!” and proceeded to list her strengths—traits I was aware of but tended to overlook in favour of what I pridefully saw as her shortcomings. Apart from a bucketload of humility, I could also do with being more easily encouraged. This is something I’ve been asking God for lately.
Encouragers: Barnabas and Paul
As well as encouraging others, Barnabas seemed to easily be encouraged when he sees God at work. The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to check up on the Christians there, having heard that many people had turned to the Lord.
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:23–24)
Paul is like this too. As I was reading the book of Philemon with my Bible study, I noticed how much delight Paul gets from being encouraged by God’s people. He sees how Philemon encourages other believers and refreshes their hearts, and Paul’s own joy overflows at this. He doesn’t even have to be directly involved—he simply sees his brothers and sisters in Christ loving others, and that is enough to encourage his heart.
How different this is from my sinful heart! Sometimes I see one believer loving another, and instead of joy and encouragement, I feel envy. Most of the time, though, I’m simply too focused on myself to even notice the blessings of encouragement all around me. I fail to see the Spirit at work in my fellow believers, and I’m poorer for it.
So how can we be more like the easily encouraged like Barnabas and Paul?
Keep Your Eyes Open
A simple step is to pray and keep your eyes open. God is the source of all good things, so we should ask him to give us the gift of being encouraged. Then look around and notice the moments of encouragement he has prepared for you. Sam Allberry once suggested on Twitter two things to pray before church each Sunday:
1. That you be encouraged in at least one significant way from the time together.
2. That you significantly encourage at least one other believer through your interaction with them.
We would do well to pray like that. Encourage and be encouraged. But don’t just look for this encouragement from the sermon or songs—look around as you stand in the pew. Notice the brother who bounds up to welcome the nervous newcomer. Notice the sister who lingers in her row to pray over another suffering saint. Notice the older saint who gets out a broom to sweep up the mess from supper without being asked. Be eager to be encouraged, knowing that God is generous to give this gift to those who ask.
Encouragement is a multiplying ministry. God may move a believer to serve or sacrifice or praise in a way that deeply encourages you. When you then share your encouragement—with that person or with another believer—they are encouraged also. This overflows into joy and thankfulness to God. It just takes someone who is willing to pay attention and be easily encouraged.
Imagine the joy we would share with each other if our relationships were more like this overflowing fountain:
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 4–7)
Let’s be on the lookout today for the encouragement that God has prepared for us, so that his glory may abound among his people.