The encouragers in our congregations probably don't get enough credit. Okay, I know they don't get enough credit. This week, we're talking about Barnabas and how he just sort of disappears from the story, but make no mistake - he's made his mark. We just have to keep looking for it.
If you've ever been encouraged by someone in your life, I don't have to tell you what an important role this is. The encouragers are the ones who show up out of the blue to remind us that we're not alone. They're the ones paying attention to the prayer list for more than just the gossip of it. They are the reason that cards show up in the mail and meals show up on the table and flowers show up just because. At the very moment when we are tempted to question whether we're really connected or not, the encouragers are the ones who remind us that we are.
And they're so quiet about it. That's what's so cool. Encouragement is such an intimate gift. It's such a personalized endeavor. They have this way of making us feel special and uniquely loved, like they are just our own personal friend (and often, they are; encouragers can't fake this - they genuinely love us). But they always make us feel like it's this special thing that we have with them.
When an encourager dies (sorry to be morbid, but this is important), it's usually the first time that we realize their encouragement was less about us and more about them. That's right. We spend our whole lives with them feeling like we are loved, feeling like we are special, feeling like we are the object of their affection - and we are. But when they die, we start to hear the stories of how we weren't the only ones. We hear stories of the other cards and meals and flowers and moments that they've shared. It's like all of a sudden, we start to compare notes with one another and we discover that we were so busy feeling loved, we missed out on something essential about the nature of our friend.
Mainly, that he or she couldn't help it. That's who God wired that person to be.
And all of a sudden, what we've treasured so much becomes even greater than we could have imagined. It's something so beautiful, something so gracious....
We know that encouragers always inspire us to become more like them. We know this when we receive that card in the mail and think that we wish we were the kind of person who sent more cards. We get that little note that says, "I'm praying for you," and we're reminded to pray for others. A simple little gift shows up that reminds us of our connectedness, and we're drawn to reach out to someone we've lost touch with, someone who needs reminded of their own connectedness. When we share those stories and discover that encouragement from an encourager literally ran through that person's veins, I don't know that there's not one of us who doesn't say, "I want to be more like that." Encouragers just inspire us. They make us better versions of ourselves.
And they make us better versions of our communities. They remind us to reach out to one another. They remind us of the bigger thing that we're all part of. They remind us what it means to be in real relationship with one another, not just when it's easy but when it requires something of us. The constant sacrifice of self that an encourager offers calls us all to be more self-sacrificing. It calls us all to be more other-minded. There's just...something about it.
No wonder we see the mark of Barnabas all over Paul. No wonder encouragement becomes such a theme in Paul's letters. No wonder the churches depend upon the reminders to love one another. No wonder I just can't stop thinking about Barnabas even after he disappears off the pages of Scripture. Because the impact of an encourager doesn't stop at the edges; it blows right past them and into the hearts of our communities.
The encouragers among us don't get enough credit. Not near enough. They are the glue that reminds us that this life of faith we're all trying to do is not a solo journey; we're in this together. Because they're right here with us. Not because of who we are, although our sacred nature as beings created in the image of God is part of it, but because of this beautiful gift that God has given them to do just this. To encourage.
It truly is a holy work.