The courage to encourage

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The courage to encourage

June 30, 2022 - Chris Elkins

© Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com

© Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com

A surprising thing happened to me a few days ago while walking. Recently I have taken up the discipline on a more-or-less regular basis.

OK, it’s more on the lesser side.

But I am currently trying to get in ten thousand steps per day at a brisk pace.

Disclaimer: I find walking incredibly boring. I have always said that the hardest part of a regular walking routine is getting out the front door. Once I am out there, I usually find ways to make it semi-interesting. I vary my route almost daily and occasionally engage in some prayer-walking activity to make the discipline more engaging.

As of late, I have discovered podcasts. I like listening and learning, especially while walking. Not much of a music fan. I used to enjoy talk radio until it all became so polarized that I had to find alternative ways to redeem the time.

Podcasts allow me to choose the subject matter, the time of day to listen, and even the preferred “spin.” (There’s no such thing as unbiased communication. But that’s a subject for another day.) I’m following several podcasters now. And the YouVersion Bible app, which has an audio option, has become my new BWF (best walking friend, of course.)

I am currently listening to the New Testament on my YouVersion app as I walk. I started with John and just finished Acts. Listening to someone read the Bible to me almost displaces the dreadful boringness of walking. Almost.

We digress.

Hit-and-run encouragement

As I started to say earlier, an amazing thing happened to me as I was walking and podcast-listening a few days ago.

Part of my neighborhood walking route takes me along a semi-busy thoroughfare. As I was reveling in Luke’s account of Paul’s missionary journeys that morning, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a white SUV slowing to stop. I then heard a voice shouting at me. I pulled out my earbuds so I could hear better. I assumed I was being asked for directions.

To my great surprise, the young woman in the SUV said, “Way to go! It’s great that you’re walking. I walk with my dad every morning. Keep it up!”

I gave her a thumbs-up as she sped away. What an unexpected delight. Hit-and-run encouragement. Even several days later I still have a bit of a buzz.

Barnabas the encourager

She had no idea that I was listening to the account of Paul and Barnabas (the encourager) on their first missionary journey.

I was in Acts 15 at the point where Paul and Barnabas parted ways and Silas began his association with Paul as a traveling companion. Barnabas wanted to redeem and encourage young John Mark, who had left them during their first missionary endeavor, by including him on the second journey.

Paul said no. Barnabas disagreed.

So, via division, the early church’s missionary efforts multiplied. Paul and Silas took off north on foot. Barnabas and John Mark sailed west for Cyprus.

That’s the last we hear of the encourager. But he left an indelible mark on the early church that has rung down through the ages. Barnabas the encourager was generous, faithful, and forgiving. Paul had been a benefactor of those character qualities earlier. Through Barnabas’ efforts, the skepticism and fear that many had of Saul’s old ways were dismissed and replaced with acceptance and forgiveness. This same Saul/Paul may have had a short memory when he allowed the issue of inclusion of John Mark to separate him from Barnabas.

The risk of encouraging others

Being an encourager can be risky business. Barnabas knew this well. This is not a condemnation of Paul’s position on John Mark, but being an encourager is sometimes perceived by others as being “pollyannaish,” unrealistic or even naïve.

But I believe that God redeems all he allows. Even failures like John Mark’s.

While encouragement is misunderstood by some, it makes a significant impact on its recipient. Barnabas’ encouragement of John Mark certainly influenced the young convert’s faith and was perhaps instrumental in his eventual authoring of the gospel of Mark, containing many of Peter’s teachings.

God’s word is not silent on encouragement. Two of my favorite passages are:

  • “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

The challenge of encouragement

I never participated in a team sport where fans cheered you on. I was more of a tennis/racquetball player. A few years ago, I ran a half-marathon and was fascinated at how inspiring it was to have people along the route cheering. Who knew?

It’s so easy to be negative and hardened today. And social media puts all that on full display. Our culture and times are teeming with misguided “truths” and distorted ideas. Living and acting in faith is challenging every day.

Much like my struggle with walking, I’m finding it harder and harder to “walk out the door” in faith into a world that rejects my Lord and ridicules my beliefs.

Encouragement—whether about walking or faith—gets me “out the door.”

It’s not merely helpful, it’s essential.

By the way . . .

As I walked this morning soaking up one of my podcast selections, I saw a young woman walking her dog near my home. While some will consider this TMI, she was actually “cleaning up” after her dog. As a resident on that street, I’ve often complained about people who don’t do that.

So, should I respond to her attending to such an indelicate thing, or just let it go?

I channeled my internal Barnabas. As I walked past, I thanked her for doing that ignoble task. She responded with something about how unpleasant it was. We had passed by each other before with barely any eye contact, much less any interaction. But she was obviously surprised and grateful at my comment. She smiled. As did I.

Maybe my encouragement was as impactful to her as that passerby’s was to me a few days earlier.

Doing the right thing is sometimes thankless—whether exercising, cleaning up, pushing the buggy back to the rack, holding the door for someone—but, I want to be an agent that redeems that with encouragement more often.

Although, one fact remains: I’m going to have to “walk out the door” to receive it . . . or to give it.

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