We may not realize it, but encouraging others is hugely important to God. After the early church scattered because of persecution, a new colony of Christians appeared in Antioch. Leaders in Jerusalem decided to send Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36) as the first leader to visit this new group. True to his name, Barnabas encouraged the new believers and then went to bring Saul there (Acts 11:23). Saul and Barnabas then taught the fledgling church for an entire year (Acts 11:26). Later, the Holy Spirit decided to send Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-2), and the rest is history.
We need to think about this. The first leader to visit the new church was an encourager. The leader who brought Saul to the group was an encourager. The leader who stayed at the new church for a year was an encourager, and the leader who went on the very first missionary journey was an encourager. In fact, Paul and Barnabas’ return journey on that first trip was conducted solely to encourage the new believers in the churches the two had just founded: “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:22).
True indeed. Many hardships. And that is why we are vitally in need of encouragers throughout our lives, those good, wonderful saints who are “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (11:24) who come alongside us when we are discouraged or tired or disillusioned, and impart life so that we can keep going. In fact, many of the good works God calls us to do cannot be done without them!
A writer was halfway through his first book when the project stalled. He gave the manuscript to a friend who read it and liked it. That encouragement kept the writer going and soon his book was finished. After that he started a sequel but again he got so bogged down and discouraged that he could not go any further. All his creative energy seemed gone. Once again, his friend sought him out during the process to encourage him to keep going. The writer was named Tolkien. The book was The Lord of the Rings. And the friend who was the fire-starter, the encourager without whom the book would never have been finished, was C. S. Lewis.
Later, Tolkien acknowledged Lewis’ crucial role in the writing process: “The unpayable debt that I owe to (Lewis) was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more, I should never have brought The L. of the R. to a conclusion.” (Quoted in C. S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath, p. 199.)
If the Lord thought an encourager was essential to the first Christian community and the first missionary journey, and if a few encouraging words by C. S. Lewis produced a work of genius which has now blessed generations of readers, then we need to much more highly value this great gift of encouragement. In doing so, we should also hate its opposite—judgment, accusation, criticism and blame—and see them for what they really are: sinister, evil efforts to crush human hearts and steal from them the good works God has called them to do.
Instead, let us strive to assemble an army of encouragers in our schools. Let a widespread culture of encouragement overrun our campuses. Let an environment of encouragement pervade every classroom, every student activity, at every grade level, with every teacher, every parent and every administrator. Let visitors to our campus find our school positive, optimistic and hopeful, a place where overcomers and champions are born and the good works of God flow freely out to others. Let us choose to always see the best in one another and to never, ever, ever again use our words to injure another human heart.