The Call Of Encouragement
Perhaps you’ve heard the classic story about the faithful pastor who was told by his superior that something was wrong with his ministry. The supervisor told him, “Only one person has been added to your church this year, and he is only a boy.” Later that day, heavy of heart, the pastor was praying in the sanctuary when someone walked up behind him. Turning around, he saw that it was the boy – his only convert that year. The boy said, “Pastor, do you think I could become a preacher or missionary some day?” The pastor encouraged him to pray and seek God's guidance about it. After a few days the boy came back to the pastor and said, “I'm sure God wants me to preach the Gospel.” For 5 years the pastor had meetings with the boy and gave him all the advice he thought would make a difference. That boy was Robert Moffit, who was destined to open Africa to the Gospel of Christ. Years later when Moffit spoke in London, a young doctor heard him say, “I have seen in the morning sun the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been. Are you the one God is calling to go there?” The young doctor, deeply moved by Moffit’s message, was none other than David Livingstone. In 1840, he sailed for Africa where he laboured for Jesus for more than three decades. All of this happened because of a chain reaction of encouragement that started with a pastor who encouraged a new convert his superior never would have deemed as a prospect for the Kingdom of God. Then the one who was encouraged, touched the heart of a young doctor who listened to him speak. Those words were the encouragement he needed at the time to become an instrument in God's service. You know my friends, there were wonderful legacies that changed the course of thousands of people in our world. I'm sure some of us here this morning would like to tell of who has been that source of encouragement in our lives to bring us on the path of Jesus Christ. But then we are confronted with the question – “What will your legacy be at the end of your life?” And it's followed by another question - “Have you accepted The Call Of Encouragement?”
With what we read in Hebrews 10: 24 and 25 we first learn something about 1 The Principle Of Encouragement. Let's listen again to those 2 verses – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” In the Greek, the word encourage means to comfort, to console, to strengthen. At the time of the writing of Hebrews, there was a great persecution. The author of Hebrews expressed what the persecution was like in verses 32 and 33 of this same chapter, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.” Those Hebrew Christians had lost their homes and possessions as authorities gave the right to their persecutors to drive them out and they were left on the streets. And as they stood on the streets they were insulted and beaten by those who hated the cause of Jesus Christ. If you had watched the film, Schindler's List, and saw those images of Jews been driven from their homes and left on the streets, you might have a comprehension of what it must have been like for the Hebrew Christians when they were persecuted. The tendency under most circumstances in our world during such trying times is to first look after ourselves and if we still have energy then to help others. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: “Don’t ask me anything – don’t expect anything.” Isn't that more and more the message we hear in our time? Isn't that what leaves so many in lonely places where they fade away? Years ago in Italy an elderly lady passed on in her apartment and her remains was discovered only 3 months later when an old time friend went to surprise her. The landlord of the apartment building said, “No one really noticed her; no one really felt like reaching out to her.” We have one response – shocking. The book of Hebrews calls to encourage one another – to look out for one another. A Christian author wrote, “Encouragement is the kind of expression that helps someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough…”
It is interesting to note that the same root word for encourage is used for the person of the Holy Spirit in the Greek – parakleo. The meaning of this word for the Holy Spirit is Encourager or Comforter. People usually equate the works of the Spirit with signs and wonders. But, when we encourage one another, we show that the Spirit really dwells among us. You see, my friends we are connected to the network of God’s grace – just like telephone lines and computers are connected. When you disconnect them, they are dead. As a Christian you can’t separate yourself from God’s network of caring and sharing.
The word encourage is in the present tense. It means a habit or a way of life. In fact, the letter to the Hebrews commands us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today”. It is also in the active voice. It means we don’t wait for others to encourage us. No, we take the initiative. We must encourage even if others could not, even if others would not. Note that we are to “encourage one another”. It is true that we have received different gifts from God – not all of us feel comfortable to speak in public, not all of us feel comfortable to go and visit the sick, not all of us can go to a Missions field and proclaim God’s Good news. But all of us have received the heart and compassion of Jesus Christ to see the needs and hear the cries of people. Can we call it the God-given Principle of encouragement that the Holy Spirit has planted in our hearts? Therefore we can’t help but to reach out. There is a story of a man who owned a store. He used to be an unbeliever with no compassion for other people. Sometimes hungry children came to beg for food and he drove them out of his store with a whip. After his conversion he was the one who called kids of the streets to feed them. He told a stranger: “Before my conversion I saw annoying menaces. Now I see children in need”.
Secondly we look at 2 The Person Of Encouragement. The Hebrews author wrote “let us” and “one another.” Encouragement doesn't just come as a characteristic or gift to someone. No, it comes from the heart of a person; it brings forth the nature of a person. Barnabas is one of the role models of the bible when it comes to encouragement. We see him first in Acts 4:34-37 – “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Joseph earned the nickname Barnabas for his unselfish, sacrificial act of selling his field to support others.
I believe that most of us can tell stories of people in our lives who gave more than the average person. It made them happy to see others happy. The legacy they left was generosity. And then you and I should ask ourselves, “Am I included among those people? Or what do I give of myself to make a difference?” You see, encouragement without the person is not encouragement of how God meant it to be. You have to be in it as a person. Again in the book Acts we later see how Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, stood up for Paul. That was when Paul after his conversion wanted to join the disciples, but they didn't want to receive him. But Barnabas supported and encouraged Paul to the point that the other disciples accepted him. Can we appreciate how essential that was? Paul went on to write 13 epistles. Some scholars want to put his name next to this letter to the Hebrews as well. But there is no clarification for that.
Can we just appreciate my friends that sometimes it is just one act of encouragement that can change a person’s life? Winston Churchill who is still reckoned as one of the most influential leaders of the world once told of his low self esteem as a child. He did badly in school, because he couldn’t accept the person he was. He failed one of his grades. Then he had a teacher who was a sincere Christian. She spent more time with him and taught him how to believe in himself. He became more confident and he never looked back. He referred to that teacher as God’s gift to him.
Are our lives a true reflection of what God brings to us through His word this morning? - “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds... encouraging one another...” There is someone who waits for us to be encouraged; who waits to hear the truth of God; someone who waits to hear a word that will change his or her life forever. We have to accept The Call Of Encouragement.
Rev. Willem H. van de Wall