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Tom May

Born in Coffee County, Alabama, he was the tenth child in a family that sported 12 children.

His father died of a stroke when he was six years of age; a younger sister died two days later. He participated in a Navy Training program toward the end of World War II, but dropped out of college in 1947.

His first real job out of the service and college was as a salesman with the WearEver Cookware company. In less than three years, he had been promoted to a divisional supervisor for the company.

He finished the first book he wrote in 1974, and it was rejected by 39 different publishing companies before finally being published toward the close of 1975. You knew of Hilary Hinton Ziglar by the nickname handed him way back in elementary school – “Zig.” The first of more than 30 books, See You at the Top, crossed my dormitory desk in 1976. The book is still in print today.

Many consider Ziglar to be one of the greatest motivational writers and speakers that America has ever produced. When Ziglar was given the opportunity to speak as he wished, he expounded on two main truths.

The first was the power of what he called the “home court advantage” — taking care of your home and family before anything else. The second was the importance of encouragement. “Encouragement is the fuel from which hope comes,” he would say. “The most important words you will ever hear are, ‘I love you and I believe in you.’”

Last week we began talking about the value the Bible places on the gift and ministry of encouragement. An encourager is one who understands God’s grace, and God’s love for people. More importantly, the encourager realizes the message that needs to be shared is the victory that God has secured over the turmoil of the world and the treacherous nature of the Devil.

The Bible talks about a man who embodied the spirit of encouragement. The Scriptures introduce Joseph to the biblical narrative in the fourth chapter of Acts. Luke describes the unity and compassion early believers had for one another. He comments that from time to time those who owned land would sell and give the money to the apostles who could distribute it to anyone who had need.

As an example — and an introduction to someone who will play a larger role later in the story — Luke mentions Joseph who owned and sold a field and gave the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). The apostles were taken by this act of generosity. Perhaps the land was large and worth an incredible amount of money. Maybe it was money that came at just the right time to help pressing needs. Whatever the reason, the apostles started calling Joseph by a different name. They called him Barnabas, which Luke tells us means “son of encouragement.”

Luke tells us four words about this man Joseph who becomes known as Barnabas. He is a Levite from Cyprus. As a Levite, he would have been very familiar with the discouraging rigors of keeping the Law. Levites took care of the work in the Temple and the synagogues. The Levites were dependent upon the generosity of others for their income. The island of Cyprus, however, was known as a host for impoverished people.

Barnabas next surfaces in Luke’s story right after the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul, who becomes known as Paul, begins to boldly preach about Jesus. It is said that Paul’s words baffled the Jews by proving that Jesus is the Christ. Faithful Jews in Damascus made plots to kill Paul. He tries to take refuge with Christians, but they are afraid to trust him because of his past. Barnabas takes Paul under his wing and gives Paul an introduction to the apostles. While in Jerusalem, other Jews attempt to kill Paul and it is Barnabas who steps in and helps Paul escape to Tarsus.

While Paul was in Tarsus, Peter had a vision implying that Gentiles should be included in God’s plan for the church. In nearby Antioch, a great number of Greeks accepted Christ as their Savior. When news of this venture reached Jerusalem, the leadership sent Barnabas to Antioch. What a testimony to the personality and character of Barnabas that he would be the one sent to facilitate the bridging of two cultures into the church.

Barnabas traveled with Paul on an excursion taking the message of the gospel into communities in the areas. Rather than make a second trip with Paul, he took a different path and journey so that he could mentor John Mark who had deserted the duo during the first journey. Mark later becomes the writer of one of the four gospels.

An encourager has a special place in their heart for people. There are four distinct things that were a part of the personality of Barnabas. First, an encourager gives generously to meet the needs of people. Barnabas sold his property and gave to supply the needs of others. Next an encourager sees the potential in others and helps them reach for it. When everyone else was afraid to embrace Paul, Barnabas was making sure there was someone by Paul’s side.

A third thing that encouragers are called to do is to temper the driven in such a way that it does not break their spirit. Paul was ready to take everyone on head-to-head, but Barnabas was wise enough to encourage some time away. The rest from the spotlight allowed time for healing and trust to be built.

Finally, an encourager mentors the fallen. Mark made mistakes but deserved a second chance. Barnabas saw the potential and brought Mark along slowly, with guidance, patience and direction. Barnabas was an incredible encourager because he excelled in all four of these areas.

Can you also fuel the fires of someone’s hope with your encouragement?

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