I received a shocking phone call from an old friend one Christmas Eve several years ago (to protect his identity I’ll call him Doug). I had not talked to Doug since junior high school, and he was drunk, depressed, and suicidal. He lived far away from me in Arizona and had found my contact information using the Internet and decided to reach out to his old friend Mike to see whether I had any words of encouragement for him before he took his life. After much conversation, urgent prayer, pleading, and encouragement, Doug got rid of his handgun. He later told me that he threw it into the middle of the pond at a golf course near his house. After sobering up, he flew to spend Christmas with his parents in another state. You never know when someone needs to hear a word of encouragement—a word that may end up saving their life.
Discouragement and discouraging words have been around a long time, ever since the Garden of Eden. I believe that discouragement is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. One of my graduate school professors told our class one day about receiving a special plaque as a gift when he was a missionary in Nigeria. It read: “I steadfastly refuse to gratify the devil by becoming discouraged!” Authentic spiritual warfare lies behind that sentence. I now have a yellow sticky note on the bulletin board in my office bearing those same words; I am looking at it as I type this. Satan will always find ways to discourage us, so we need people in our lives who can counter his words of death by speaking words of life to us. We can also learn to speak life into others who need encouragement. As Scripture says, “the tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). We must intentionally choose how we use our words.
I have always been intrigued by a man in the New Testament who was known for encouraging others. His given name was Joseph, but the Apostles nicknamed him “Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement.” In Scripture, we see Barnabas (1) encouraging the poor (in Acts chapter 4) using his own money, (2) encouraging the marginalized (in Acts chapter 9) by helping an outsider feel like an insider, and (3) encouraging a quitter who needed a second chance (in Acts chapter 15). Barnabas inspires me to encourage people who are in these same situations today. Life is too short not to take every opportunity to speak life into others—look for an opportunity to be a Barnabas to someone today!
REFLECTIONS: Who do you know right now who could use some encouragement? Someone contemplating dropping out of school? Leaving his or her marriage? Running away? Giving in to sexual pressures? Taking his or her own life? Being marginalized or bullied? Dealing with financial pressures? Send that person a special note of encouragement. Pray daily: “Lord, allow me to be a source of encouragement to the people whom you allow me to meet today.”
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.