By Rev SEIK PITOI
WE saw in the previous Fridays’ articles the significance of the current Jewish year, 5781, the decade of “peh”, or the mouth.
Again, we saw in God’s schedule the priority He places in this season for the use of the mouth. Regardless of it being required to be masked shut, God is prophetically challenging His people to rise up and be trumpets, fearlessly declaring Jesus to a lost and dying world.
However, in the previous week’s teaching, we veered off slightly to look at another aspect of the mouth. This was in telling the truth. We saw that as we get excited about doing evangelism and preaching, we must also take stock of the ‘other’ use of our mouths. Many people, especially young Christians and non-believers, when dealing with church folk, have been hurt and injured because of lies!
Yes, it’s a season to decree, declare, pronounce, proclaim, prophecy and preach with our mouths the love of Jesus, but let’s also do the ‘little’ things right – like telling the truth to each other!
In today’s article, we will look at another aspect of the use of our mouths. It is in the power of our words to encourage. In a time when many people feel discouraged, depressed and fearful due to sickness (e.g., Covid-19), financial reverse, family problems and hardships of many kinds, a lot of people feel down.
Even in our larger churches where the place is buzzing with people, there will be someone feeling lonely. Maybe he’s new to the church, or belongs to an ethnic group that is a ‘minority’ there. When no one approaches him or greets him, he is lost in the crowd. Amidst an atmosphere of joy and happiness, there will be someone who may be faking it with that plastic smile – but is really hurting inside. In this season, let us reach out and encourage. It can start with a simple smile, and a pleasant word of greeting!
The Bible says a lot about using encouraging words. For instance, Proverbs 10:21 (NLT) says, “The words of the godly encourage many”, while 12:25 tells us, “Worry weighs a person down; (but) an encouraging word cheers a person up.” 16:24 adds, “Kind words are like honey – they cheer you up and make you feel strong”.
Isn’t that true? You know as a child when you blew it, you felt so terrible. You didn’t need to be reminded over and over of what you did wrong. You wanted to do better but the stinging criticisms seemed to hold you down.
Then that special person came along and said those magic words. “You can do it, son. You have that special gift, I know you have it in you to do it. In fact, I want to help you do it”! Magic. He believed in you when others didn’t. No, I am not talking about flattery! That’s telling lies. I am talking about speaking positively to a person to help him see his own potential and worth. We do that when we concentrate on the positives in a person’s life, rather than on the negatives.
Proverbs 16:21b (CEV) sums it up: “If you speak kindly, you can teach others.” When we stop yelling at the kids and start teaching and correcting them with love, we build their confidence and self-esteem. Positive kind words will lift that child up to greater heights!
My favourite person in the Bible when it comes to encouragement is Barnabas. Acts 4:36 introduces him: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement).” This man’s ministry of encouragement was so profound that the disciples stopped calling him by his real name (Joseph), always calling him Barnabas, alluding to his nick-name – “son of encouragement” (or consolation/ exhortation, depending on the translation used).
Interestingly, the Greek for encouragement is paraklēsis, the same root word for the “comforter”, whom the Holy Spirit is referred to (parakletos – John 14: 26). This word means “to come alongside with”, giving us a picture of what an encourager is, one who comes along another to lift him up in his time of need.
Moreover, as a legal term, parakletos means “a legal assistant, counsel for the defense, an advocate.” What a lovely picture we see of an encourager!
Probably the incident Barnabas is well known for is the argument and subsequent separation he had with the great apostle Paul (Acts 15: 36-41). A split in the ministry team had occurred, which was caused by a young man, John Mark.
Paul was angry because Mark deserted the team in the last ministry trip. He went Awol! Paul was angry and told Mark to go jump! He didn’t want him along on the next trip. But Barnabas did! Barnabas looked at this failed young man and saw potential. He saw a passionate lad who has failed but deserved a second chance. He saw Mark’s heart was right with God, but just needed some encouragement. So he wanted him to come. However, “there was a sharp argument, and they separated: Barnabas took Mark and sailed off for Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas and left” (verses 39-40). Encouragement does cause problems when others do not see things as you do.
Thankfully, Barnabas’ ministry of encouragement worked! Mark matured in the ministry and proved himself to be a valuable member of the team. Some time later, Paul acknowledged Mark as a valued fellow worker (Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24). In 2 Timothy 4:11, the imprisoned Paul also asks for Mark, saying: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he can help me in the work”.
What a change in perspective! Paul is happy to use Mark again, and scholars also believe it was Mark who penned the second Gospel under his name. Indeed, Mark was now a useful and important member of the early church ministry team, but it all came about because of the encouragement from Barnabas!
Incidentally, we should also point out that when the newly converted Paul was rejected by the believers because they feared him as the persecutor of the believers (Acts 8:1), it was Barnabas who took him under his care and introduced him to the church. They finally accepted Paul after Barnabas assured them that he was now a changed man (Acts 9: 26-28). Paul obviously ‘forgot’ what Barnabas did for him earlier on, and Barnabas was gracious not to rub it in at all!
So, that is the power of encouragement. In our settings, who are the Marks around us? How many Marks have you come across in your church, youth group, family, or even in your secular office setting? Do you see a young man or young woman who has failed and is feeling condemned, like there’s no more hope?
Can you look through and see potential and worth in that failed young person? Or in an older person who has failed, as older folk too get discouraged? Will you take a risk and reach out to that person as a Barnabas? Or better still, let’s ask: Do you know of a time when you failed and made a mess of things, and everyone kept reminding you of your failure?
Was there a Barnabas who came alongside you, spoke words of faith in you and helped you to see your real worth in God, and helped restore you? I’m sure we all have had ‘Barnabases’ in our lives. The challenge is now to pay it forward and do likewise to another.
Finally, let’s remember our mouths are powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says we have the power to speak life or death. To illustrate: A Japanese academic did an experiment with three containers of rice and water where he spoke positively to one, cursed the other, and totally ignored the last.
The positive one emitted positive changes with a pleasant aroma, while the other two returned moulds! Another lady experimented by speaking lovingly to one indoor plant, while cursing the other. The positive one grew nicely while the other withered away (as Jesus did the Fig tree in Matt 21:19). These secular experiments prove that what God says is true, that our words can build up (encourage), and they can tear down (discourage).
With so much discouragement around us today, even in our churches and our communities, let’s change the narrative. Let’s see each other through God’s eyes and see that we are all valued and special in Him.
Let’s say those words to one another, and mean it from our hearts! Your positive words may even save a life today! Likewise, may you too know that you are an exceptional person with tremendous worth. You matter to God and to your family. You are special in the eyes of God. Be encouraged today!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.