May those who fear you rejoice when they see me. Psalm 119:74
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 36-37
There are people who, the moment they walk into a room, make you feel better. They don’t have to do or say anything – their mere presence is somehow reassuring and encouraging. Do you know people like that? I hope you do.
Other people have the opposite effect. Not necessarily “Oh no, here comes trouble”, but just a feeling that it’s going to be hard work not to be pulled down. I suspect that we all know people like that. (Though let’s be very careful; we need to add a little warning: “Could it be that I am someone like that!”)
The Psalmist is praying to be the first type of person. He is saying, in effect, “Lord, I want to be the kind of person who gives a boost to those who respect and love you. I want to be a good example. I want to be the kind of person that others can look to. I want to be an encourager…”
Encouragement… it’s a great gift.
We all know about Barnabas in Acts (or if you don’t, may I suggest it’s time to get reading). Well, Barnabas wasn’t in fact his proper name; really, he was called Joseph. Barnabas was a nickname, meaning “son of encouragement” or, more colloquially, “that man who goes around bucking everybody up”. You don’t earn a nickname like that unless there is something a bit special about you. Thank God for the Barnabases of this world! Thank God for the Barnabases in your church.
But, again, we need to be careful. We’re not talking here merely about a particular type of personality. Some people are naturally cheery and optimistic – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the kind of encouragement the Psalmist is praying to give, and which Barnabas certainly did give, springs not just from that sort of personality, but from a deep understanding of God’s word. Read Acts right through and you immediately see that Barnabas, as well as being generous and open-handed, was a capable preacher of God’s word. And read Psalm 119 right through (yes, all 176 verses of it!) and you will see that the writer’s chief concern is with God’s word.
People who are naturally cheery are good to know. But in times of trouble their cheeriness can wear a bit thin, a bit hollow. Suddenly they don’t seem to have much to offer. The person who says “Cheer up, everything’s going to be all right” when you are floundering in the depths of despair, only makes you feel worse.
But the person who can come beside you and strengthen you with wisdom and good sense based on the Bible, the person who has proved the truth of God’s word in his or her personal experience, the person whose whole way of thinking and living is soaked in scriptural principles, the person who is willing to give practical help in terms of time, money and talents – well, that person truly is a “son or daughter of encouragement”.
The message is clear. Learn the word of God with your head. Pray it into your heart. Live it out in your life. Then you will be able to share the Psalmist’s prayer. Then you will be a real Barnabas to your fellow-Christians.
Father in heaven, thank you for the Christian men and women who have been an encouragement to me throughout my Christian life. As I study your word and seek to put it into practice, may I be to others what those people have been to me. Amen.