Barnabas curing the poor by Paolo Veronese, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Although rarely covered in articles on spiritual laws and principles, one of the most beneficial and useful principles is “The Law of Encouragement.” Briefly stated, the Law of Encouragement implies that those behaviors that a person performs that receive positive encouragement from important people are likely to increase in frequency. This is just basic common sense if you think about it.
The problem often arises, however, when a person does the right thing but rarely gets positive feedback for his or her actions. No, this doesn’t mean we need to be praised each time we do something good. However, it does imply that we at least like to have our efforts recognized from time to time. The point is that encouragement is a vital component of spiritual development. Without positive encouragement our dedication to the process of becoming the best that we can be is likely to wane.
The fact that we need encouragement highlights the importance of surrounding ourselves with positive people that are also on the path of spiritual formation. It is from such a cadre of spiritual friends that we can find the encouragement that we need.
In the early days of the Christian movement Barnabas was recognized as such a person. From scripture we know that Barnabas was often a companion to Paul and others and, although there was a rift of some sort between Paul and Barnabas later on, the Apostle still recognized Barnabas’ talents. Everyone needs a Barnabas in their Christian life, including you. Jim Graff, in his excellent book A Significant Life discusses the importance of encouragement in relation to the realization of potential:
First, potential watered by encouragement grows and blooms into purposeful passion. The passion to work is then natural and not forced. Second, as our “passion fruit” becomes focused on God’s goals, we develop the priorities necessary to accomplish those objectives. This process then continues as we grow stronger and more confident in God’s character as well as in who he’s created us to be….The goal is to see that living significant lives requires the development of our potential. And in order to blossom, that potential needs praise, the kind of positive reinforcement that God usually provides through others. As our potential – recognized and reinforced by others – matures, we develop passion for who we are and what God calls us to accomplish.
It is imperative to keep in mind our overriding goal in this process. What we are trying to do here is appropriate our true identity in Christ and bring the blessings associated with that identity down from the spiritual world and into manifestation in our daily lives. Thus, when Jim Graff talks about developing “a passion for who we are and what God calls us to accomplish,” he is addressing our primary goal. We develop a passion for who we are, a passion for our reborn identity in Christ. In Christ, we are, indeed, new creations and we have a lot more power than we think we do.
I know that in my own life, once I came to a deeper understanding of the true nature of this being we call Jesus Christ and from that understanding realized the extent of what he accomplished by leaving his celestial home and incarnating in this broken world, everything changed. This knowledge and new understanding was more than just dry intellectual information. Instead, this revelatory insight was more akin to a transformational wisdom that penetrated every cell of my being, altering how I viewed and experienced the world.
It was, in short, life changing.
My purpose in sharing this experience is to illustrate the importance of encouragement in the spiritual journey. You see, had I not had a small cadre of deep spiritual friends, I doubt I would have had the fortitude, discipline, and guidance to have persevered in my quest for wisdom and understanding. From this group of spiritual brothers and sisters I received much encouragement and it was this very encouragement that carried me forward, especially when times were difficult and other duties and responsibilities competed for my time and energy.
As stated earlier, my perspective on life was reshaped as I became more experientially aware of who and what Christ was, as well as what he accomplished in his mission to this world, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Flowing out of these revelations I also came to appreciate another seemingly insignificant passage of scripture and more importantly, the truth that it revealed:
…….And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than the highest heaven so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Eph. 4:10 NLT)
The implications of this passage are mindboggling – truly staggering when one reflects on the practical reality of Paul’s words. Space does not permit a detailed description of this passage in this essay, but suffice to say that by filling the entire universe with himself, Christ altered the very fabric of the everyday reality in which we live, move, and have our being. My point in mentioning this to further illustrate the magnificence and the incredible blessings brought by Christ as he completed that phase of his work.
This life-enhancing revelations gave birth to an unquenchable desire to respond to Christ’s benevolence and sacrifice in the deepest way possible. I came to understand that the most appropriate response would be to do all that I could to fulfill the following personal life goal:
To become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Further, I increasingly became aware that a significant part of my life’s calling involved encouraging others to do the same. Whatever our station in life, we can make things better by striving to be all that we can be. When we live up to our God-given potential, amazing things begin to happen. When we begin to manifest the optimal version of ourselves, the whole world benefits in ways both great and small. Science has firmly established that we live in an interdependent, interconnected universe and, as a result, everything we do has an impact whether we are aware of it or not.
I am convinced that as the church moves forward in these challenging yet exciting times one of its most vital needs is for a plethora of called and committed encouragers. Throughout history, especially at times of revival and spiritual awakening, the faith saw a wide array of encouragers and exhorters rise up and provide much needed motivational enthusiasm when the Body of Christ needed it most. Glenn McDonald, in his excellent book entitled The Disciple Making Church speaks wisely to this issue:
God sends special teachers into our lives – men and women who by one means or another are called to demonstrate, proclaim, interpret, and model the various essentials of the disciple life. To climb a few feet higher on the spiritual slope we need to receive encouragement and the extended hands of those who are at least a feet ahead of us.
The pages of scripture, both Old and New Testaments, are filled with examples of timely encouragers and mentors who provided guidance and encouragement to biblical heroes in their time of testing. McDonald continues:
“Solo flight” is not a value celebrated in the Bible. Spirituality is imparted and received through relationships. Joshua’s leadership lessons arrived via his association with Moses. Ruth looked to her mother-in-law Naomi. Elisha became the protégé of Elijah. Mary found “problem pregnancy” encouragement from her older relative Elizabeth. Many of the second generation Christian missionaries, including Titus, Epaphras, and Tychicus, looked to Paul. Apollos received mentoring from Priscilla and Aquila.
Although it is a value cherished by American culture, rugged individualism is foreign to the Christian walk of faith. Christianity was born in community, grew in community, and thrives in community. In the current age, when the faith is facing monumental challenges that threaten its very survival, this need for community is even more critical. And within the Christian community, encouragement is sorely needed. As a collective force, the Christian church needs to stop its petty infighting, especially over trivial matters and spend more of its energy in a positive direction.
Raising up a vital, committed force of encouragers is central to this goal.
© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved