A Word Everyone Needs
Editor’s note: The following article is by Bradley T. Trask, Assemblies of God Great Lakes Area executive presbyter. It is part of an ongoing series of articles by AG executive leaders.
When a baby begins to walk, his or her first steps are usually accompanied by positive facial expressions, outstretched arms, and phrases such as, “You can do it,” from excited parents who are active participants in their child’s first steps. These positive gestures and encouraging words are most times reciprocated by the baby as he or she smiles, squeals, and totters toward outstretched arms.
The practice of encouragement doesn’t end after these first steps, but rather continues within healthy homes as the child grows and matures. Report cards are posted on refrigerators, trophies are displayed on shelves in recognition of success in areas of strength or interest, plus high fives, hugs, and squeals of delight are exchanged when children earn a spot on a sports team or squad.
Encouragement however, is not limited to a specific age demographic. All of us need encouragement throughout our lifetimes. Sady, at times, the smiles, squeals of delight, and outstretched arms are replaced by individuals who seem more intent on pointing out flaws versus cheering us on. Author Jim Burns wrote in his book, The Youth Builder, “For every critical comment we receive, it takes nine affirming comments to even out the negative effect in our life.”
A person who not only understood the concept of encouragement, but also modeled it throughout his lifetime was basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden served as head basketball coach at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1948 to 1975. In an amazing 12-year stretch at the end of his coaching career, he led his teams to national championships 10 times. Each year, Wooden stressed to his players the importance of encouragement, as he taught skills related to basketball. He did this by requiring the player who made a basket to smile, wink, nod, or point to the player who had passed him the ball.
One year he explained this strategy to a freshman new to the squad who asked, “But coach, what if he's not looking?”
Wooden replied, “I guarantee he will be looking.” Wooden was right. People are looking.
One of the New Testament apostles who embodies this concept was nicknamed Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Scripture records that Barnabas lived a lifestyle of encouragement:
- Barnabas sold a piece of property to assist those in need (Acts 4:37) when the Early Church lacked financial resources.
- Saul was eventually embraced sometime after his conversion by the Early Church due to Barnabas vouching for him and the authenticity of his conversion (Acts 9:27).
- Barnabas was instrumental in the first century in cities like Antioch when dispatched by apostles. Although a wealthy and magnificent city, Antioch also was extremely wicked. Many attribute the turnaround in Antioch to the ability of Barnabas to see past challenges and believe for transformation to occur as evidenced in Acts 11:24-25. Because of his encouragement, “a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
- Within the Book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement concerning a young man named John Mark who had previously accompanied them on a missionary journey. During this time of dispute, Barnabas — despite John Mark’s shortcomings the first time around — believed this young man deserved a “redo.” Paul could not see the value in including John Mark on a second missionary endeavor. As the two parted company due to their differences, Barnabas ministered with John Mark (Acts 15:39).
Regardless of age, gender, or historical context, I believe encouragers possess a paradigm that includes, but is not limited to, the following axiom:
- A recognition that each of us is responsible to be within the context God has placed us an encourager who is intentional about developing a lifestyle that cheers others on, extends redos without hesitation, and understands that sacrifice is normal.
From our first steps to our last steps, developing patterns and practices within our lives concerning encouragement is crucial. So, whether you hold out your arms, smile, wink, nod, or perhaps receive a nickname, remember the importance of encouragement. It’s a word everyone needs to hear.