Over the past few weeks I’ve sensed the Lord is getting my attention about one fundamental need that is common to almost every believer, as well as everyone who may not yet know who Jesus is.
This is something that we may find “non-essential” in our day-to-day activities, but I have no doubt that every one of us have need for this gift from time to time, if not from day to day. That gift, that empowering moment, is called in the Bible encouragement.
The Hebrew words translated “encourage” mean “to strengthen.” The Greek words, the ones used in the New Testament, are somewhat more complex.
The basic New Testament words are related to the verb parakaleo which appears over 100 times in the New Testament and carries three different meanings:
- “to summon, invite, or ask”
- “to exhort or encourage”
- “to comfort”
So basically, to encourage means that we come alongside (the exact translation of parakaleo) and comfort, strengthen and perhaps exhort others to continue to walk faithfully with God or, perhaps more basically, to continue to pursue their goals and/or solutions to their challenges or problems.
I was first struck by this important concept in Acts 13 when Paul and Barnabas speak to the church in the city of Antioch. They are asked by the leaders of the synagogue for God’s message when they say “Brothers, do you have a word of encouragement to share with us? If so, please feel free to give it.” (Acts 13:15)
What struck me about this expression was that these new believers, or potentially in some cases non-believers from the Jewish faith, wanted Paul and Barnabas to share something with them that would strengthen, uplift and exhort them in their search for the truth about who Jesus was and His mission on the earth.
Amazingly, Paul stood and went on for nearly two whole pages detailing what the “Jews and non-Jews who worship God” had in fact understood and yet still missed about what God was doing through His Son, Jesus.
In other words, this was not a message that was uplifting at first, nor did it have any sense of perseverance or overcoming; rather it was a clear word that they all needed to change what they believed about God’s plan and the work of His Son.
I’ll go into this more in the next post, but rather amazingly it says that “as Paul and Barnabas start to leave, the people pleaded with them to share more about these things on the next sabbath day.” (Acts 13:42)
In other words, a word of encouragement may not be the final insight or perspective or truth that we need to hear; but it may move us out of our stagnant or lifeless practices and beliefs that keep us from experiencing the fullness of God.
We’ll talk more about this, but let me encourage you to begin to ask God to hear, in small ways, what He’s saying to you as an encouragement for your life, or perhaps even better, for someone that you love.