In ancient Hebrew culture children were of supreme importance. A child was considered one of the greatest blessings God could give. They were means of passing on one’s identity, heritage and lineage. They were tied to the covenant promises (Gen 15:5). They were connected with obedience to the law (Exodus 20:12). They were lauded as blessings of great significance in the psalms (127 &128).
When a son was born to a Hebrew family they would circumcise him on the eighth day and give him his name at that time. For daughters they would typically wait 30 days until they gave her a name. Names were of the utmost significance and were filled with meaning and vision casting for the child’s future. Even today we don’t meet many Jezebell’s of Judas’s because of the connotations that come with those names. Hollywood has certainly had a fun time with baby names but for the ancients a name was part of who you are.
In scripture we find people who were given a new name at critical moments of their lives (Abram, Jacob, Simon, and Saul). There is another man whose name was changed and one we don’t often associate with that. His name was Joseph and he was a Levite from Cyprus. We first read about him in Acts 4:36-37 as he was among the first to sacrificially give to the growing group of Jerusalem Christians. The apostles gave him a nickname. They called him Bar-nabas (son of – encouragement). It could be that this great act of generosity recorded in Acts 4 was the occasion that influenced the apostles to give him a nickname. Bar-nabas doesn’t show up again until Acts 9 in the story of another man who received a new name – Saul Paul (although some think his name may have actually been Saul Paul (See Dunn’s Galatians Commentary). After Saul’s conversion he came to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26) where the disciples were not very quick to warm up to this former persecutor of the church. Guess who stepped in? Joseph (a.k.a the Son of Encouragement) who became an advocate for Saul and brought him to the apostles and convinced them of the legitimacy of Saul’s conversion. Notice what happened when a man known for his gift of encouragement came into a controversial situation and gave his support to the unpopular Saul. Saul gained acceptance where he would have otherwise found none. Encouragers believe the unbelievable and get others to believe it too! When everyone else is being critical and negative encouragers see the possibilities. They see the potential. Joseph spoke up for Paul and the rest is history.
Did you know that in the list of gifts from God (teaching, prophesying, serving, and giving) that encouragement is listed? (Rom 12:4-8). Encouragement comes from God because God is a God of encouragement. That is part of his nature. When we get to heaven do you think he is going to meet us at the gate and be Mr. Gloomy Gus? I don’t think so. What is he going to say? “Well done…enter in.” That sounds pretty encouraging to me! Jesus was an encourager. We are to be Bar and Bat Nabases because that is being like our Father.
When I ran track at Harding I wasn’t the best runner in the world. I was a walk on and enjoyed the camaraderie. I was a little faster than one of our world class female runners so I often helped train her to help her get faster but I also decided my role was to be an encourager. When my race was done I would spend the rest of the time running to and fro yelling words of encouragement. I would run across the infield to one of our runners in a race and yell at them, “You can do it! Run faster! Go, go, go!” Then I would run to the other side of the field and wait on them to get there and yell at them some more encouraging words. I never won a race but I shared in a lot of victories. I won a medal but I had a place on the medal stand with our champions because I helped encourage them to the victory. Who do you know who is rooting you on in your race? Who is believing in you, hoping in you, counting on you, and wanting you to succeed? Even if you can’t think of anyone I assure you God is! God is the great encourager. He is cheering us on toward the goal.
This video is from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and is a race where Derek Redmond was running the 400 meter. He blew out his hamstring and then…well you will just have to watch.
God, our Father, does more than stand by and watch us struggle through this race called life. As the great encourager, he enters the race and helps carry us to the finish line. We couldn’t do it without him. What is more, he even put the uniform on himself, laced up his running shoes, and took up his cross shaped baton. He walked onto the track of life on earth as a baby in a manger. And he ran the race perfectly. He ran it better than anyone else has ever run it. He won the victory. Now we too run the race and we are being cheered on by the champion of the world and his message is clear, “Keep running, keep going, victory is yours, stay in this race! Go, go, go!”
What greater encourager could we have than to know that the maker of heaven and earth is calling us heavenward. He is encouraging us and pulling for us. So keep on running. Don’t give up the race. Take the relay baton from the champion, keep on running, and hand it off to someone else giving them a start in the greatest race that has ever been rung. In the stands are all those who have gone on before us encouraging us and cheering us on to victory.