I’m regularly amazed by the addition of holidays to the calendar which I never knew existed. I’m not just talking about silly ones like National Spaghetti Day (January 4) or National Sock Day (December 4). I’m talking about actual, official holidays that show up on the printed calendar I hang in my kitchen.
For instance, I just found out that September 12 is the National Day of Encouragement. It was started by The Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas in 2007. And it was eventually made official by President George W. Bush.
It’s no coincidence that a day of encouragement should follow a day that we all associate with tragedy and loss. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we all needed to be inspired and reassured, but September 12 isn’t the only date on the calendar when we should devote time to this practice. In fact, we’re reminded all through Scripture to be encouragers.
The prime example for this attribute was a man named Barnabas. Acts 4:36 says that his name was actually Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, because it means “son of encouragement.” What a fantastic nickname!
If you continue reading in Acts, you see Barnabas’ name pop up several more times. We see that he encouraged the church in Jerusalem by giving away the money he made after he sold a field he had owned. Scripture says he “brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Later we see Barnabas step up and vouch for his friend Paul, the Christ-hater turned Christ-proclaimer. The other believers were understandably wary of Paul, but Barnabas told the apostles all about how Saul (renamed Paul) had seen Jesus on his journey to Damascus, and then Paul had started proclaiming the name of Jesus wherever he went. Because of Barnabas’ words, Paul was accepted and could freely preach in Jerusalem.
Next, we see thoughtful Barnabas arriving in Antioch. Once he got there, he saw what God had done in this church, and he encouraged them to keep up the good work. Acts 11:24 says, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
One of my favorite stories about this “son of encouragement” comes in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas, the super missionary team, felt called to go back and check up on the churches where they had previously visited. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark with along them, but Paul was against the idea. You see, Mark had bailed on the team on a previous missionary journey when they had hit some treacherous mountains in Turkey. But Barnabas was willing to give young Mark another chance. They ended up going their separate ways with Barnabas and Mark heading one direction, and Paul and Silas a different one. In spite of this disagreement, God blessed the efforts of both teams. And Paul didn’t hold a grudge against either man. He wrote lovingly about both of them in his later letters, and Mark went on to write one of our four Gospels.
Throughout his life, Barnabas was a model for a type of encouragement which goes beyond empty words of praise. He was generous and a faithful, forgiving friend. He may have mostly acted behind the scenes, but he let God use him in important ways. So from me and Barnabas, Happy National Day of Encouragement!