Pastor Tim Smith: The gift of encouragement
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It's now more than five months since lockdown, and I'm still waiting for our gym to re-open.
However, I'm not as out of shape today as I was way back in 2005, when I first joined the gym.
I had done little or no meaningful exercise since breaking my leg playing football a few years previous, and I was a flabby mess.
Having been told that a personal trainer would push me harder and further than I would do if left to myself, I accepted the offer of help from one of the staff, a young lady called Carlie.
A month or so later my wife Linda also joined the gym, and as part of our regular workout routine, we both had weekly one-to-one fitness sessions with Carlie.
We gave her the nickname 'The Angel of Death' because of the way she put us through our paces, and how we felt afterwards!
Although I didn't always appreciate her pushing me so hard, Carlie was a great encourager, and with her help I certainly got fitter quicker.
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She reminds me of someone else known by their nickname that we read about in the Bible.
This man's name was Joseph; not the guy with the technicolour dreamcoat that we read about in Genesis, nor the husband of Mary who features in the early part of the gospels, but this Joseph was part of the early church. We don't know a great deal about him, but in Acts 4:36 we're told that 'the apostles called him Barnabas' (which means Son of Encouragement). That's not a bad thing to be known as is it – an encourager of others?
The different Greek words used in the New Testament to describe encouragement speak of urging forward, offering wise counsel, and of someone who stands alongside to help you.
What a wonderful picture that paints of the kind of people we all need in our lives. Encouragement takes various forms; sometimes it's an arm around the shoulder and at others it might even be a kick up the backside!
I'm so thankful to God for many people over the years in the different churches where I've worked and worshipped who've been a Barnabas to me.
I never imagined I'd ever have a job as a pastor in a church but others saw an ability in me that I couldn't see myself, and not only encouraged me along those lines but also gave me opportunities to serve and learn and grow.
I recall after preaching my first sermon in Malvern over 30 years ago, a man in the congregation called Graham came up to me and said: 'Tim that was really good; God has given you a gift and I can give you the opportunity to develop it.' Where would we be if it wasn't for such encouragers?
I was watching a YouTube clip recently of the migration of geese. They fly in a distinctive V-shaped formation, rotating their leadership; when the lead goose gets tired it changes places with another.
Their flying formation also enables them to conserve energy, and by flying together the whole flock is able to travel over 70 per cent further than if each goose flew on its own.
Also, if any goose gets sick or wounded during the journey two others fall out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it, staying with the straggler until it's able to fly again.
And it's the geese at the rear who are the ones who produce the distinctive honking sound, letting the others ahead of them know all is well and encouraging the rest of the flock to keep going.
As with geese, so it is with you and me; we need the encouraging presence of others. Perhaps for a multitude of people, one of the biggest challenges of this pandemic has been the weeks and months spent in isolation, missing the companionship of friends and family.
But as lockdown for many has eased and acquaintances have been renewed, the words of Hebrews 10:24 reminds us of something important:- 'let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds.'