Encounters with joe btfsplk
“What a wonderful God we have – He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every
mercy, and the One who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials.
And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort that God has given us.”
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 (The Living Bible)
Have you ever met someone whose patron saint seems to be Joe Btfsplk? You may recall that Joe Btfsplk was a featured character in Al Capp’s well-known comic strip, Li’l Abner. Joe always had a dark cloud following him around and whenever he appeared on the scene, bad luck befell on anyone in the vicinity! Joe isn’t the type of person who would make your day but rather severely disrupt it! Have you ever encountered him on your life’s journey?
Although we might blame the Joe Btfsplks for the disappointments in our lives, might other forces be in operation? Are at least some of our troubles the result of “self-inflicted” wounds? Further, are the words of Peter in regard to Satan “… prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” still applicable in our modern-day world? (1 Peter 5:8) Regardless of our beliefs, “encouragement” and “discouragement” are powerful forces within our lives.
We need to remind ourselves that the English word “encourage” is made of two parts: en–courage, together they mean to impart courage to one another. Courage, according to Webster, comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means “heart”. Courage is that quality of mind which enables one to encounter danger or difficulty with firmness, without succumbing to fear or being faint of heart. So the process of encouraging is to give courage to; to inspire with courage, spirit or hope; to raise or to increase confidence or to enhearten – the opposite of discourage.
Before exploring potential sources of encouragement it might be useful to examine why we sometimes become discouraged and to note the discouragement is NOT unique with any of us. Perhaps you recently have been there.
Perhaps a major cause of our discouragement results from disappointments when things do not happen in the way we expect them to happen. We may even be disappointed with God because our prayers seemingly have gone unanswered. Further, we often experience disappointment in people, our government, or even our church. However, each of these disappointments and the resulting discouragement is usually the result of others not meeting OUR expectations. Consequently, each of us needs to periodically ask ourselves, “What is the real source of my discouragement?”
Some people seem to be born with the gift of encouraging others but most of us have to work at developing it. Further, it seems in our society people are more ready to criticize than to praise and yet encouragement is a universally understood need.
Paul recognized this and he used word “encouragement” fives times in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica. However, I don’t think encouragement came naturally to Paul. In fact, before Paul came to know Christ, there is little evidence that Paul placed much value in the ability to build others up. His main goal before his conversion was tearing others down. Therefore I believe that Paul had to learn the skills of encouragement.
You probably recall that Paul had a mentor for several years after his conversion to Christianity. He did not immediately step into his role as a missionary to the Gentiles. During his first missionary journey Paul traveled with a man from Cyprus named Joseph. Joseph was also the one who introduced Paul to the Apostles in Jerusalem and told them about Paul’s dramatic conversion. Joseph brought Paul to Antioch and gave him the opportunity to preach among the believers there. Further, Joseph was also the lead missionary on what is known as Paul’s first missionary journey.
If Joseph from Cyprus doesn’t sound familiar to you, it might be because he is better known by his nickname – Barnabas; the apostles gave him this nickname and it means “son of encouragement”. Encouraging others seemingly came naturally to Barnabas and Paul probably learned these skills from him and was led to place great value in their use. Perhaps, if we, as believers, put extra energy into encouraging one another as Paul urges us too, we would probably be well along the way of following Christ’s command “to love one another”.
The skill of encouraging does not come naturally to most of us. Perhaps, an important first step is to sensitize ourselves to the frequent expressions of discouragement that occur daily. Listening to our associates describe how they retaliated for some real or perceived wrong often reveals the words: “I really showed him/her!” or “ I bet he/she will think twice before they try that again!” Do such comments spark encouragement? Maybe the first step if we want to be encouraging is to avoid “put-downs”. Perhaps pausing before we speak and reflecting on the potential impact of our remarks will result in our uttering encouraging rather than discouraging remarks.
A second step may be for us to recognize that no one is all bad – that even in the “worst” of us there is some redeeming quality! It might take a bit of effort but might it be possible to find at least one thing about the person we can really appreciate and then share a positive rather than a negative comment?
Finally, we need to accept that we are all in the pilgrimage of life together. Each of us needs the comfort and encouragement of one another. Might this be why God established the church? In our individualistic culture it is sometimes hard to remember that church life was meant to be communal. We were chosen by God and placed in a family of believers to become part of a larger family aiding and encouraging one another. May each of us strive to attain the nickname of Barnabas rather than Joe Btfsplk and be an important source of encouragement for one another. Amen