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2012: The Year of Encouragement

Back in World War II an American soldier walked the streets of London. He saw a young boy, an orphan no doubt, staring in the window of a bakery. You could smell the warmth of fresh pastries wafting through the air. The little boy looked hungry.

The soldier walked into the bakery and after a few minutes walked out holding a big, hot, sweet pastry. The boy’s eyes met his, and a look of fear appeared as the boy expected the soldier to shoo him away from the store. But the soldier walked to the boy, knelt down, and handed him the pastry. He stood, patted the boy on the head and walked away.

As he walked down the street he felt like he was being followed. He turned around to find that same boy staring up at him.

“What is it, son?” the soldier asked.

“Mister,” the boy asked, “Are you God?”

It is amazing the impact we can make in the lives of others when we encourage.

This week 45,000 young people gather in Atlanta for Passion 2012. What a wonderful testimony of a generation who love Jesus, and what encouragement this event offers for us today. May God grant a growing gospel movement through Passion and other ways in which God is working in our day.

Back in the early 1990s I taught a group of college students every week at Houston Baptist University. While there my family worshiped at a megachurch in the area. A young man named Sam helped often in the worship ministry. Sam demonstrated a gifted voice and a passion for leading people to worship. I remember praying for him in a sort of commissioning time as he headed to Austin to help lead worship for a conference.

It was the first gathering of what has become Passion.

I have never been to a Passion event, but I have been greatly blessed by the movement.

While at our church in Houston we adopted an annual theme as a congregation: The Year of Hope, The Year of Prayer, etc. I found this to be helpful as the leaders sought to help members live out the gospel under the umbrella of a consistent theme.

When I look back at 2011, I think of it personally as The Year of Transition, or The Year of Growth. Our children finished high school and college respectively. They have each grown in relationships with a special someone that will shape the rest of their lives. We became empty nesters. Transitions have marked our year. And, I have grown a lot, and through both some wonderful times of God’s blessing, and through some disappointments, the Lord in His grace has reminded me of some things. And one is of particular importance, so much so that I will give daily, intentional focus in 2012.

For me, the year 2012 will be the Year of Encouragement. I love being an encourager. I love helping young leaders see things they do not, enliven vision, and engage them in their passion for Christ. Yes, sometimes we encourage with a kick in the pants, but I am wired much more as an encourager who helps others believe. And dream.

Barnabas has always been one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He did not have to be in the limelight; he could hardly be called an opportunist. But he played a huge role in the spread of the gospel, including giving leadership to one of the most important movements in Acts (see 11:19-26). His life was marked by encouragement. The apostles changed his name to exhibit his encouraging nature.

It is amazing what an encouraging word, a well-timed hug, or a moment of prayer can do for another. It takes no great skill or talent to be an encourager, no unusual communicative ability or nuanced observational skills.

You do not have to be a culture ninja to make an impact for Christ. Just encourage. And it simply takes encouragement to be an encourager.

Think about someone who made a major impact in your own spiritual growth. What marked that person’s impact in your life? No doubt a reason the person influenced you is because you saw the gospel lived out in them. But I bet that person also encouraged you. I am grateful that God in his grace sent people in my life at key times to encourage me. And I want to be that person in the lives of others. Just last week I was able to catch up with one of my students near his home in Buffalo. He met me for lunch in Rochester where I was speaking. He was genuinely grateful. And so was I.

The funny thing is, when you encourage others, you too are blessed.

Back in the day comedian Jimmy Durante often entertained troops during wartime. On one occasion he visited a military hospital. The administrator asked him to stay for a short show in the auditorium. Durante said he had to leave for appointments, but the administrator insisted.

“Five minutes,” Durante agreed, “but then I must go.”

The sick and wounded were brought into the auditorium. Durante did a brief comedy routine, and the crowd clapped and cheered profusely.

Instead of leaving, the comedian continued—for a full hour. The elated administrator asked him why he stayed so long.

“When I did the first routine,” Durante replied, “I noticed two men in the front row. The one on the left had lost his right arm. The one on the right had lost his left arm. When they clapped, they clapped as one. I was so moved, I couldn’t leave.”

You may not have such a moving, unexpected blessing, but if you encourage others, you will be surprised at the joy God gives from your encouragement.

But to be honest, deciding to be more of an encourager is not something you announce, is it? It is something you demonstrate. I pray those who cross my path in 2012 will think of me as an encourager. And I pray they will think the same of you.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.