I was walking to my car the other day on a way to a meeting. My head was down, I was focused. Michael Tejada, one of our maintenance guys, was driving by in a cart, I quickly looked up, gave him a measly little nod, a half-smile, and kept walking to my car. But as if it were the most normal thing in the world, he stopped his cart, smiled real big, and said, “Hey Josh, guess what? Jesus is bananas about you, bro!” And then he just drove away.
I barely had time to react. I just let out a surprised exclamation and barely got out the words, “Wow, thanks!” before he was gone. I got into my car with the biggest smile on my face, and I haven’t stopped thinking about that little drive-by encouragement ambush ever since. Michael really made my day! His words were simple, playful words, but they were shockingly meaningful and profound words at the same time. They stopped me in my tracks, and I was truly encouraged by them. My eyes are a little sweaty even now as I think about those words.
There was a man named Joseph in the book of Acts, who must have been a lot like Michael. In fact, Joseph was so encouraging that the apostles decided to give him a new name. In Acts 4:36, Luke tells us, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement).” I love that. “Barnabas” is the playful nickname that Joseph earned for being so encouraging! It’s as if they were saying, Joseph, must have been born out of encouragement. So cool! And this is the same Barnabas who we studied this week in Acts 11. He becomes one of the more influential early Christians who take the gospel all over the world. But get this, it doesn’t sound like he is influential because he is a great and learned theologian like Paul. He didn’t write down all these events like Luke. We don’t know if he was a preacher like Peter. What we do know is that he was influential because he was encouraging.
This makes me think that our perception of what matters in the kingdom of God might sometimes be flawed. We sometimes think (ok, maybe I sometimes think) that learning and studying and reading and teaching and planning and meeting are the holiest and important things. Now, don’t get me wrong, those are good things, but sometimes the simple things, like a kind word might actually be the most useful. Michael’s words to me were more like Jesus’ words than any theology book that I have ever read, and more than most sermons I’ve ever heard. Maybe we need to learn from Barnabas and Michael. Maybe it’s time to share a kind and encouraging word. Will you do that today? In fact, will you try to encourage someone in a surprising, loving way today? See if you can make someone’s day with an ambush of encouragement.