One of the hardest developmental tasks for us as persons in Jesus Christ our Lord is the transformation of our human nature into that of the divine. Try as we might, and struggle as we might, we all face this ongoing problem. For, somewhere along the line we have to learn this important spiritual truth. In the life of the spirit there remains no room for negativity.
The Acts of the Apostles chapter 4:36f tells the story of a fellow whose name was Joseph, but he became known by a nickname–Barnabas. He was given that nickname because of his vibrant positivity, and his ability to strengthen members of the church. That name Barnabas means literally to be a son of encouragement.
But what Barnabas did ought not be unique to him. We are all called to be and to become sons of encouragement to one another. We are called in Jesus Christ to be signs of the positivity of God’s grace and his presence. We are not called to be signs of discouragement. It is a curious thing to note that the Koine Greek term for discouragement had a root in the concept of cowardice. That was, of course, because being discouraged is a state of having your courage taken away. A discouraged person is a person without hope and vision.
To be encouraged–essentially is to be wrapped about and enfolded in courage. And from whence does our courage come?
Well, it most certainly does not come from listening to the news, for while it is important to be informed on a daily basis, yet the source of that information remains a continual stream of tragedy, sorrow, and sadness that touches all our lives.
Does courage come from the hope of political process? We are, after all in a presidential election year. And there again it is fairly clear that most campaigning does not stem from the way of hope, but rather a via negativa. This is fairly clear as we are subjected to political ads in which there is little focus on any substantive issue–just in inordinate amount of innuendo and slander of opponents one of the other. In which we are ultimately persuaded not to vote for a candidate on the basis of substance but rather we are persuaded to vote against a certain person or policy.
Does our courage come from those around us? Well, if we were able to surround ourselves with people who routinely bear a vibrant and positive outlook, we might be able to do that very thing. But the reality of it is, with human nature that most of us tend not to be overwhelmingly positive most of the time. We do not do a very good job of offering that word of encouragement to one another, of lifting one another up, of sharing the gift of hope. We do a fair amount of trading horror stories in a way that we perceive might be a demonstration of caring. And, I suppose when we do that we are hoping to communicate something about our caring—for what we hope to communicate to the other person is that I understand your pain because I have born it also. But what usually comes across is something different, because what usually comes across from the hearer’s point of view is fairly the opposite. I may be telling the story to communicate my caring; what often is heard by the other is more like: whatever you are going through is not so bad in comparison with what I’ve endured. So we manage often to convey the exact opposite of what we hoped we might.
From whence does our help come? Our help in dealing with all this comes from the Lord, who pours out His Spirit upon us, who loves us and redeems us and makes us his children by adoption and grace.
Most of us, when we listen to these lessons today might find ourselves focused on a couple of themes: don’t get angry, practice what you believe, attitude matters, try to focus on the fundamental intrinsic human goodness. But the message of the lessons in total is far greater than the sum of the parts. Because taken together, the message of these lessons is the importance of learning to live as redeemed persons. And redeemed persons learn to conquer negativity in all its manifold forms and learn to become signs of encouragement and hope to those around them.