You May be the Answer to Your Prayer
There is nothing more isolating than being alone in a crowd of Christians. I used to attend a church of thousands. I would come to the same service every week and sit in the same seats with my family. The atmosphere was casual and seemed friendly. I was a new believer at the time and excited. I read the Bible about being part of the Body of Christ. I yearned for close relationships with others in this new adventure of loving Jesus. I made an effort week after week to show up at church looking for fellowship. Yet, no one seemed to care. No one seemed to notice or pay attention. There certainly wasn’t a Paul for me to be Timothy alongside.
Each week I hoped to be included and loved. I left feeling rejected and more confused. THIS was the love that Jesus talked about? Feeling more alone in the crowd each Sunday? Thousands of believers around and none of them cared a bit for me.
Christians who were too busy, too overbooked and too self-involved to pay attention.
It was enough that I did not want to come back to any church, not just that one. It is terrible to be rejected. It is worse when you are a believer and it is the church you feel left out of. Feeling invisible at church is a terrible thing.
This is Christianity without a full understanding of the love of Jesus. For more read Christianity without Love? It is life as a Christian when it revolves around how everything impacts you. It is sadly the situation in many churches in modern Christianity. Thousands of people coming to one room as a church but only passing each other by.
The entire ministry of Jesus was about others. He came for love. How could His church be missing the same focus?
I prayed in pain, sorrow and anger about it. I asked God to answer me why this was happening like Job. “Why aren’t people reaching out, loving and discipling like I see in the Bible? ” He answered in a way I was not expecting:
“Why aren’t you, Tom?”
“I see you. I love you. I am with you.”
“Now you see the problem. You feel the pain. You know the isolation. Go and be the person you wish someone would be to you. Be like Barnabas!”
My disappointment led me to focus on what others were not doing. It was understandable and the church culture was somewhat broken. But I stopped there rather than continue and ask God what I could do to help. I stopped with my pain and anger and it made me part of the problem rather than part of God’s solution.
“Be like Barnabas”, what does that mean?
A Scary Disciple
The Apostle Paul was rejected by the church when arrived in Jerusalem. Paul repeatedly tried to join the church. The problem was they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer. It is understandable.
Saul was described with “monstrous” words before his conversion: as breathing out threats and slaughter with every breath he took. From the time of the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen, the Bible records Saul’s determined efforts to destroy the disciples in Jerusalem. He jailed them, had them killed, and in some cases forced them to blaspheme the name of Jesus. Destroying the church was his life’s work. He was an understandably scary figure.
It is quite reasonable that the church wants nothing to do with him. After all, it was their friends, family and brothers in Christ that Saul was destroying. It was their faith that he sought to stomp out by any means necessary. They had likely heard about his conversion on the Road to Damascus, but fear and distrust are strong motivators. It is hard not to blame them.
Saul was on his own and excluded from the church. Some may have even felt this was deserving punishment for the work he had prior to conversion. There was a huge divide between people in the church.
Your church may not have a former persecutor in it. Yet, there are always potential tensions and differences to be bridged. Most people tend to stick to themselves if they are left on their own. It is really easy for a church to become a drive through service as people zip through life with no significant interactions with others in the Body of Christ.
A Son of Encouragement
This is where every church needs their Barnabas – a Christian filled with love and encouragement for those in the church. People who are willing to throw themselves over the natural gaps that separate the Body. We call them “glue people”. They are the ones who pull a group together with the love of Jesus no matter the cost.
“Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” Acts 9:27-29a.
The man’s real name was Joseph and he was a Levite. The Apostles gave him the nickname “Barnabas”. He is one of the underrated great men of the Bible. Paul gets most of the attention for the missionary journeys. Barnabas was right there with him. He and Paul were the first missionary team to the Gentiles in Church history. After they separated, Barnabas continued on the mission field taking John Mark with him to reach the world for Jesus. He preached the Lord and brought many to faith in Jesus.
Our account, though, focuses on a different aspect than his preaching or missionary activity. Though he was named Joseph, he is remembered by his nickname Barnabas because of what it signified.
Barnabas means “Son of Consolation” or “Son of Exhortation” or “Son of Encouragement“.
Consolation is something that helps another person feel better after a loss or disappointment. It is synonymous with solace, sympathy, compassion or empathy.
Exhortation means to summon to one’s side or entreat. It involves developing deep relationships with people to encourage them in their spiritual walks.
Encouragement means the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope
What an awesome nickname for a Christian! What great values to have in your Body of Christ! What an example of Christ!
Barnabas was not born with this name, he earned it from the men who walked with Jesus.
His day to day life was defined by reaching out and making others feel better. His developing relationships with others to uplift and edify them was noticeable. He would be the one weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffered in the church.
His service to the Lord so defined him that Peter and the Apostles named him for it.
What are we known for as believers?
When people observe our Christian walk, what do they see? Are we characterized by works of the Spirit?
What might our nickname be?
It makes perfect sense that Barnabas is at the forefront when newly Christian Paul returns to Jerusalem and there are problems. Paul comes back from a foreign land to his people and the city of his Lord and seeks to join the church.
Can you imagine how moving and difficult that was for Paul? It was the city that was the Jewish center of the world and where Jesus Himself preached. It was also the city where Saul tore apart the church and killed the saints. How hard it must have been for Saul to see the place where he had taken part in Stephen’s stoning.
The church turns him away out of fear. Paul had met the Risen Lord, and they thought he was faking it. How painful this must have been.
Then the man characterized by consolation and exhortation steps in. He brings Paul alongside him and offers encouragement. He bridges the divide and makes the way for Paul’s conversion to define him. He focuses on the good in Paul. He focuses on the transforming work of Jesus in him. He repairs the fractures that formed among the believers.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
Barnabas takes a great chance on Saul. It should not have been a surprise, though It was who he was after all – the one who comforts, empathizes, encourages. He was an imitator of Christ so he forgives, he keeps no record of wrongs and reaches out for the Lost Sheep.
Barnabas acknowledges the redemptive power of Christ He knows that the Resurrected Lord brings dead things to life…even whitewashed tombs like Paul. He brings the glue of Jesus’ love and grace into the Body of Christ and draws it together. It is because of Barnabas that Paul is accepted, loved, and acknowledged as a chosen child of God.
Paul was a believer who was likely hurting, excluded by the church, experiencing the consequences of past sins, unable to move forward in the church. That is when Barnabas was at his best. Barnabas is a great reflection of the grace of God.
I am just a flawed Christian who felt invisible at church. I was lonely and felt left out of Jesus’ Body. You may be here right now. Yet, God called me to change my attitude and be like Barnabas – a son of consolation, encouragement, and exhortation. He called me to look outward and be His solution. I found out there are so many others just as lost, left out and lonely as I was. They just did not know what to do about it.
Was I willing to be to them the person I wanted someone to be to me? I could be the hands and feet of Jesus and offer love and acceptance to even the scariest people in the Body of Christ. I could make a way for them as well as the shy, the introverted, the awkward, and the angry into the Body of Christ.
The people of the church were indeed self involved, self centered and overly busy. Yet, I was forgetting I was one of the people of the church and struggled with all those same things. Jesus loved me when I was His enemy. It is unreasonable and ungrateful of me to expect people to be perfect before I would love them.
I accepted God’s direction and started reaching across divides. Sometimes it worked like Paul and Barnabas and lifelong friendships were formed. Other times, it didn’t and the person I reached out rejected my offer of fellowship. You may have to leave one church to go to another to find a Body willing to be open and accepting.
The funny thing is regardless of the result, I have never felt alone since. I am doing the Lord’s work and offering His love from His Church. I desperately need Him to carry out His will. He is so clearly with me every step of the way I cannot help but feel part of Him.
Even alone in a crowd with Jesus doesn’t feel lonely.
I have been blessed to see the fruit of responding to Jesus’ call. My church now is smaller than the one of thousands I used to attend. Yet, it is a church of love, encouragement, friendship, and exhortation. It is a church filled with Barnabas’ and those in training to be Barnabas..and it is wonderful. I refuse to be ok with someone not being offered the love of Jesus when they walk through our doors.
Take heart if you are a lonely Christian today. Be encouraged if you are feeling invisible in your church. The Lord has given you insight and wisdom about a problem. Bring your pain to the Lord and lay it before Him. Be honest with the issues you are facing and seeing. Then ask Him whether you are the answer to your own prayer.
Are you being called to be Barnabas to your church, family, friends or workplace? The answer is most likely “Yes”.
Are you willing to push past the fear and earn the nickname Son or Daughter of Encouragement, Exhortation, and Consolation? Do you want others to see you and immediately think of Barnabas?