The world we live in is a dangerous place. That’s a bit of knowledge that comes early for most of us. Our parents warned us, “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Don’t cross the street against the traffic.” “Be sure to wash your hands before you eat—there are germs lurking everywhere.”
As we grow up, the more we come to understand the dangers around us. Violent crimes and acts of terrorism take the lives of innocent bystanders. Individuals are infected with COVID or AIDS, develop cancer, or come down with other serious diseases. Automobile and airplane crashes, hurricanes and tornadoes, and a dozen other causes—natural and man-made — make this beautiful world in which we live a frightening place.
In addition to physical dangers, there are emotional risks as well. In recent years the number of people who are depressed and suicidal surged due to the coronavirus and related economic and other stresses. Many people felt overwhelmed and desperately in need of encouragement, and didn’t know where to turn.
As a grandparent of 12, and now a great-grandparent of 10, I have a strong desire and motivation to do everything I can to encourage my grandsons and granddaughters, some of whom are now grown, to live in such a way as to please God. I recall about 15 years ago, when I was serving as president of Southeastern Bible College, we had Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy speak at an event at the college. Prior to our taking the platform, Truett said to me, “Don, at Chick-fil-A we’ve developed a test to determine if people need encouragement. I know you agree with me on the importance of encouragement. Would you mind if I demonstrate our test to your audience tonight?”
I agreed without hesitation, and as he explained the test to our filled-to-capacity chapel, he asked for a volunteer to help him demonstrate the test. Selecting a lady from among the numerous lifted hands, he invited her to bring her purse and join him on the platform. Then he asked, “Ma’am, do you have a mirror in your purse?”
When she answered in the affirmative, he requested that she take it out and hand it to him. Then he placed it under her nose and mouth and said, “Let’s see if she’s breathing. Because our test has determined that every living, breathing person needs encouragement!”
That little demonstration had a significant impact on me because I have long been convinced that, in every relationship, God wants me to offer encouragement. I discovered that the word for encouragement is found at least 35 times in the New Testament, sometimes as a noun, often as a verb. The meaning of the word is simply “called alongside to help.” In the Upper Room the night before He was crucified, Jesus promised his disciples that He would send “another encourager,” the Holy Spirit. And it is noteworthy to observe that the term John recorded Jesus using meant “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus was the disciples’ encourager during his time on earth with them, as He lived alongside them and help them understand His mission and how to overcome the obstacles they faced. Since He would soon return to heaven, the Holy Spirit would take over that role in the lives of Christ-followers, then and today. Throughout the Bible, there are passages, including Hebrews 10:25, that urge us to encourage one another, and since our grandchildren occupy a priority place in our lives, my conclusion is that God wants us to help fulfill their need for encouragement.
In John 17, as the disciples listened, Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven, detailing the various ways He had served and prepared His disciples to carry on the work He was calling them to do. In verse 12 He stated, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name.” I believe our Lord had two things in mind when He stated this: His function as an encourager, as I noted above, and His function as a shepherd, as He detailed in John 10. I believe both functions are relevant for us as grandparents as we think about how we should relate to our grandsons and granddaughters.
To a great extent, this aspect of Jesus’ discipling of His men is unique to Him because of His person and relationship with His Father (John 17:29–30). After all, we are not omnipotent as Jesus is. We cannot guarantee the perseverance of our grandchildren, or for that matter, anyone we disciple or coach, nor are we involved in giving them eternal life, as He did.
Yet we have the privilege of serving as mentors, coaches, or disciplers of our grandchildren in a spiritually dangerous world. And while we cannot protect them in exactly the way Jesus did, we can be used by the Holy Spirit to fulfill these two important functions which parallel the Lord’s work with His men. These functions are encouragement and shepherding.
A key component of discipling or Christian coaching involves fulfilling these two important roles Jesus Himself carried out in the lives of these men—a shepherd and an encourager.
Jesus had already pointed out to the disciples His own shepherding ministry, guarding them against wolves and uncaring hirelings (John 10:11–14). He knew His sheep and was known by them. The disciples couldn’t have missed the point of that statement.
Then in the Upper Room, as the Lord let His men know about His impending departure, He promised them “another Helper . . . the Spirit of Truth” (14:16–17). The disciples couldn’t miss the impact of His statement here either since there were two words He could have used for “another.” One, allos, means “another of the same kind” while the other term, heteros, speaks of “another of a different kind.”
We are convinced that encouragement is one of the essential ingredients for successful discipling or life coaching. You must encourage your grandchildren along the way if your coaching is to be effective.
Like the Holy Spirit in His ministry to believers today, the encourager is called alongside to help.
Let’s think back to the Upper Room. As the disciples reclined around the table, an intense discussion was underway. If we had been there, the subject would have shocked us. These men actually were debating who would be greatest in the kingdom! Then they fell silent as they noticed their leader wrapped in a towel, basin in hand, washing their feet one-by-one, doing the job of the lowliest slave.
As we think of the example Jesus set, are we willing to serve those we coach in the same way Jesus served His disciples in that upper room? By coaching your grandchildren, you are following the pattern set by our Savior, and serving them.
One of the major ways to encourage is by using encouraging words. At times we grandparents are tempted to scold or criticize our grandchildren. And some individuals, perhaps men more than women, find it more difficult to speak affirming, encouraging words. Yet the book of Proverbs makes it clear just how important verbal affirmation and encouragement can be.
|Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad. Proverbs 12:25|
When the anxious cares of life come pressing in like a flood, kind words can buoy our spirits.
|A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4|
Here Solomon identified two important characteristics of an encouraging word: its intent is to heal rather than harm, and its nature is truth rather than deceit. Like the surgeon’s scalpel or the dentist’s drill, it may be painful medicine, but the ultimate goal is honest healing.
|Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. Proverbs 16:24|
There is both emotional and physical well-being to be gained from the encouragement of pleasant words. They are as enjoyable as one of what may have been one of your favorite childhood activities—chewing sweet honey right from the comb.
|Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21|
Without question, words have an incredible power to harm or heal, to crush or lift-up. They can literally hold the power of life and death! Furthermore, the use of the tongue is one major area where we always see the inexorable law of sowing and reaping.
|A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11|
This proverb underscores the value of speaking true and loving words. Think of the positive impact of speaking such words to your grandsons and granddaughters.
Barnabas: a role model for encouraging.
When it comes to a role model for encouragement, there is probably no better example than Barnabas. While the Holy Spirit provides the ultimate role model for encouragement, and Jesus pointed out this aspect of the Spirit’s ministry in the Upper Room, the man who gives flesh-and-blood perspective to the encouragement process is Barnabas. He was a “world-class encourager” because like a world-class athlete, he was at the very top of his “game.”
Let me encourage you to look through the book of Acts and identify the four different ways Barnabas provides encouragement in four different chapters. I’ll give you a clue: They are found in chapters 4, 9, 11 and 15. In my next article, we will explore how effectively Barnabas was able to encourage others, and how we can follow his example with our granddaughters and grandsons. Let me also urge you to check out our grandcoaching.org website. There you will find many resources and articles, as well as our 16-week “Grandcoaching” online course, which is designed to equip you with Faith-based, life-coaching skills and strategies that will empower you to be the best possible encourager_“Barnabas”- for your grandchildren.
Originally published October 05, 2023