So very many of us are searching for Barnabas. And what's sad is that we may not even realize that we're searching for Barnabas until we crash & wonder where he's been.
In recent years, I've watched two guys I considered VERY close friends crash & burn morally. Both left behind angry & hurt wives and crushed & wounded sons. A good many years back, a pastor--a pastor!--crashed & burned morally, shortly after he resigned his pastorate.
From what I know, all three of these guys were & are Christians. All three have had significant impacts for the Kingdom of God. And there is no doubt that all three have had a significant impact on me personally, in multiple ways. Before their respective crashes, they impacted my life & faith through teaching & example & fellowship. So please read my emphatic statement: I am SO thankful for all three of these guys and for the providential ways their paths crossed mine and for their impact on my life & faith & marriage & parenthood. And tragically, as a result of their respective crashes, they have impacted my life & faith by counter-example. I've been reminded of some boundaries to enforce & some behaviors & thought processes to guard vigorously & intentionally.
Also, from what I know, none of these guys really had found Barnabas. So many of us guys haven't yet. In all three cases, it's possible or perhaps even likely that I should have been Barnabas to them and I wasn't.
(If you're wondering, I've seen all of them since their episodes & thanked all of them for being my friend & for impacting me. I still have fairly regular contact with one of the three, despite geographical distance. And only God knows how much grace I personally have needed over the years from Him but also from friends & family! You won't hear arrogance & condemnation from me. As my Mother used to say, "There, but for grace, go I." Neither will you hear "oh well, boys will be boys" excuses by me. In fact, those two ideas--condemnation & excusing--are part of the main point of this.)
So, who's this Barnabas we need to be searching for?
Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)...
"Son of Encouragement." Dr. Howard Hendricks--a long-time seminary professor whose faith became sight just last year, & who I wrote about back then--used to say to guys that we all need three guys in our lives. We need a Paul, a Barnabas, & a Timothy. Paul--a more mature guy who's building into us; Timothy--a younger guy whose life we're building into...and Barnabas--an encourager.
According to Prof, this Barnabas would be our co-laborer. "Someone who loves us dearly, but who is not impressed by us." Our Barnabas will genuinely encourage us, while at the same time holding us accountable. He will--with our permission--speak truth into our lives. One guy I know quit smoking because his Barnabas looked at him one time & said, "That's a really stupid habit that you need to quit. I love you & so does your family, and we want you around a long time." A simple example, but if that particular Barnabas didn't love the guy, he wouldn't have spoken that truth to him in love. And if he were impressed by him, he wouldn't have spoken it to him at all!
Guys, have you found Barnabas? If not, with all the love I can muster, put that at the top of your list of things to work on.
Before I describe some Barnabases in my life, a VERY important reminder: "Son of Encouragement" does NOT equal "Enabler"! Again, loves you but is not impressed by you. He has your best at heart, & thus will occasionally speak hard truth into your life. Barnabas will not let you off the hook with weak excuses.
With that, let me tell you about a few sons of encouragement I know. I won't name them, but I'll describe them. Hopefully, doing so will show the importance of Barnabas and also will show how easy it is to be in Barnabas' orbit.
One guy regularly asks me--and a number of other guys--when our last date with our wife was. If we stammer, he'll smile, pat us on the back, & tell us he'll ask again next week, and will expect a different answer. Countless guys--me included--need reminding that right after our faith in Jesus Christ, our wife comes next. Before church. Before work. Before kids. Before sports & other entertainment.
Another guy once confessed a deep struggle to me, saying "I know you'll pray for me & keep this just between us. I also know you'll hold me accountable to deal with it." What a high honor, to be invited into the depths of another man's soul like that! By the way, in the years since, I've asked him about the issue a few times. (Again, he asked me to ask him.) By the grace of God, his prayer--and mine--for himself on this issue has been answered affirmatively. After he has shared victories with me, he always says, "Thanks for asking! I love you, Brother."
This other Barnabas I know connected the dots between some work issues I was dealing with and my near-total slackness in my Christian life. He told me pretty directly to stop being a perfectionist, stop being passive about my faith, and get on with life. Then he prayed for me, and promised to continue to doing so. I'm pretty confident that he has prayed for me pretty regularly for 25+ years now, despite us not living in the same city or state for over two decades.
Another guy showed me the value of time away from work with just my wife & kids. He was selected for a position of honor that a number of guys in my community would love to have. To the shock of most, he declined, saying that he had committed to travel with his wife & kids, which was a higher priority to him. He was told, "You may not have this opportunity again, you know..." He said, "Yeah, I know. But I know my boys will never be this age again. I appreciate the offer, but No." He & I laughed about this, & then he looked at me & asked when the last time I had taken a vacation with Lisa & James & Anne. When I stammered a bit, he smiled. I got the point.
One more: there's another guy who shaped some boundaries for me early in my married life. There were unsavory & totally untrue rumors circulating about me. I was furious & ready to do violence to the perpetrator of the gossip. Thankfully, I sought my friend's counsel. He said two things: (1) "Nobody who knows you believes these; I don't and neither does anyone else who has contact with you & Lisa." (2) "Here are a couple of things you might consider in the future to avoid such rumors even getting started..." And he suggested some hard boundaries that I have tried to stick to in the years since. As expected by him, my marriage which was already good has become great as I have tried to actively & intentionally honor Lisa in my heart, my words, and in actions I take intentionally and actions I avoid equally intentionally. PLEASE do not hear me boasting here! Rather, read that "As expected by him" sentence as evidence of the grace of God poured out first & foremost via a trusted brother. Barnabas.
As others much wiser than I have noted, there's a significant and growing absence of men finishing well these days. We have short-changed our wives and our children. We have left women to fulfill leadership roles in the home and in the church. We are fairly well absent, far too often under the guise of "Well, I'm working hard making money." I'd really love to tell you that I'm innocent of these things; I'm not. But hopefully, by the grace of God and through the encouragement of multiple Barnabases in my life--sons of encouragement--I'm much closer to "innocent" than I used to be.
Thanks guys. I'm a better man, husband, father, professor, and follower of Christ because of you. Please don't let up, gents. I have a ways to go yet; so do you. Please pray that we all hit the finish line running strong in the faith. Let's lean into the tape and finish well! May God bless each of you sons of encouragement. Thanks for "bringing me with you" on our life & faith journeys.
May we all find Barnabas. May we all BE Barnabas.