Two of the basic rules for getting things done contradict each other. The first is the often quoted maxim of busy people: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” The other is the key to a life of effective leadership: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Empowerment of others is one of the most overlooked and undervalued life skills. No child becomes a healthy adult without a fair dose of encouragement and challenge from a significant adult. Without being empowered young people are left to flounder in meaningless activities and irresponsible living while they wait for their 15 minutes of fame.
It is only through the gift of empowerment that people are truly allowed to shine. And empowerment doesn’t occur on accident. You either choose to lift others up, step on them to lift yourself up, or ignore upward mobility altogether opting to stagnate in a pool of sappy platitudes and unhappy attitudes. The choice is yours. Make one, or it is made for you.
Barnabas chose to lift people up. His name was actually Joseph, but he was such a uplifting person that the leaders of the early Christian church changed his name to Barnabas-—which means “son of encouragement.”
Barnabas was willing to risk his reputation to give others a new start in life. One young religious leader changed his views—converting from Judaism to Christianity—and wanted to lead people to Jesus. Unfortunately, this young man had been employed by the Jewish leaders to hunt, imprisons and even kill Christians. His name was Saul.
On one occasion, while still working for the Jews, Saul stood over the body of a Christian preacher named Stephen- and called for others to stone the man. He was holding the coats of the men throwing the stones. Stephen died and the Christians feared Saul—the Christian killer.
While on a trip to the city of Damascus where he was planning on rounding up some Christians, Saul had an encounter that changed his life. He heard the voice of God and saw a bright light. The voice said, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4*). Not recognising the voice, Saul asked who the voice belonged to and was told “I am Jesus” (verse 5). The brightness of Jesus’ light blinded Saul for three days. The voice of Jesus, whom Saul had been certain was dead, removed his spiritual blindness and allowed him see that Jesus was the Messiah—just as the Christians had been saying.
Saul was so cut to the heart that he chose a new name—Paul. He wanted nothing to do with his old life. But, he wanted everything to do with Jesus. He began to share his new found faith with people and was very effective in leading non-Christians to Christ.
But he was less than effective in convincing the Christian leaders that he was authentic in his love for Jesus. They thought it was a trick to get into their inner circle, find the ring leaders, and gut the Christian church from the inside out.
Then Barnabas stepped into the gap between Paul and the Christians. The Christian leaders wouldn’t let Paul get close enough to hear his story. “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” (Verse 27).
Paul was the lowest of the low in the eyes of the Christian leaders. Barnabas reached down and lifted Paul up in the eyes of others. From that time on Paul was allowed to preach in the name of Jesus and he became one of the greatest Christian teachers in the early church. But none of it would have been possible without Barnabas—the son of encouragement.
investing your influence
Barnabas obviously had influence in the leadership of the early Christian church. They listened respectfully as he told the story Paul was not allowed to tell.
Influence is interest bearing. The higher your investment in someone, the higher the potential returns. But to have any effect you must take a risk. Influence grows fastest when you spend it on others.
As you praise the achievements of others your influence grows with them. As you create a safe place for them to exercise their new skills they become gifted and your investment in them bears returns over time.
The expenditure of influence that brings the greatest returns is when you take the risk of believing in someone that others have abandoned and standing in the gap so they can cross to a position previously unattainable.
As you face the criticism and doubts of others on the new person’s behalf you are spending your hard earned influence on an unknown. Such standing in the gap causes the doubters to suspend judgement for a moment. Their pause is for one purpose—to find an answer to the question your action has caused, “Why would you stake your reputation on this person?”
empowering with trust
There are few things more stressful for leaders or parents than handing over the keys. Once you have convinced others to give the new person a go, you need to be willing to let them go!
Barnabas modelled this very well with Paul. He travelled and preached with Paul for a couple years then moved on—to empower the next young leader. He was able to lift, invest in and empower Paul and then move on—allowing both Paul and himself to mature.
Only trust makes this kind of empowerment possible. Paul trusted Baranbas (and why not, the man did so much for him). And Barnabas trusted Paul to continue in the way he had been trained. Both of them move into new sphere’s of influence as they allow physical distance to come between them.
The ultimate gap stander
Barnabas came by his gap standings skills honestly. His leader, Jesus, was by far the most effective empowerment expert of all time. He stood in a gap for each of us that seems impossibly wide. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That’s the gap Jesus stood in—He spanned the chasm of death, for you and I.
He lifted us up in the full view of others and said, “this is my child, whom I love very much!” And while others wouldn’t have given us a chance, Jesus always does.
Now Jesus stands before the Father in Heaven investing His influence on our behalf. “I am your Son. I died for them,” He says. And the Father smiles in triumph. Jesus has made you free.
Many of us are unaware or uninterested in Jesus’ amazing gift, and yet He offers it undeterred. He is standing in the gap, offering us his influence before the Father. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus offers a way out. Take His hand, walk across the cross beam and stand in the Kingdom fully pardoned. No wonder it’s called amazing grace!
But He’s not finished with us when we cross into the Kingdom. Jesus empowers us with trust, “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). And with that commission, He bids us blessings on our quest.
Now it’s our turn to empower others by believing in them, standing in the gap for them and handing them the keys to the Kingdom.
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