Martin Rinkart (1586 -1649) was a church minister in Germany during the savage Thirty Years War.
Thousands died in the vicious conflict but after the fighting, a terrible famine and plague killed thousands more. Such was the severity of the war and it’s consequences that 30% of the population in his region died. Rinkart often had to conduct up to 50 funerals a day.
As well as the strain of ministry, he also faced personal tragedy as members of his family, including his own wife, also died.
In the aftermath of all this tragedy, Rinkart wrote the famous hymn Now thank we all our God. Despite all he had endured, he could write the following words:
O may this bounteous God,
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.
How amazing that he could write such words, and that people could sing it, after all they had been through.
Connect and encourage
Songs and hymns connect with the soul, they connect with the memory and they connect with the struggles and the cries of our hearts. By expressing the eternal truths of God’s word they remind us of his love and care.
In short, they can serve to encourage us when we most need it. And I am sure that many of us need some encouragement at the moment during the challenges caused by Covid-19.
Building people up
For this reason my favourite character in the Bible is Joseph because he was famous for building people up and not knocking them down. By using this gifts of encouragement, he changed the whole course of church history. I’m not thinking of Mary’s husband, but instead the Joseph who was a Jew from Cyprus.
In the book of Acts, we learn that Joseph became a follower of Jesus and immediately sold some property he had and gave the money to the church. The church gave him a nickname, Barnabas, which means ‘the encourager’. This nickname stuck so well that people forgot his original birth name.
The picture we get of him, in the book of Acts and Paul’s letters, is of a very warm character. He was universally respected and loved for his generous spirit. He possessed great spiritual insight and helped many come to faith in Jesus. Luke described him as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith and he brought many people to the Lord’ (Acts 11:24).
It is wonderful to research his story through the New Testament and see how much the church owes to him. He encouraged the inexperienced church leaders who faced all kinds of pressures and persecutions. He supported the poor and needy. He pastored the new converts. He welcomed the outsiders and those on the margins. He also stood alongside people like Mark, who faced difficulties and rejection, and helped restore them in the church.
Barnabas can just be seen as Paul’s sidekick. But Paul was hugely helped by Barnabas’ support which helped him preach so widely across the world and write 13 letters. Also, through Barnabas’ encouragement of Mark, we gained the second Gospel.
As far as we know, Barnabas never wrote a book, but he encouraged two men who wrote over half of the New Testament! It is no wonder that Paul includes ‘encouragement’ in his list of spiritual gifts in Romans 12:8.
How about us?
I am sure we all understand how vital it is to be encouraged, especially during the current difficult times we face. Encouragement can make all the difference when we feel misunderstood, when we fail at something or when we don’t feel appreciated.
Even with all the hardship he faced, Martin Rinkart chose to encourage others through his ministry and hymn-writing. He chose to act like Barnabas and has encouraged people for many generations.
Encouragers can make a huge difference to the world.
So how about us? How can we ‘be a Barnabas’ to others in this time of anxiety and stress?
This article is adapted from a 10 minute talk that Olive Kuhrt gave at her Church on Sunday 4th October. You can watch the talk here on youtube (starts at 9:35)