I was praying for a renewal of passion for the gospel, fervency in prayer, and increased effectiveness in ministry amidst God’s people. In many ways it was a prayer that I hadn’t prayed in quite the same way for some time, but I had to come to it again because I can’t function without God’s intervention and equipping.
Thing is…whilst I love the work I do, I find it incredibly draining of every resource I have. Ministry has both given and taken everything many times over in the past. It’s not an unusual thing…the apostle Paul knew what it was to be spent for the ministry of the gospel. Thing is, there is a difference between being spent on the gospel and being spent on running churches, but thats not what I’m talking about today.
Whatever was going on in Timothy’s life, Paul had to write this to him:
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
This has been an important text to me for some years, because
a) I’m forgetful of my need to replenishing (v6) and the fire of my passion dwindles without regular stoking
b) I’m naturally timid and introverted, and God uses that, but I can’t operate in ministry without his power, love and strength for self-discipline (v7)
c) I’m a creature who prefers his comfort and I’d rather not suffer for anything, thank you very much. Salvationist theology, as one who fully bought it, was demanding and the call to mission, holiness and sacrificial living was so contrary to the patterns of the world and even to the patterns of the ‘church’. (v8 – 10)
d) I’m undeniably, like every Christian, called to such a passioned life. I mean, sometimes looking at the church you’d never guess that we’re called into such a radical experience of mission and discipleship. We get tired, we lose focus, life happens, and its easier to hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over….and yet, there’s a task that we’ve been entrusted with. We’re ambassadors for the gospel. And there are truths to be taught, shared and lived (v11 – 14).
It is easier to not pray for the ability to respond to this stuff. Easier to fix my mind on smaller things. It seems easy, like Jonah, to get on the boat for another direction. And yet, in recent years where I’ve desperately wanted to run in the other direction, God continues to spit me up on the shore of some unsuspecting church where he asks it all of me again like a mad Father standing at the edge of the raining track as his boy gets ready to thunder to the other end of the field.
At heart, I’m a very reluctant church leader/pastor/thing. Privately speaking. But this is not the Spirit that God gives. And so if I am to be anything beyond my very own limited self, it has to be Him who does the job. I’m not up to it. And lets be honest, God knows this very well! He knows the inconsistencies, the doubts, struggles, fears, pains, inadequacies and all the rest and yet he STILL pushes us on. It feels a bit like that passage where Mary pushed Jesus into responding to the wine shortage at the wedding. Jesus snaps back at her, but like a good Jewish boy he goes and does what his mother tells him anyway!
Thing is, it turns out beautiful. In the moment, when looking back on it, you can see the hand of God just taking our determined and uncertain obedience. I guess I’ve enough instances in the bag now to trust that regardless of how qualified or unqualified I feel, God is the source of all I need.
My response is to keep praying the prayer, bowing the knee, relying on the grace.