Episode 1. The Gift that Lies Within You
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God has a plan for our lives – he made us in a certain way, He gave us the gifts to do certain things, and He has already prepared those things for us to do. Problem is, amidst the day to day grind …
God has a plan for our lives–he made us in a certain way, He gave us the gifts to do certain things, and He has already prepared those things for us to do. Problem is, amidst the day to day grind of life … it’s so easy to lose sight of all that. And when we lose sight of it … we inevitably lose our way
A Different Perspective
It’s such a blessing for me to be able to join you again today at the beginning of a new series and I have called this series, “Rekindling the Flame.” Because, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired. I mean, I love doing what I do – I absolutely love it; wouldn’t be caught dead doing anything else rather than what I am doing right now. But even when we love doing what we are doing; even when we are serving God with all out heart, sometimes we get tired; sometimes we get rundown; sometimes so many things around us seem to be going wrong, that – well, we can lose our drive, or our determination or our direction or our sense of purpose in life. Have you ever found that?
Just this morning I was sitting praying, feeling as though I was getting close to running on empty and asking the Lord to fill me afresh, which He did. But this reality of being drained by life, by service, by all the things that we go through, is the reality that pops up again and again for most of us. Have you noticed that? So that’s why we are going to spend the next few weeks together in God’s Word, letting Him speak to us; letting Him into the deepest and darkest places in our hearts, to rekindle the flame.
And there is no better place to be doing that than the Apostle Paul’s second letter to his young protégé, Timothy. So let’s have a look at how Paul opens up his letter to young Tim. Tim has served with Paul all over the place – in Ephesus as a courier. They wrote a few letters in the New Testament together. So Paul was obviously Timothy’s mentor and as any mentor has for his protégé, Paul had a special place in his heart for Tim.
Why is this significant? Well, as you and I spend the next few weeks in this letter, my prayer is that in this fatherly warmth that we discover from Paul to Timothy, we too will experience the fatherly warmth from our Father God, who is speaking to us through Paul’s powerful words. So, how does Paul kick off the letter? Second Timothy chapter 1, beginning at verse 1:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. To Timothy, my beloved child: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I am grateful to God – whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did – when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I want to remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
What a fabulous start! Remember Paul has been through so much in his life so far. He has been beaten, reviled, he has lost his position and status, he has had murder plots against him, riots, been run out of town, had to flee for his life! Unbelievable stuff!! And he starts with a statement, a feisty statement if you will, that his central purpose in life, to be “… an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.”
Why does he do what he does? To bring the life that comes only through faith in Jesus out into the lost and hurting world in which he lives. The easiest thing for us to do when we are travelling through difficult times is to lose our focus. But nowhere … not once in any of his letters do we see Paul do that. He is called by God to be an Apostle; one sent out to do the will and the work of God.
As we are going to come to see, this whole tension between the trials and temptations and tribulations that we go through on the one hand, and the call of God in our lives on the other can throw us completely off course. That as it turns out, is what this letter to Timothy is all about. Because Paul wants something special for Timothy; his young protégé – there’s a special place in Paul’s heart for young Timothy. He wants a special blessing for this young man:
To Timothy, my beloved child, grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
You see that? Paul wants Timothy to experience grace and mercy and peace from God and this letter is all about showing him how. Paul has been praying for him, even though he himself has been going through some really, really difficult times. Paul recalls the tough times they have been through in Christ’s service together … the tears. And now he takes the opportunity to get Timothy focused on his purpose; focused on his mission.
Rick Warren of Saddleback church in the U.S. is perhaps best known for his book and teaching series “The Purpose Driven Life”. But this isn’t something Rick somehow invented in the twenty first century. He discovered it right back here in the first century through Paul and others who wouldn’t be shaken from the purpose that God had for their lives.
And God has such a purpose, not just for Paul but for Timothy. So Paul reminds him of three things. First: the trouble that God has gone to, to hand a deep and powerful faith down to Timothy:
I am reminded of your sincere faith; a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now I am sure, lives in you.
When we are going through tough times, we do well to remember what God has already done in our lives. The faith He has placed in our hearts. And secondly, in light of this faith, Paul calls Timothy to do something amazing, verse 6:
For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.
Friend, we each have a gift – something that God has given us, which we can do better than just about anyone else that we know. And how easy is it for that gift, that ability, that dream to become obscured by the cares of this world … the sheer grind of living life? You have such a gift; you have such a dream!
And when you think about it, back in the first century, rekindling something wasn’t that easy. When there were just smouldering embers there, it would require the careful gathering of dry kindling, placing it carefully over the few remaining embers; fanning the flame, seeing it catch to the kindling, placing larger pieces of wood on to it and then even larger, before it again became a raging fire.
That’s what Paul is talking about; that’s what Paul is telling Timothy to do. This is what I believe God is calling us to do. Is it scary? Yes, sure it is. Is it difficult? Well, probably. We can only gather here, because of what Paul is saying, that Timothy was at risk of losing his way; at risk of losing the purpose that God had placed on his life. And Paul knows that what he is asking young Tim to do is a big ask. So the very next thing he says to Timothy. First Timothy chapter 1, verse 7:
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline.
Friend, over the coming weeks we are going to be chatting about rekindling the flame in your heart. Because I believe that many, many people have been drawn away from the purposes of God for their lives, by this imposter called “success”. And I believe with all that I am, that God doesn’t want us to waste our lives. He wants us to fulfil the destiny that He set out for us before any of our days as yet existed.
Don’t be Ashamed
It never ceases to amaze me how different God’s plan for success is, from the world’s plan for success. I mean, you and I, we know the world’s plan all too well. We have it shoved into our faces and dangled under our noses at least a hundred times each day. You are successful if you’re beautiful, if you are wealthy, if you have power and position, if you have a big house or a new shiny car – that’s when you are successful.
Just recently I visited Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, for only the second time in my life. And a good friend of mine, Ben, drove me around to show me the sights. One of the places he took me to was billionaire’s row – a few streets with some of the most expensive houses in the country. Now they were lovely houses but they were absolutely massive. They were built to make a statement. “Look at me; look at what I can afford.”
And this image, this model of success is what we have dangled under our noses so many times each day that, well, it’s very easy to start believing it. And that’s where we can get our wires crossed; that’s where we can start equating the blessing and favour of God with what the world says makes you successful. So then, when things aren’t going so well in our lives; when we are travelling through trials and temptations and sometimes even torment, we can so easily come to the conclusion that, obviously, we must have failed God – obviously He is not pleased with us. Obviously I’m on the wrong path or in the wrong place. Obviously, right?
So instead of pursuing that one gift that God has placed within us; that one call on our lives to go and to be what God made us to be and what God made us to do, it’s so easy to be ashamed of that failure.
I remember when I decided to toss in my rather lucrative career as an International IT and Management Consultant, to go into this full time ministry, one of my colleagues joked with me that I was pursuing a career of genteel poverty. It’s so easy to be ashamed when we are trying to live out our lives for God and things don’t seem to be conforming to the world’s ideas of success, to be pulled off course, to give up, to head off in another direction.
Now, I remember a time – not that long ago – when here at the ministry of Christianityworks, we were doing things really tough financially. Most of the staff hadn’t been paid for a few months and someone said to me, “Berni, maybe it’s God telling you that you are in the wrong place; maybe you are meant to be going back to consulting and earning some serious money; maybe you are doing the wrong thing being in ministry.”
This was the day after a young woman, Ami, who had come to my online blog at the point of suicide, had been pulled back from the brink because I was able to share the Word of God with her – because others who were visiting the blog encouraged her and prayed for her. Just the day before she had been at the point of taking her own life and then she posted this blog – have a listen to this – she said:
“Last night I had my first encounter with God. I could actually feel Him!!! Wow!! Seriously the best feeling ever!! He kept me up practically all night, and unlike last week where I was hiding my face in my pillow so my parents wouldn’t hear me crying, last night I was hiding my face in my pillow so that my laughter wouldn’t wake them up. I kept bursting out in laughter and song and dance while lying in my bed. I’d been crying out to Him for so long to let me feel His love and His presence and He finally answered me. I have never felt this good in my life. It is awesome!! Thank you all for your prayers and your words of encouragement and Yay! to God!!!”
So, listen, go tell Ami that we are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. You see how easy it is to be misled – to be drawn away from God’s greater purposes by mistaking a worldly idea of success for the real thing?
Now, this is nothing new! And as the Apostle Paul was encouraging his protégé, Timothy, to rekindle the gift that God had placed within him, Paul takes the trouble to talk about this whole tension around success and how you and I can be ashamed. Second Timothy chapter 1, beginning at verse 8. Paul says, look:
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about your Lord or of me as a prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purposes and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel; this good news, that’s why I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am absolutely sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.
Paul suffered in order to bring the Good News of Jesus to a lost and hurting world. And before him, Jesus suffered. Jesus became an abject failure that you and I might have eternal life. We are not here to be successful in the world’s eyes. We are not here to get the glory. The one place that I have discovered real fulfilment and real joy and real satisfaction and real life is in taking that one thing that God’s given me – the ability to tell a story for Him and using that gift in the way that I am right now.
There’s an alternative … a clear alternative to chasing after the world’s brand of success. There is a true way; not a way that crosses the wire that equates worldly success with godly success, but a narrow road; an often times difficult road – a road full of trials and temptations that every Christ-follower is called to take. And that way is a way that Paul shared with Timothy as he was travelling through his own trials. Second Timothy chapter 1, beginning at verse 13. Paul said, look:
Hold onto the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he has often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me – may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus.
See, everyone has deserted Paul in his trials and his afflictions, except one man. Everyone has gone a different way and in the face of all that, what does Paul do? Does he take the easy road? Does he chase after the mob? Does he go after public opinion? Does he renounce Christ? Does he base his actions on the opinion polls? No! He writes to his dear friend Timothy and says, “Look, their opinions aren’t worth anything. Stick to God’s Words; stick to the sound teaching of Jesus and guard the good treasure that has been entrusted to you with the help and the power and the grace and the mercy of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.”
Paul isn’t swayed by opinions; Paul isn’t swayed by being locked up in jail and deserted and all the trials he has gone through, he knows he was called to be an Apostle; he knows he was called to be sent out to take the Good News of Jesus to a lost and hurting world. He knows that Timothy was called to be a pastor and a teacher – one called to grow people in their faith and their relationship with God.
And Paul is not ashamed of the fact that he is locked up. He is not ashamed of the fact that he wears chains for Christ’s sake. And he is not thrown off course by some imposter called ‘success’. He counts as nothing what he’s left behind – his seat on the ruling Sanhedrin, the potential to grow a mega following as a leading Rabbi in the sect of the Pharisees. And he presses on to follow his calling to exercise his gifts as an Apostle.
And here’s the thing: two thousand years on, we are still talking about Paul. Two thousand years on, God is still ministering to us through Paul.
The Dream that Died
I want to finish up today by telling you about a woman with a dream; with a special gift that she had been nurturing. When she walks out onto the stage the audience just sneered at her. The judges rolled their eyes. She was forty eight years old by her own admission, never been married, never been kissed, she was unemployed and still looking, her hair was a mess, her bushy eyebrows reminded me powerfully of a forest, she was frumpy as best, her dress looked like something my mother used to wear, back in the sixties.
She had been singing since she was twelve years old, she told us and she had always wanted to sing in front of a large audience. After she pranced out on the stage and did a weird little jig – she was really quite eccentric, you know. One of the judges ask her what she dreamed of becoming. “A professional singer”, she answered. The judges and the audience were incredulous. “And why hasn’t it worked out for you so far?” one of the judges ask her. They all poked fun at her; they were brutal, but she stood her ground.
Again, one of the judges enquired, “What are you going to be singing for us tonight?” “’I Dreamed A Dream’”, from Le Miserables”, she said. And on her thumbs up, the audio technician pressed the button and music began to play. She opened her mouth and began to sing and we were all utterly gobsmacked. She sang with the voice of an angel. She sang with the power and the poise and the presence of a diva, who graced the greatest opera stages of the world all her life.
Words fail me in describing her performance that night. She brought the house down. Her name of course, is Susan Boyle – the show was “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009. And within just a few weeks, just over a hundred million people had watched this video clip on U-tube – a hundred million!!
Now I have watched that video – it’s just seven minutes and seven seconds long. I have watched it on line several times now and not once have I finished with a dry eye. The world wanted to judge this book by its cover. But before she walked out on the stage she told the interviewer, “I am going to make this audience rock.” No one believed her! NO ONE believed her until she opened her mouth to sing these words from the stunning musical, “Le Miserables”.
I can only write them; I can’t sing them to you the way she did. But let the lyrics do their work in your heart anyway. She sang:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life was worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted.
But the tigers came at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
Those beautiful words touch us so deeply inside somewhere because they are the story of many a life. We start off with dreams about who we will be and what we will do and … And when we are young, they tend to be bold dreams; noble dreams, altruistic dreams; dreams that find their roots somewhere deep down in our DNA – dreams about living a life that somehow, we are meant to be living.
Friend, that dream comes from God because God made us to be who we are. God made us to do the things that He prepared for us beforehand to do. And, you see, this is why Paul goes to young Timothy. Timothy is ministering in a church – it’s a tough gig. It’s full of trials, it’s full of grind, it’s full of challenges. And the easiest thing in the world would be for Timothy to forget the gift that God gave him – to forget the call that God placed on his life. To wander off and say, “This is just too hard. I’m out of here – I can’t deal with these people.” And so Paul writes to him to remind him to rekindle the gift that God had placed within him through the laying on of Paul’s hands.
Friend, you have a gift. No doubt you have a dream. No doubt, it may be buried under years of neglect, it may be buried under layers of muck, but God has placed a gift in you. God has given you the ability to do something that you can do better than just about anybody else that you know.
And, can I ask you something? Why do you think God put that gift in you? Why do you think God made you a certain way? Let me tell you. Because His plan was always for you to use the gift that He had given you. Not just for yourself but for other people. For you to give that gift away; to touch other people with the love of Christ.