If recent surveys are correct, many Americans are more afraid than they perhaps have ever been – at least since such things were measured and recorded. Fear seems a constant problem in our modern age. While we are less fearful of an airplane’s safety, we have become more fearful of the TSA security procedures, and what they may be doing with the “delicate” pictures they take of us. On the information front, some are more afraid of what the government is collecting about individuals while that government appears more afraid of what secrets a rogue government-cleared person may give to other nations. While some Americans are more afraid the authorities will move in to take away their guns, others are more afraid that someone with a gun will use one – particularly in sensitive areas like what happened in a California library a short time ago, or at Newtown, Connecticut last year. Some of those who carry smart phones are more afraid of the increased cost of their phone bill, while many others are more afraid of the bill amount they may face at their next dental appointment or doctor’s visit. Yes, we seem to have made a life of great conveniences, and share that life with a constant companion named “fear”.
Fear seems to be a modern fact of life. Yet, we have to admit something else even more uncomfortable than that fact. The truth is that fear isn’t limited to people who DON’T KNOW AND WALK WITH GOD – everyone experiences it – though not necessarily to the same degree. It’s true that even those of us who have a long track record with the Master unwisely fall prey to our own emotions. Often I must remind myself that I can do ever so little about how I feel about something, but my actions must remain ever subject to my will. As a Christian, this is the reason for the urgency of constantly monitoring that will by God’s expressed desire from His Word. When fallen natural desires are raised to the point of gaining control, the fundamental functions of self-control are thwarted. In that moment I become a slave to my passions and a victim of my feelings. The regulating valve of my will is ignored, and I act out. God does not judge my feeling, for I have been born broken from the Fall, and even after my new life, I share a mind with the old man that must be put aside and starved of control. He does, however, judge the action, for that is a new sin – the act of handing control over to self that belongs to my King.
No matter how much has been invested in any of us, and no matter how much God has bestowed in gifts on our life, even followers of Jesus can fail to produce the rightful fruit of such a blessed life because of two simple problems: fear and shame. The reason for both is the same… The bottom line is that God’s moves don’t always make sense to us. When we can’t figure out what God is doing we are presented with a choice: shrink away from our faith or boldly recall all that God has done in the past and why He did it! The careful recollection of God’s faithfulness and deliberate intention to trust in His care for my future are both wrapped up in the New Testament word translate “HOPE”. As a believer, I am to live in HOPE and not is SHAME of the past or FEAR of the future.
Key Principle: To mature to a grown follower of Jesus, I must learn to lay aside fear and shame, and pick up the banner of HOPE.
That is part of my call to live like Jesus. He walked among men who feared, and the record of His ministry was one of COURAGE born of HOPE. It is important to note the Biblical definition of “hope” is somewhat different than the modern usage – more akin to the use of it in terms of a young woman’s HOPE CHEST. As she carefully places items in the box, she has every expectation they will one day serve here and her future husband. Hope in the Bible is “earnest expectation”.
A young man named Timothy faced a time in his life when his life didn’t come together. Things weren’t going as well as he wanted them to. He had some good ideas, and some good intentions, but the church was facing larger and larger issues, and he was getting drowned out in the process. He was struggling with his own nature and personality, and he was facing what looked to him to be defeat from a rising tide of persecution and trouble in the Roman world.
Paul, his mentor and teacher, had been arrested, faced the Emperor, and was released. After some travels, Paul was picked up again – and this time Paul sounded like the end was near – his earth life was now on “borrowed time”. Timothy saw his mentor fading, and knew the weight of ministry (in the human sphere) was about to fall to his generation of believers. Add to that, the emboldening of some who “acted out” during Paul’s imprisonment in the Christian community, and Timothy was wearing out and losing hope.
God knew Tim’s state, and so did Tim’s mentor, the Apostle Paul. Both believed in Tim, but he needed both instruction and reassurance.
At the same time, it is clear that Timothy really did need to rethink some of his ministry and leadership practices. By reading carefully Paul’s letters, we can grasp something of Timothy’s symptoms and feel his problems:
• He wasn’t a fighter, and the fight was drawing closer: He had to be prodded to fight the spiritual battle, he wanted a back row seat (1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 1:6 “stir up the gift”; 2 Tim. 1:13 “grab what I taught you!”
• He wasn’t as focused as the times called for, and suffered from misdirected energy: In particular, he had to be instructed to get the ladies settled down (He got them stirred up! (1 Tim. 2:11). He also engaged in discussions over his head (1 Tim. 6:20).
• He suffered from a desire to be affirmed, perhaps due to a poor self-image: He appears to have felt acute pressure because of his age and lack of experience (1 Tim. 4:11,12). He also seemed ready to ordain elders that weren’t ready because of the pressure to be accepted by his peers (1 Tim. 5:19-22).
• He didn’t feel well: His stomach was in knots (1 Tim. 5:23).
With physical and emotional challenges, the enemy was able to work on Timothy’s spirit. Hope was slipping, little by little, and Timothy was becoming less effective. He needed someone or something to help him refocus. He was weakening, and there were signs of dropping productivity all around him. Maybe a believer who encounters this lesson today could use the same.
What can we do to regain focus, renew hope and reject fear when things look down?
Look at the pattern from the first part of Paul’s final letter to Timothy. Each word was carefully read and re-read by Timothy, every word precious to one whose hopes were fading. Here is a pattern for regaining hope and chasing out fear:
First, open your heart to a godly friend and let them in (2 Timothy 1:1-3).
For Tim, it was the letter from his mentor that opened:
2 Tim. 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did…”
Notice the details of the opening, because they are important.
• “An apostle of Jesus Christ”: Paul was a tested messenger of God – his words had been tested and his lifestyle was known to be a fine example of godly character. Don’t draw near to an untrusted or unreliable source of God’s truth to regain hope and shake off fear.
• “…by the will of God”: Paul knew God’s Word and was confident in God’s plan. Don’t expect a shaky believer to help you build back confidence. You need someone with the confidence to stand out. If you are hanging from a cliff, you want a strong arm to grab your wrists. Years ago, there was a test conducted by a university where 10 students were placed in a room. Three lines of varying length were drawn on a card. The students were told to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the longest line. But 9 of the students had been instructed beforehand to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the second longest line. One student was the stooge. The usual reaction of the stooge was to put his hand up, look around, and realizing he was all alone, pull it back down. This happened 75% of the time, with students from grade school through high school. The researchers concluded that many would rather stand with the majority than risk being right and alone. Now is the time when you will have to face some of your fears squarely with a firm confidence in God. Never, ever, take your cues from the crowd. (A-Z Sermon illustrations).
• “…according to the promise of life”: Look for someone who focuses you on God’s promises, not more of earth’s problems. Don’t find someone who will add to your woes their own set of complaints. I am thankful to the Lord that I have a few friends who know well how to get from God the strength to move through troubled times. We all need the longer view when life starts pulling us down. Just this week I experienced this. I remembered thinking it strange that though I am on the earth for but a few moments, I seem to so quickly wrap myself in the pain of its every turn. I read an obituary a good man that I admired was reminded again: “Stop your worrying, Randy. This is your Father’s world. It is not yours to fix, nor is it yours to pollute. He was spinning planets long before you awoke the first time, and He will accomplish His story to the last detail.” Yes, it was again time for me to remember and relax and let God run things. That is one of the things I love about living in my Father’s shadow. I can rest knowing He has everything covered.
Note how confident Paul was about God’s work and his future. Just a few verses later he wrote: 2 Tim. 1:12 “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
The Apostle Paul used the Greek term “paratheke” for the term “entrusted”. The term meant “a treasure or a deposit left with someone you trust completely.” Since banking was only available in the client – patronage system, wealth was often deposited with friends or family on the basis of trust. As a result, the person you asked to take care of your possessions was someone you knew well, and trusted completely. Conquering fear is not simply a matter of self-determination; it is a matter of dependence on the amount of love and trust we truly place in our God.
Several years ago, an experiment on endurance was conducted at the University of California at Berkeley. The experiment involved placing Norwegian field rats in a tub of water, where they were forced to swim until they grew exhausted and finally drowned. During the first experiment, the researchers discovered that on the average, these rats were capable of swimming for over seven hours before drowning. A second experiment was conducted, exactly like the first but with one exception. This time, when a rat was getting too exhausted to swim any longer, the researchers would remove the rat from the tub of water for a few seconds, then put the rat back into the water to continue swimming. These rats were able to swim for almost 20 hours before perishing. The researchers concluded that the rats in the second group were able to swim so much longer than the first group because of one factor: they had HOPE. They had experienced a rescue—and what kept them going was the HOPE that they would be rescued again. Edited from More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks by Wayne Rice. Copyright 1995 by Youth Specialties, Inc.
• “To Timothy, my beloved son.” Draw into your confidence someone that has your best interest at heart – one that knows and loves you. Solitary Christians wither because we are called to be part of a body. At the same time, it is wise to choose carefully those who become a part of your deeper life and those who hear your inner discouragements. They need to be strong, but they need to truly LOVE you. In discouragement, you don’t need to invite Job’s friends. Any normal person would have ended their life surrounded by men like that! You can hear Paul’s love, even as the letter progresses. Skip down a few verses and we read: 2 Tim. 1:4 “..longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.”
• “Grace, mercy and peace from God”: Make sure your friend will draw their strength from God’s empowering and their answers from God’s Word. There will never be a more important time to have a friend who deeply entrenched in studying and knowing God’s Word than when you are in a crisis of hope.
Years ago. I recall hearing a Pastor offer this thought: On day six of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. If they failed, they might never return to Earth. To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft. Yet the astronauts needed to conduct a thirty-nine-second burn of the main engines. How to steer? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through their tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination–Earth. Apollo 13, for thirty-nine agonizing seconds, was directed by Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the three astronauts avoided disaster. Scripture reminds us that to finish your life mission successfully, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). That is how Paul was re-energized. He didn’t look at the news, and he didn’t look at the church – he looked at the Master.
• “Whom I serve with a clear conscience”: Pick someone who has a clear account with God. You don’t need someone counseling you who is doing penance or passing through some purifying transformation due to guilt. They may have a past (Paul surely did), but they need to be clear headed and free of a guilty conscience to direct you back to God and restore hope.
Yes, draw in a friend – but not just any friend. They should be a tested messenger of God with a track record of knowledge and confidence in God’s Word. They should be someone who deeply cares about you, and knows how to refresh and renew themselves in God’s hands. They should have a clean heart and a clear conscience. If they aren’t these things, they won’t fit the pattern of the friend you are looking for. They may make you laugh, and you may enjoy time with them – but they won’t really be what you need. If you don’t have one – ask God to help you to begin to build that kind of bond with a person who knows and loves Him.
Second, find some strong prayer support. (2 Timothy 1:3b).
2 Tim 1:3b “…as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.”
In Timothy’s case, one of his prayer warriors was the same friend that we have been describing, but that isn’t essential. There is no Biblical demand that the same person who is praying is the one who God is using to answer your need for counsel and direction. God calls all of us to pray for one another – but has NOT called all of us to counsel one another.
Prayer verbally reminds us that God is in control – so we must not only accept prayer – but we must PRAY as well. Reminded of God’s control, we can face our fears. He gives us the ability to do what life demands, to love when others hate, and to be under control when others throw restraint to the winds.
Third, look back at God’s blessings in your past. (2 Timothy 1:5-6).
2 Tim. 1:5 “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. 6 “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. “
Don’t look past the good hand of God in how you got where you are. God has been at work, even before you knew it. You were formed by His hand, and sculpted for a unique purpose. Looking back can help us remember that dark nights have new dawns that follow. Paul reminded Tim of two past features of God’s work:
• First, there was the godly heritage that Timothy had, a faith demonstrated in his grandmother and then in his mother. What a blessing for those who have it as I did. Yet, even if you did not grow up in good circumstances – there is a pathway of blessing if you look back in your life.
• Second, Paul drew Tim into a mental picture of a moment – some years before – where Paul and other leaders laid hands on Timothy and acknowledged that God had both gifted and empowered him to do the very task with which he was now struggling. You may not have been called to Pastor a group of people, and you may never have had such a “laying on of hands” as this. At the same time, you may look back and recall a time when those you love claimed out loud the nature of your giftedness, or entrusted you with serious and important tasks, showing their confidence.
Fourth, inventory the ingredients “driving” your life choices (2 Timothy 1:7)
2 Tim. 1: 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
There are some ingredients of our life that God did not put there. There are others that He intends for us to have as a part of our experience. Paul offered to Tim an inventory of these.
• First, Paul made it clear that God did not add to our lives FEAR (“delia” or di-lee’-ah is actually the word for timidity or paralyzing reticence). He desires REVERENCE, as in the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of knowledge – but that is not this kind of reticence, but rather a firm grasp of respect for His position as Creator and Ruler.
• Second, Paul makes clear that three specific ingredients have been added to Timothy’s life to make him productive in his life and ministry. These three ingredients are:
Power: the term is dunamis, from which we get the name “dynamite”.
It literally means our “ability to perform as required”. In the life of the believer, God adds the power to achieve what is needed for our sanctification and preparation for Heaven (glorification). The term is used 120 times in the NT, and is a well-known ingredient in the believer’s life. In other words, believers may lack the will to obey God and grow in him, but they do not lack the empowering to become what He desires of them. If we are honest, most of the time in our lives that we say we “cannot” we actually mean we “will not” because we do not sufficiently desire to do so. Let’s be absolutely clear: you and I who know Jesus as Savior have the God-given power to resist sin and the enemy – and walk with God.
Love: the term is agape is a familiar one to followers of Jesus.
Agapáō in antiquity meant “to prefer”. Our practical definition of the word is born of its functional uses in the Scripture. It is “acting deliberately to meet a need, because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. In that sense it is to “prefer” another before self. It is the soul of “other-person-centeredness”. It was the word for God’s motivation to send His Son to die in our place. In other words, God not only empowered us in sanctification, He also added back into the fallen selfish being, an impulse to act on behalf of others as Jesus did for us. It must be fostered and grown – but the ability to do it is part of God’s additions to our life in Christ. You and I have the impulse, if allowed to rise to the surface, to care for others with a love that is otherwise impossible to explain in human terms.
Sound Mind: the term is so-fron-is-mos’ – derived from the word for properly moderate, issuing in prudent and sensible behaviors that “fit” a situation.
It is the “sound reasoning” of one dominated by God’s agenda and Spirit. Believers were given the ability to reason from God’s Word and apply its words to life. There are ways this ingredient can be thwarted from producing its desired effects – as with power and love. It can be dulled by inebriation, constant anesthetizing, or the dulling effects of certain stimuli – as in some games. Yet, if nurtured and encouraged, it can be sharpened. You and I have the ability to navigate life with God’s Word as a map, and God’s Spirit as a guide.
Therefore, with paralyzing reticence discarded, believers are empowered to put away bondage to sin, to heighten our sensitivity to others and their needs, and to keenly apply God’s truth to our daily lives.
That is true because God has done what is necessary to add into our lives the empowering, sensitivity and revealed truth.
Pastor David Ward wrote in a message called “Gospel Without Walls” these words: Russell Moore recounts a conversation with the evangelical theologian Carl Henry. As Moore and some of his friends were lamenting the miserable shape of the church, they asked Dr. Henry if he saw any hope in the coming generation of evangelicals. Dr. Henry replied: “Of course, there is hope for the next generation of evangelicals. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current evangelical establishment. They are probably still pagans. Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the Gentiles? Who knew that God would raise up a C. S. Lewis or a Charles Colson? They were unbelievers who, once saved by the grace of God, were mighty warriors for the faith.” Russell Moore added: “The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynist, profane hip-hop artist right now. The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.” (From sermon central illustrations).
You see, hope is restored when I remember the power of God to change people. Hope is renewed when I remember this life isn’t the center of everything – HEAVEN IS. I love this story:
A football game was being played in Badger Stadium in 1982 in Madison, Wisconsin with more than 60,000 fans in attendance. The home team was losing. But out of the blue during time outs, when play was a at stop, the fans would jump up and roar with excitement. Why? Many of those in the stadiums were listening to a game being broadcast on the radio from 70 miles down the road. What they were listening to was the Milwaukee Brewers beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the 1982 World Series. Their team on the field was losing, but they were turned into something better down the road. The Christian life is like that for us today. Our circumstances are bad at times but we must be tuned into something better down the road. We must place our hopes not in this world but in heaven. (From a sermon by Tommy Burrus, “Dealing with Discouragement” 7/1/2009, sermon central).