Have you ever attended an event, a conference or retreat and asked the Lord to show you clearly what you needed to know, do, and hear? Lord, what do you want to take away from this? Have you ever felt weary in your calling and responsibilities and needed some encouragement? I think for all of us there are times we need to be reminded, and to remember, and to be encouraged by those who have gone before us and behind us.
For me, I have been in a busy season (or full, as I like to say) and to say I needed rest would be an understatement. This past week I had the opportunity to get away with my husband for a few days to attend Moody Founders Week in Chicago, Illinois. Presented by Moody Bible Institute, the theme of the week was, “Fanning the Flame of our Calling.” The theme was taken from 2 Timothy 1:6-7 ESV which says, “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, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” I want to share a few thoughts with you from a speaker who really made me think, as well as a story that I think ties it together.
On Sunday, October 22, I had the opportunity — along with my husband, daughter-in-law and a few of their close friends — to watch our son, Zach complete his very first half marathon. It was a brisk autumn morning, and more than 2000 runners lined up to run at 7:00 AM. The environment was electric. The whole scene made me think often of a message that we heard on Thursday morning during Founders Week. Dr. David Sutton, the pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago and the Director of Biblical preaching at Moody, shared a message whose theme mirrored my son’s race in many ways. Here are a few snapshots from his talk. My hope is that they encourage you in some way as well as it did me. To watch this message in its entirety, click here.
Let’s Run the Race! It Will be Great!
Pastor Sutton shared that a few years ago he and his wife joined a running club because they wanted to run a half marathon. Maybe you know, but a half marathon is 13.1 miles. He shared that when you think about the time it takes to prepare — whether it be a 5K, 10K, a half marathon or a full marathon — it is a commitment. He remembers that day he and his wife ran the race. He said everyone was doing their stretches, looking all cute and fresh, and posting and sharing selfies. “You start strong,” Sutton said, “But then you get to the 6- or 7-mile mark and you start to get tired, and you think what was I thinking? Why did I sign up for this?”
Sutton explained that the most challenging part of a race is the middle. At that point you often want to give up. And he said ministry is like that: it is a test of endurance. In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul’s young protégé, Timothy, was in the middle of his own ministry race, and he wanted to give up. What do you do when you want to give up doing what God has called you to do? Somewhere in the middle — at that 6- or 7-mile mark of the proverbial half-marathon – most of us get tired.
Many Christians have experienced this in ministry. Many have fallen by the wayside. They may have looked at this race and thought it was a sprint instead of a marathon. We see moral failures, people leaving the church maybe they start in some ministry and then jump to another, maybe they don’t like the pastor. Maybe even due to complete exhaustion some don’t even attend church. Can you relate to one or all of these?
Paul had some words for his protégé in 2 Tim. 1:4, and they are good for us to hear, too. “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” Paul was reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith. Furthermore, he goes on to mention in verse 5 the faith of Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. They shared their faith with Timothy, and now that faith was dwelling in Timothy. Timothy needed to remember who was with him and indeed in him! His Savior, Jesus Christ!
We are living in challenging times, but imagine living in the time of Paul where Nero was persecuting Christians. Timothy probably already knew Paul would be executed and that he would have to pick up where Paul left off in ministry. Paul encouraged Timothy not to give up in fear from the pressure he was facing. Was Timothy intimated or threatened even ashamed of the Gospel? Perhaps. In verse 8 ESV it says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me a prisoner, but share in the gospel by the power of God.”
Pastor Sutton references a Gospel song written by Andrae Crouch in 2003, called Take me Back. It is a summary of how Paul was encouraging Timothy.
Take me back, take me back dear Lord to the place where I first received you.Take me back, take me back dear Lord where I first believed.Where I first received you Soon and very soon we are going to see the King.
Praise God for our Flame-Fanners!
Who are those in your life that have poured into you? Is it a pastor, Bible teacher, mentor, or friend? Is it a mother or father? Who do you thank God for, for influencing you and sharing the gospel with you? It is people like these who are fanning the flames of our lives. They want to encourage you just like the mid-mile mark when you are tired. Why? Because they have gone before you and poured into you the gift of God.
“Fan the Flame” in the King James version means to stir up the gifts. It is the only time mentioned in the New Testament, and it means to kindle or rekindle (present tense, it continues action) a believer. To stir up. In an article written by Harvest.org, it says, “There may be coals in your life, but you have allowed the fire to go down. You haven’t been using the gifts that God has given to you. It is time to fan the flame again. It’s time to fan them into full flame again. It’s time to be reignited. Lord, how can you use what You have given me for your glory until You return?”
Caring for the Flame
So, I ask you like I ask myself, what do you want to give up on? A fireplace needs attention or a smoker – the embers need constant stirring at a high level. To make an impact on the outside we must do some stirring up on the inside.
Some of us need to return to the basics of self-care. Many of us are always serving others. Do you have someone in your life who serves you?
Am I empty with nothing to give? Perhaps you want to throw in the towel? We can’t help others unless we help ourselves. We need to take time to rest and sabbath. Some of us are still trying to learn that and it is something we move toward and ask the Lord to help us with a balanced life- our whole self, body, mind, soul and spirit.
Many have fallen by the way because they were out of balance. Often, we can’t see when we are out of balance. Do you have a friend or people in your life like the apostle Paul in Timothy’s life who will speak truth to you? We need to stop acting like super humans. We are only humans serving an awesome God.
Paul helped Timothy to recall, “Do you remember when I first prayed over you and laid hands on you?” Some have thrown in the towel because they lacked clarity. You will not last in ministry if you were not called to that in the first place.
Remember what God has given you. He doesn’t give us fear but power, as referenced in 2 Tim 1:7. Staying power. Paul in his life asked the Lord to remove a thorn in his flesh 3 times, and God said, my strength is made perfect in your weakness. Much like the struggles runners encounter mid-marathon, the Lord allows an intense situation in our own lives that — when tested — will give us endurance. Marriage, ministry a difficult situation — what in your life has God allowed? Where do you have to listen to God? In 2 Timothy 2:14, it says, “Guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” That means don’t take it for granted.
Ministry is not easy, but God is worth it. We must endure when others don’t- some will start and not finish with you.
Pastor Sutton shared the example of his father who had walked with God his whole life. He taught his four sons to love Jesus, modeled marriage and family and was in ministry. “I used to love to hear my father pray,” Sutton said, adding, “Just a few years ago he called to say he had turned away from his faith never to return. We must be mindful to never take for granted what God has given us. If it could happen to my father it can happen to any of us. It is confusing because I saw sincere faith, love and care for his family. Maybe he stopped fanning the flame?”
In contrast to Pastor Sutton’s dad, Paul endured a dungeon and living on death row all alone with no community near him. Yet, instead of Timothy encouraging him, Paul was encouraging Timothy! God is able to do abundantly more, and His strength is made perfect. Paul was fanning the flames by sharing in Christ’s suffering. It’s not about overcoming, it is about enduring. Why? Because victory is ours. As Romans 5:3-5 reminds us, “. . . we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The Prize is Coming!
Paul knew who he believed and said I can do ALL things through Christ. He was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. He looked to Jesus. Paul said, “I am at the end of his life. I know who’s in control. I must trust God in the ministry God has given me. He says I’ve fought the good fight. I have finished the race.”
Our son, Zach, finished his race on Sunday. He had trained well for several weeks, he was surrounded by his family and community, and he finished flawlessly. We were so proud of him and his hard work. At the end of the finish line you could hear music and cheering in the background. It was a celebration! I thought about the celebration every Christ-follower who endures will enjoy someday. Just like Zach’s race, if we know and have accepted the gift of salvation, we will meet Jesus at the finish line, and He says the present sufferings are not worthy of the glory awaiting you. We will celebrate, and celebrate big!
On that day we will receive a crown of righteousness, we will hear well done my good and faithful servant. As Zach finished his race, he received a wonderful medallion to showcase the completion of his race. Friends, run your own race. Just like Pastor Sutton shared about his marathon, “I didn’t care about my time, I just wanted to finish.”
Will I see you at the finish line? I pray that I do, and I pray we endure. Lord, help us to be people who run on even when we want to quit. God, may we keep our gaze on you and look forward to the day we hear, “Well Done, good and faithful servant.”
Sue M. Lindsey © October 2023