The fire within
2 Tim 1:5-14
I have been reminded of your sincere faith… 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… God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord… Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Tim 4:2-5
I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine… They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
In reflecting on Paul’s letter to his young friend and student, Timothy, I often wonder why Paul felt compelled, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to encourage Timothy to “stir up the gifts.” What was Paul concerned about that worried him and prompted him to write?
Paul knew Timothy well enough to know that he loved the Lord and was sincere in his faith. He also knew that Timothy had a calling upon his life, that there was an anointing for ministry upon him. And yet, that faith, that calling, that anointing was not producing in Timothy the kind of ministry, the kind of passion for service, that ought to have been there. I wonder whether it was what Paul was not hearing about Timothy’s ministry that worried him?
Paul’s letter gives us some hints of what was going on in Timothy’s life. It looks likely that Timothy had allowed fear and self-doubt to keep him from exercising his gifts. Church tradition holds that Timothy was serving as a pastor in Ephesus at the time – not an easy place to minister. Christians were being persecuted everywhere in the Roman Empire and there may well have been opposition, criticism, challenge. Preaching the Gospel was both a dangerous and thankless task. Timothy may also have felt overwhelmed, unready, ill-equipped, out of his depth, and so he held back. Whatever the reason, Paul was perhaps sensing that the fire and the passion that once blazed in his heart was not nearly as evident now.
The calling, the gifting, the anointing is just the beginning. God calls, anoints and empowers, but we have to walk it out to discover its full potential and become who we are called to be. It’s never an easy journey. No man or woman of God that I know ever had it easy. There’s going to be struggles, criticisms, mistakes. There’re going to be times when we may not feel that calling, may not feel very gifted, may not feel very anointed. There’re going to be times when we’ll doubt ourselves and our calling. There’re going to be times of discouragement, disappointment, maybe even defeat but, the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. And they’ll always define us and set us apart in God’s sight whatever we do with it.
At times like that, the only thing we can do is to do what Paul encouraged Timothy to do – “fan the flames” or, as another translation puts it, “stir up the gifts.” God can’t do this for us; we have to do it for ourselves, in ourselves, to our selves.
What does it mean to fan the flames? How does one keep the fire burning with passion and ardor?
Here’s what Paul had to say to Timothy:
First, fall back on Scripture. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Word of God is fuel for the fire; it’s combustible, highly flammable! Without that word reverberating in our heart and in our mind, it’s hard to stay passionate about the things of God. Faith, after all, comes by hearing the word of God [Romans 10:17].
Second, never be embarrassed or ashamed of the Gospel but be prepared to preach it and give a defense, of why we believe what we believe. Keeping silent when God calls us to testify about our Lord very quickly quenches the fire. A silent Christian is a paradox. You may not have all the answers; it is enough that you share what God has put on your heart.
Third, don’t allow the doubts and the fears to overwhelm you. As Paul reminded Timothy, we have received from God not a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. In other words, we have what it takes to stand strong, to get the job done, to discipline ourselves for service. All the saints of God felt unready, unworthy of the call of God. We’ll never be ready or fully equipped for the task of ministry no matter how much we prepare and train. By definition, ministry is about walking in the supernatural and trusting in the unseen hand of God, about obeying even when we don’t understand or cannot see it all very clearly.
Fourth, stir up the gifts by just stepping out and doing whatever God has called you to do. As Paul said to Timothy, “do the work of an evangelist, discharge the responsibilities that have been entrusted to you.” In other words, just do it! That fire, that passion for ministry, is not going to grow sitting in our pews thinking about it; as we go, the fire and the passion will grow. Faith will come alive again, the doubts and fears will diminish and we will be who we were anointed and called to be. As we go, Jesus Himself will work with us and through us and in us to affirm our calling, our anointing, our purpose.
If Paul were here today, would he be concerned about what he is not hearing about your ministry?
Paul’s letter to Timothy should be seen as a letter to every believer, a personal letter to each one of us. It’s all too easy to allow the fire within to grow dim. Often, we are too busy, too afraid, too overwhelmed by our doubts, by the weight of our culture, to take up the call that God put upon us when we first came to Christ. Perhaps we’ve forgotten the call and all that’s left is a gnawing restlessness inside us. Perhaps we’ve gotten used to faith without fire, salvation without purpose, Christianity without ministry.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said to His followers. You see, we are not merely followers of a Book or members of a faith community; we are keepers of the flame of God. God means for the fire within every believer, within us, to light up the world, to impact our culture, to touch the people around us. For so long as that fire burns dimly within us, what hope is there for the world?
Whatever the state of the fire within, we need to be always fanning into flame the gift of God. God has not put any limit on the size of the fire in the soul of man. It can be as big as we want it to be. Surely, we have settled for too small a fire?
Perhaps you’ve allowed the fire to go out, perhaps you’ve lost your passion for the ministry that was entrusted to you; it’s not the end, for all it takes is the kindle of a willing heart to reignite the fire of God. The wind of the Spirit can quickly turn embers into a raging fire once again.
It’s up to each one of us then to fan the flames, fuel the fire, stir up the gifts.
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you… God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord… I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work [you were called to do], discharge all the duties of your ministry.”