Paul gives some clear instruction to Timothy. Be sober minded and endure suffering. This is not the fluffy stuff. It is the mature, gritty, stake in the dirt stuff that demands more of us. I love grace. Grace is what snatched me from the pit of despair. Grace taught me freedom. Grace showed me that perfection is not required, only surrender is. What I discover, though, as I walk further with Jesus, is that grace is not sloppy like some would have me believe. It allows me to stumble, but it calls me to rise up and keep going. It is the hand constantly there, ready to catch me when I stumble. The belief that grace is a free pass to follow the whims of culture just doesn't fit with the Jesus I have come to know.
Sober minded as it is used in 2 Timothy (and one of Peter's letters) is defined, "free of intoxicating influence." Paul says to Timothy, "Be free of intoxicating influence and endure suffering, do the work of evangelism and fulfill your ministry."
Free of intoxicating influence. There are the obvious things like drugs and alcohol but the Spirit of God inside of me says its more than that.
Money can be intoxicating
Sex can be intoxicating
Fame can be intoxicating
Mobs can be intoxicating
Careers can be intoxicating
Fact is, there is not shortage of ways to be under an intoxicating influence in today's world. This brings me back to grace for I find I cannot discuss this sober minded vigilance Paul describes without also examining grace. Grace, in all its precious, majestic and astounding beauty is not something I can put in my own little box and carry around to meet my whims. On the contrary, this astounding measure of grace I've been afforded compels me to set myself apart from everything.
The intoxicating influences of this world abound and without the unmerited favor of God (grace defined) I would be at a loss as to how to overcome any of it. It is all alluring, soothing, exhilarating... no, I don't trust anything in me to withstand such things. I find I must look to grace.
There is nothing free about grace. I live daily with the vivid picture of what this measure of grace cost. It is coated in innocent blood and tears of deep heart rending. It bears scars in its hands and feet. Indeed, there is nothing free about it. It was purchased on my behalf.
And it compels me to be set apart.
The world is getting darker, friends. The scriptures are not mysterious about the reality that as this age comes to an end, darkness will increase. It could be easy to think that the only darkness we will face are the evils of murder and mayhem. I think it will be not only those things. Paul says in the last days (we are in them by the way) many will be lovers of self...
an intoxicating influence, indeed.
This warning Paul gives Timothy echoes to me in 2023. I am certain if I were to ask Paul what I should do in this moment, with all that is swirling around me he would say the same thing.
Be sober minded and endure suffering.
I haven't suffered for this gospel. I will not pretend that I have. But, I have been easily drawn to the intoxicating influences of this world. Intoxicated by entertainment, self promotion, the need for approval...I have faced these in my life and I know just how intoxicating they are. So I know I must lean on grace. I know that this grace I've been freely given came from a cup of suffering and even though I have not tasted that same cup I must live in a willingness too. I must put myself in the position to receive whatever may come, and to stand firm and soberly in it. Grace gives me the freedom to be honest. I openly admit my weakness and inability to follow through on my own. I am, after all, only human.
I think sober minded endurance carves out more places in our soul for God to fill. This standing firm and enduring is the blacksmith that thrusts us into the fire of refining. I have faced some fires. I have been refined, but I am not arrogant enough to think there is not a need for more refining. Standing against the flow of this world's intoxication is part of that refining. And grace will be the arm that holds me secure as I stand.
Grace to you, friend. I pray you are sober minded in all your ways. I pray you will yourself to stand against the flow of culture. All of us must be ready for the fire to refine us. It will come unexpected, it will test us and ultimately, if we let it, change us.
Let the hard come, and let us be ready to endure.
"Be sober minded and endure suffering, do the work of evangelism, and fulfill your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:5
God is not slow. This is something we might all nod our heads at or mumble an amen too, but I wonder if it is easier to say we believe this than it is to actually believe it. The story of God in scripture proves that God is not slow.
After 430 years, God delivers Israel from captivity in a stunning and quick display of power.
After 500 years of silence, Heaven resounds with the cry of a baby, come to save mankind.
After days of waiting, the day of Pentecost brings the Holy Spirit.
I am sure the people waiting wondered if God had forgotten them. I am more prone to believe that I have somehow missed God when I am waiting. Maybe he isn't slow, but maybe I am. At the very root of this fear is the old, worn out voice of religion. It may be old and worn out but it still delivers condemnation with precision.
"God is waiting on you to get it together."
"God is waiting on you to become a better person."
"God is waiting on you to have more faith."
I do know God is patient. Will he delay a plan because my heart needs tending? I think so. I can't give you deep theological reasons why I think it, nor can I quote a scripture that backs this up. I only know my journey with Jesus. I have recently lived through a season of God's patience. I needed time to heal, rest, be restored, cry tears that would nurture the soil of my heart. I know that God made time for me to do just that. He has never launched me forward without shoring up the tender places first.
Nothing forces you to face off with a religious mindset like a season of waiting. For me, past experiences try to interpret current situations. That religious voice loves to capitalize on scars.
"Other people will ruin God's plan for you."
When I see it written out I realize how preposterous it sounds. Who is mighty enough to thwart God's plan for me? The lies we hear and believe are never rationale. They invoke panic, fear and mistrust. And before we know it, we are sure that this waiting is a punishment. So, what is true in all this jumble of lies and experiences and fear?
God is never slow.
This is the cling too truth that must guide faith and trust. God is grand. He is mighty. He is able. And He is not delayed. Not even when I am delayed. It is a mystery, indeed, how the two can coexist, but this is the God I have found. He can be right on time, even when I am slow. It is true that sin interrupts His plan for me. It is true that I can be stubborn and go my own way. Free will is, after all, at work in our relationship. But, even in my stumbling, I have an assurance from my God.
The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him' though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand. Psalm 37:23-24
Either those words are true or they are not. If they are true, then I can always come back to him, cling to him, and allow him to make my steps firm. I cannot lose if I hold tight to this. My God is not slow. He keeps a steady hand on me and keeps me from falling.
The waiting is not punishment, it is preparation.
I am sure your story has its own kind of waiting. I am sure you have wrestled much like me, and questioned what you have done wrong, why things are not moving like you thought or the way you thought. Rest, friend, in this truth from our good Papa. He is not slow, but He is patient. He is working out a good plan in your life. It is a plan that, if you let it, will bring His glory to the Earth. What could He be preparing? What glorious story is unfolding? We can wait with great expectation because we have a confident hope and assurance that stands the test of time.
Our God will not fail.
Sometimes, we might find ourselves standing inside of a prison cell, with the door wide open.
That would be where I have been for a while now. I've been standing in a prison cell, seeing the bars around me, and not even noticing the door standing open. There are a lot of reasons for this, more than I can share in one blog post. Past trauma, old thought patterns, new situations that feel familiar and signal the need to shield myself.
Jesus has been drawing me out into the open for years, now. Thirteen years, to be exact. When I first came out into the sun, it was blinding. So many years in hiding caused me to stumble and shield my eyes from this new dawn. I think I've spent thirteen years learning how to live in the light. Darkness was comfortable for a long time, and living in the light required a whole new me.
Shattered pieces of my life had to be picked up by those nail scarred hands and put together in a way that didn't erase the past, but refined it and turned it beautiful. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Life suddenly was in technicolor. I went from being convinced that I didn't have much to offer, to a discovery of treasure. I spent those early years learning how to live in the freedom of these discoveries. And there came a point I realized I wanted to share this treasure with others. I wanted others to know that if they grabbed hold of the hem of Jesus' garment, they would find healing. I was building upon the things God put in my heart, and going where he called me to go. And I thought I knew what was ahead. I thought I understood. And then my life went topsy turvy.
Loss comes in many forms, and that means grief comes in many forms. The death of everything I thought was lasting left me so broken and confused. The loss was palpable. I had not felt this kind of loss before. Not in such a rush. I had grieved many things over the years of coming into the light, but this felt like a storm with waves that swallowed up everything and left me water logged and choking for air.
Grief is a strange companion, but a reliable one. It won't be ignored, it won't be pacified. When it wants attention, it will have it. Grief also leaves a soul as weak as can be. There is no mustering up strength to fight it. One must simply sit in it, and let it speak.
Our first year of life in Utah was marked by survival. Heck, the whole world went into survival. There was no processing anything. There was just getting up, going through the motions, and going to bed. Tears would come in the dark, when I knew everyone was asleep and didn't need me. Tears that felt like they had come from a cavern inside of me. I blinked and a year had passed. Year two brought a little more light, but still was met with pain, tears, surviving, and learning how to walk again. Year three brought a shift. Some opportunities, some next steps. Light glimmering through the forest.
Maybe it would be okay. Maybe it could even be better than before.
I put one wobbly foot in front of the other. I tried new things, allowed hope's warmth to take root. Still, a hesitancy permeated my steps. So much hope deferred. So much disappointment. Would it be wise to hope again?
This brings me to that prison cell, with the door wide open. The Lord revealed this prison cell to me, but it wasn't until recently that I realized why I was staying in an open prison.
I was hesitant to step out. The hurt and grief were so heavy from those last two years that I could only just barely see past it. I knew in my mind that it was time to be free, but those hurt places in my soul whispered not to try. Just in case it could hurt again. I've never battled depression, not even in my darkest moments, but I battled it last year. I felt crazy at times, alone at times, angry at times, helpless at times, and hopeless at times. I prayed. I cried. I journaled. I lamented.
I thought in all that I was missing Jesus, but I see now He was beside me in all of it. I was clinging to him in my wandering.
When we live so long one way, it takes more than a day to learn a new way to live. Hesitant became a protective measure I could deploy in uncertain waters. If I didn't say it, I couldn't be accused. If I didn't do it, I couldn't be attacked. If I stayed in my box, I wouldn't be cut down for trying to step out.
This has been my Crossroads lately. Choose to stay in that cell, because I'm hesitant to step out, or throw all hesitancy to the wind and run out, wild and free. I took a step towards wild and free. Jesus asked me to take an adventure with him across the ocean to His homeland. I said yes, even though I felt hesitant. I know there is more to come because faith will require it.
Another way I'm stepping out of that cell is coming back to where this all began for me thirteen years ago. I sat down one day, and wrote my thoughts out and shared them with others. I spent years doing that, once a week. Life's twists and turns pulled me away from that (and writing novels!) Last year I found myself questioning this writing gift more than I ever have. I wondered if I was dried up, had used all my words. I still have that lingering fear, but I have learned one of the best ways to dispel that fear.
So, I'll be here, writing down the things I need too. Finding Jesus in my everyday. Maybe you'll join me, and maybe you'll find him too.
Maybe together we'll abandon hesitancy and run wild and free.