Note: I reference II Timothy throughout this post, but do not quote any of it here. To read II Timothy online go to; http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+1&version=NIV
Life hasn’t been easy recently. It rarely is actually, but for some reason, I am going through a season of life in which things are really difficult. Complaining is really not something that I find beneficial, and it is not what I am trying to do here. I also realize that others are experiencing greater hardships than I am right now. This is not meant to make light of their situations. What I am trying to do, however, is put down in written form what I feel that God is trying to teach me through this season. There are a lot of things that He teaches through difficulties, and I hope that whoever reads this can relate to what He is teaching me.
In fact, I think the lesson has always been in front of me, but I just couldn’t see it. Things have come somewhat easily in my life compared to what others have had to endure. Sure, I lost my dad to a heart attack as a teenager, but other than that, I really haven’t dealt with many hardships. As I’ve stated so often on here, I feel called to vocational ministry, and I think this season now may just be another tool that God is using to teach me how to be more successful in the role that He is preparing me for. He is trying to teach me to rely on Him above everything else. Also, He is trying to teach me to be content, thankful in all situations, and also to be able to have empathy and compassion to those experiencing hardships in the future.
These lessons are found throughout Scripture, and are vital in a role of ministering to people in a local congregation. Paul writes at length about each of these things. It is something I have grown up knowing, but I am hard-headed enough that even though I know the lessons in my head, I see that I may have to go through this season of difficulties to truly apply these lessons to my life. This epiphany dawned on me just Sunday.
While in Sunday school, we looked at Paul’s second letter to Timothy. This letter to Timothy is believed to be the last words that Paul ever recorded. He is near the end of his life, and these words are his last chance to impart wisdom to his beloved Timothy. His words, in this light, carry a great deal of weight. What would you expect to hear from someone who is awaiting a trial in Rome, under house-arrest, and knowing that your life is almost certainly going to come to an end soon? In human nature, I would not expect to see what Paul chooses to be his final message. Paul chooses to tell Timothy to be truly thankful throughout any situation in his life. One of the most interesting ways that Paul does this is to tell Timothy first that he is proud of being in chains for the cause of Christ, and then imploring Timothy to join him in suffering for the Gospel. Wow! That is contrary human nature.
How is Paul able to make this statement to Timothy, and what is it saying to us at the same time? To answer that, it is necessary to look to some of Paul’s earlier writings. He answers this perplexing problem for us throughout his writings. That makes sense, as again this is arguably his final recorded words. Paul is simply tying everything together and telling Timothy to be thankful and content…and here is how you do that. First, in his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”(Romans 12:3 NIV). The first key is to not think too highly of yourself. We, as Christians, have all been given faith and we are to work together.
Being content is the first key, but it really isn’t that easy to become content. Paul again shows how important contentment is in Philippians 4:11-12. It reads, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” This time, however, he leaves some instruction for how to become content. Philippians 4:6; 13 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” So, it is through thanksgiving in all situations, a strong prayer life, and relying on Christ, who gives us strength that we can become content.
This is where God has really, really been working hard in my life. Learning how to be content has proved difficult, but in all honestly, I think it has finally clicked. Even though life has been difficult recently, at least with finances and earthly goods, I have become very thankful for what I do have. God has blessed me with His grace most of all, but He has also blessed me with a loving wife, strong family, great friends, a community focused faith family that I get to serve in leadership with, and so many other blessings. Even through difficult times, I am learning to be content. That doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to strive for what I think that God is leading me to do, but it does mean that I am working hard to not let my circumstances change how I feel about everything that God has blessed me with. I have learned to truly lean and rely on God, because I honestly don’t know how else I would be able to handle how life is going right now without just letting go and trusting God.
I want to go back to II Timothy again for a moment. Paul has told Timothy to be thankful and content as he is, but again, Paul knows what fate is waiting for him. While he has told us in other letters how to be content, knowing his situation makes me think he has to have another reason to be able to be thankful and content here. Philippians seems to hold the answer to this as well. Specifically, in Philippians 1:21-26, Paul states, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” Paul knows that he is about to get what he truly desires. He knows what awaits him after death, and he is ready for that. His focus is on Jesus and not earthly things. That’s the key. That’s how Paul was content, and it is how I am trying to be content.
I know this life is temporary, and I have so many great things in store for me once this life is over. While I am still here, I will continue to pursue God’s call and lead in my life, but I know that no matter how difficult life gets, I have eternity with Christ to look forward to. Keep your focus on Jesus. Become Cross-eyed (Hebrews 12:2) by fixing your eyes on Jesus, and learn to be thankful and content. I have been resistant to apply this in my life, even though I had the book knowledge on it, but join me in trying to apply it to our lives. This is especially important the more our society becomes consumer driven, but that’s a whole other post for a later time.