Stressful situations are undoubtedly a part of life. Significant levels of stress come in lots of situations that arise as a matter of course in ministry life. Changing jobs, moving, family changes, health changes – these all present real difficulties emotionally, spiritually, and in practical life ways. Challenges in ministry are very difficult, whether they arise from without or within the congregation. Every minister has faced, and will likely face again in the future, tough moments.
Stressful circumstances have been compounded in unprecedented ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal ministry stresses have been exacerbated because we are unable to minister in the ways we have in the past. Limitations and restrictions abound – ministry during sickness and death, hospital visits, counseling, small groups, etc. Church attendance has been altered in seemingly fundamental ways.
It is a blessing to know that God not only knows these situations exist, but has already prepared us for them. In 2 Timothy 3:12-16, Paul warns Timothy of persecution. In fact, he says it is a given. Paul coaches Timothy by acknowledging that the stresses that arise from such a severe situation cannot overcome the foundation of a faith rooted in the “sacred Scriptures” and our walk with Jesus. These tangible, real truths in our lives provide a real footing from which we can stand and even flourish.
First, Paul reaffirms the power of the Bible in our lives. He explains to Timothy that the “sacred Scriptures” are alive and powerful. This passage is one of the most engaging and vibrant pictures of Scripture in all of the Bible. It is a temptation to allow very familiar passages to become commonplace over time. Take a minute and look again at the concepts with which Paul describes the Word of God. It is active – “able to give you wisdom for salvation.” It is “profitable for” every type of teaching and encouragement we can imagine.
In times of stress, we must commit in a greater way than ever to be in the Word. Difficult circumstances can pull us away from this discipline. Failures can even cause us to doubt the effectiveness of God’s promises in our lives. Paul stirs Timothy’s heart toward the Word of God by reminding him of its incredible power in our lives. In fact, we find every other anchor through the “lamp and light” of Scripture.
Second, Paul then points Timothy to his personal faith in Jesus. The most important anchor in every believer’s life is our closeness to Jesus. Scripture is not a book of life rules or management tools to get through crises, but instead draws us closer to the person of Jesus. He notes that salvation is “in Christ Jesus” and that the desire to live a Godly life happens “in Christ Jesus.” Paul uses the order of Christ Jesus to remind us that Jesus loved Timothy so much that He came in love as the anointed sacrifice for him. No one will ever love Timothy or us more than Jesus who laid down His life for us.
Ultimately, the promise of Scripture is not some action of God to protect or guide us. It is not some affirmation that all will turn out well. Instead, the ultimate promise of Scripture is the person of Jesus. He is our strength, joy, and peace. Scripture makes us wise to come to Jesus and trust Him. Whatever the difficulty may be, its natural draw is to pull you away from being close to Jesus. We must make a concerted effort to refuse any idea, emotion, or choice that would interrupt our walk with Jesus. He must be the focus of our searching in the journey.
Third, Paul warns him to choose carefully the voices to which he listens during the stress. Paul warns him there will be evil folks, imposters, and those would deceive him in close proximity and speaking at him. He specifically tells him to listen to those who walk with Jesus and those who have taught him to walk with Jesus. There has never been a time with more voices and platforms than today. People are angry and opinionated. Social media, especially Twitter, roils with evil voices. It is a tornado of people, even professing Christians, who attack, deceive, and lie.
Churches are filled with folks who are stressed and angry. This is one of the most divisive times I have ever seen. The voices both inside and outside the church are shouting opinions and insults. We MUST learn to eliminate these voices. During times of stress, challenge, or even doubts and questions, we should seek out only two types of voices. We should listen to people who we “know.” That means people who love and encourage us. Folks in whom you can trust. We should also listen to those who we know walk with Jesus closely and are guided by a deep commitment to the Word of God.
Finally, Paul moves to inspire Timothy to go from discouragement to ministry empowerment. Again, see the expansive, descriptive language of the power of Scripture. It is literally inspired by God. He has breathed His own breath of life into Scripture. This imagery calls us to life and strength. It reminds us that God is actively at work in our lives through His power. He then tells Timothy that, in spite of the difficulty of persecution, he is completely equipped for every good work.
We are different from the world around us because of our relationship with Jesus. In verse 14, Paul calls out Timothy – “But as for you.” We are different because of Jesus in our lives. We are different because we stand on a foundation which is immoveable. We should embrace that we are called to live out a testimony of who Jesus is during these moments of stress. That is who He saved us to be. “But as for you” because you know Jesus.
We are empowered to thrive in even the most stressful of circumstances. We are equipped to rise above our circumstances as we are guided and empowered by God’s work in us. You can become a creator in the midst of destruction. You can engage new skills and wisdom in the midst of change. You can rise above challenges to accomplish more than you ever have. The reality of Jesus in our lives makes all the difference.
Be encouraged. You have a living, “God-breathed” foundation to walk with Jesus equipped for every good work in every circumstance.