2 Timothy 2:3 Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
At the age of twenty-one I started to follow Jesus. Throughout my life as I experienced ups and downs, I have always had a few elder statesman in the faith that I looked up to as examples. Today I have a handful of men and women who are older than myself, who have demonstrated endurance and faithfulness through all circumstances by the grace and power of the Christ they love. Many of them have already finished the race and gone home, leaving a great witness to the endurance of the saints. Others are still pressing on at eighty, ninety and older, being a faithful servant to God and Christ.
Throughout my life as I came to a crossroads and many times wanted to give up and throw in the towel, I would look to these elder statesman and receive Godly counsel, encouragement and even rebuke to stay the course. With their help, their example and by the power of Christ I would pull up my weak hands and knees and continue running the race.
In recent months I entered yet another time of burn out over my own personal fruit and labor in Christ. I became very distraught, weary and wanted to give up and let everyone and everything go their own way. As was my custom I turned to the elders of the faith, the Word of God and prayer. Nothing seemed to help. This time it was different. I knew deep inside that for me to throw in the towel and walk away was not an option, but on the other hand, I knew I could not stay in this mindset for long. I would speak with other brothers and Pastors and receive a short season of relief but I would still slide back into the discouragement of my ministry labors.
Then one day I received an email from an elder who I respected in the faith. He had always taught in his messages to endure, stay the course, and do what is right. In this short email he stated he was throwing in the towel in our ministry over a couple of insignificant issues. At first I felt my heart sink to the bottom and all the messages, words, teachings and encouragements that he gave me and others simply vanished in thin air. They suddenly meant nothing anymore. Then something short of a miracle transpired. The eyes of my heart were opened. It was as if God had pulled apart the dark curtains that hung over my own heart and mind and suddenly the light revealed a message from the Father. “Now you can see and feel what will happen to others if you give up and throw in the towel?”
I started to remember all the messages I had taught on endurance, keeping faith, fighting the good fight, and staying in the race. All the conversations over many years with individuals about persevering, standing firm, and trusting God through every circumstance, all flashed before me. Then the Lord placed all the faces of each of these individuals that came to faith over the last decade and allowed me to feel and see what they would feel if I simply gave up and threw in the towel. God told me plainly, “You are not going to run away this time. You represent Me. You are My ambassador. You do not get the luxury of simply running away from your responsibilities just because things are not going the way you hoped. You are bound to live out what you teach others or else you will take others down with you.”
The words of the Apostle Paul ring true, “ For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 The death that is at work in us, is life to others. We are not in this good fight of faith for ourselves but we suffer as a good soldier of Jesus Christ knowing that the grace of God is proven in our weaknesses and will produce the same grace in others. This light affliction will work in us a much greater eternal purpose as we take our eyes off of what we see and keep them on the unseen.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
The Apostle Paul received five times at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he was shipwrecked; a night and a day he was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from his own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there was the daily pressure on Paul of anxiety for all the churches and Paul had the nerve to call this life of faith, “light affliction?”
I dare say the take away from this is far more humbling than I would care to admit. I got a revelation from God that resembles the one God gave Job at the end of his season of suffering. Most of us do not know what true suffering is and even if we have to suffer, God will never leave us or forsake us. Our afflictions in America and the western world are extremely light compared to many over the centuries that have given far greater witness to the grace and power of Christ. My little disappointments and failed expectations cannot hold water compared to the prospect of letting my brothers and sisters down by leaving a legacy of defeat. I want to leave this earth with the same words as the Apostle;
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” ~ 2 Timothy 4:6-8
2 Timothy 2:5 ~ “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”