She has buried three of her children, suffered a near divorce, contended with her wayward "boys and girls," and overcome enough disappointments to fill a dump truck. She is ninety-eight, confined to a room, and living with the aid of oxygen.
Her memory is failing, but not her faith.
I have enjoyed a front row seat to this nonagenarian performance. Dutch-German by descent, she is mostly quiet, stubbornly sweet, generous to a fault, and absolutely tenacious in her pursuit of God. Like Paul, my mom has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.
The same could not be said of Demas. Though once an associate of the apostle Paul, Demas threw in the towel. It must have pained Paul to write:
Saturday I was preparing the final message in our series, Famous Unbelievers. God has been using this series to help us wrestle with the crisis of faith that comes to all. I had mom on my mind as I considered the tenacity of Paul and the duplicity of Demas. How does one finish strong? This is what God showed me:
1. Shut up! Get quiet before God.
Richard Foster writes, "In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in "muchness" and "manyness," he will remain satisfied."
Noise, hurry, and crowds. That's 21st century America! Apparently it was first century Thessalonica as well and Demas got caught in the whirlwind. Not Paul. Paul had learned to order his private world. He had a time when he shut out the world so he could shut up and be quiet before God (2 Timothy 2:3).
Gordon MacDonald illustrates an ordered private world when he shares the story of Mary Slessor, an early 20th century missionary to Africa. At the conclusion of a troublesome day she entered this in her journal:
I am not very particular about my bed these days, but as I lay on a few dirty sticks laid across and covered with a litter of dirty corn shells, with plenty of rats and insects, three women and an infant three days old alongside, and over a dozen sheep and goats and cows outside, you don't wonder that I slept little. But I had such a comfortable quiet night in my own heart [italics added].
Slessor had what we all need, a quiet place in a crowded life. She had learned to wall off the world, still her heart, and listen to God. Do you have this? If not, set aside quiet time for God. Make it a part of the rhythm of your life.
2. Open up! Open up the Word of God.
Paul put a high priority on the word of God. He admonished Timothy, "Preach the word." Why? Because the word is "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).
God revived Paul's soul as Paul spent time in God's word. That "soul revival" helped Paul endure and overcome the cruel treatment of Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14).
What God did for Paul he will do for you. Open up the word of God. Read it. Apply it.
3. Look up! Set your gaze on God.
Paul was always looking to God. He references God no less than seven times in chapter four. Like the Psalmist, Paul's orientation was always "eyes up."
I have a tendency to gaze at my problems, my disappointments, my wants and wishes, while only glancing at God. Paul and the psalmist teach me to reverse that. Without minimizing the challenges, they teach me: "Eyes up. Set your sights on God, Tommy. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself."
Are you gazing at your problems while only glancing at God? Reverse that. Eyes up!
4. Soak up! Stand in awe of the glory of God.
While my mom was in the hospital recently, a nurse asked her, "Mrs. Kiedis, what is the secret of your longevity?" Mom's answer was telling: "The Lord takes care of me." In a similar fashion Paul wrote, "The Lord stood by me and strengthened me" (2 Timothy 4:17) and "The Lord will rescue me" (2 Timothy 4:18).
This kind of certainty comes from those who have soaked up the glory of God. It comes from standing in awe of him. Paul Tripp writes,
Humans are hardwired for awe. Whether it’s the Grand Canyon, a beautiful work of art, or the birth of a baby, we love to be amazed. But there’s something—or Someone, rather—who surpasses all others: God himself.
The heavens are declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), but do we see that glory? Do we stand in awe of our Creator? The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Paul saw. He soaked up the glory of God. It was from a sense of awe that he wrote, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
The glitter of the world can't compare to the glory of God. Take time to soak up His glory today. Marvel at a sunrise. Give praise for the unmatched complexity of your body. Take a walk. Observe. Give thanks.
5. Pair up! Together is better.
Paul wrote his letter to Timothy from a Roman prison. He was lonely, but not alone. Luke was with him. Search the missionary journeys of Paul. He always had a ministry partner; often he had several.
Paul lived the axiom, "Together is better." Loving, praying, serving, admonishing, helping, confessing, showing hospitality . . . these are things we do with one another and for one another. That "one another" life does not come in a Sunday service, it happens when smaller groups of believers gather together.
Thinking back on my mom's life, she was always in community with smaller groups of women whether that was to study the Bible, knit, pray, or serve. She needed this "together time." Why? Because together is better.
Where are you connected to other friends in the body of Christ? Encourage one today.
6. Buck up! Christ will finish what he starts.
Paul is emphatic in verse 18, "The Lord will rescue me." The confidence he demonstrates is the conviction he commands. He writes Timothy, "Be ready in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2).
Paul's is a confidence and a conviction born of Christ and the gospel. Read his words to the Philippian church:
Paul's reasoning is simple. If Jesus gave his life for yours by dying on the cross, if he resurrected for your justification, if he called you to himself . . . he is going to finish that work. He has way too much invested in you to let go of you. He loves you far too much to forget about you.
YOU CAN THRIVE!
Don't quit. Don't throw in the towel! Christ, who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion. So get off that teeter-totter of faith. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. May you live with that confidence and conviction.
- "In contemporary society ..." from Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline. 3rd. ed. New York: HarperCollins. 1998. Page 15.
- "I'm not very particular ..." from Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 2007. Page 23-24.
- "Humans are hardwired for awe ..." from http://www.paultripp.com/awe