celtic preayers

Foundations

"Our spark of faith needs turning into a flame and from a flame into a fire. The plant needs to flourish, grow tall and blossom if others are to notice and react to the fragrance of God’s love in our lives."

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Let’s start by putting this letter in its context. Authorship is claimed by the letter to be that of Paul, and if it is indeed the work of Paul, or written by a scribe to his dictation then it might possibly have been written around the years 65-57 during the reign of the emperor Nero. Paul would have been in prison, possibly for the last time, as there’s an air of finality in the letter. Paul clearly doesn’t feel that he has much time left on this earth - he’s lonely in his cell and missing his friends, and he wants to pass on his final instructions to a man who would take on an important leadership role in the church.

It’s a message of encouragement, and that’s apparent from the very start. Whether or not it’s the conditions within the prison that cause Paul to become a little melancholy, or whether it’s just an interesting insight into his character, Paul remembers the tears shed at their last parting. He also recalls Timothy’s faith as well as that of his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois. The interesting thing here is that their faith may at least initially have been Jewish rather than Christian, but Paul is happy hold them up as a firm foundation of faith for the young Timothy to grow up among.

As he says just a chapter later "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching... and training in righteousness"

Roots are important, and not just for plants and trees. Take away the root and not only does the tree lose its main source of sustenance, but also becomes weak and unable to cope with even the slightest wind. The roots keep the plant securely fixed in the earth.

So it is with us. Timothy was a fortunate man in having a family that was firmly rooted in the Scriptures. Paul obviously knew the family well, and was impressed by the sincere faith of both Timothy’s mother and grandmother. It didn’t matter to Paul that this faith might be mainly grounded in the traditions of the Jews and the Torah- the early books of the Old Testament. They had lived their lives according to the light that had been revealed to them, just as many others had done before and been blessed by God for doing so.

It was within these roots firmly bedded in the love of God that Timothy had grown up. Fed and strengthened by these roots he had come to faith himself, and even more importantly had accepted Christ as Messiah, as Saviour, through the laying on of hands by Paul himself. At that moment the light that was already in his life had become a flame burning in his heart as the Holy Spirit entered. And it was this flame that Paul wanted to see fanned into a fire. Timothy had been blessed with a spiritual gift at the moment of acceptance, and Paul was keen to see his friend use that gift in the Church.

"For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."

I’m fortunate in having been brought up to accept Church as an important part of the week. There is a downside in that I was never really told that this Christianity thing is a 7-day a week commitment, but nevertheless I have never felt really uncomfortable within a Church setting. I have a love of the tradition of Church music that I grew up with as part of the choir from an early age.

From these roots, it was a relatively easy step as I grew up to see within new Christian friends that there was more to Christianity than going to Church every week, and to look to their example and life as an inspiration.

Spreading my roots wider I read books and listened to famous preachers. C S Lewis, William Barclay, David Watson, Michel Quoist and Colin Urquhart have all had their influence on my life and faith - and it is in their words, lives and their example that I can point back to the flourishing and growth of my real Christian faith. But the truth remains the same, that without those roots grounded both in Scripture and in the lives and traditions of those who have gone before, I would probably not be standing here.

We owe a great debt, as Paul acknowledges in our reading, to those who have gone before, to those who have carried the torch for our faith - even if they never experienced the full blessings of the Spirit in their lives, if their flame never burned very brightly.

But it doesn’t end there!

The plant that doesn’t grow is likely to be the one that gets swamped by weeds in the garden and struggles to survive.This is what Paul is trying to say to Timothy. Don’t be happy with where you are, don’t rest on your laurels because you don’t feel confident about your new-found faith

" for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God"

You have been given a Spirit of power, says Paul, and this power is the power to enable you to grow. It is the strength to enable you to do the tasks which God has allotted to you and it is the Spirit of Love without which everything you do will be worthless.

We have many plants in our garden that disappear in the winter - you wouldn’t know they were there. But the roots are still there, firmly bedded. And when the conditions are right up they come, some 4 or 5 foot high by the end of summer. Others will grow the same height before scattering the tiniest of seeds around them. The following year we have many more plants growing where the old has gone.

Just like those plants we are meant to flourish, to blossom and spread the mustard seeds of our faith in the area of the garden that God has planted us. If the rose stays as a bud, we miss out on the fragrance and colour locked inside. If we don’t open up our petals and expose our faith to the world, then how will the world know what beauty lies within.

"Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God"

Do not be ashamed, says Paul. Rely on God’s power to give you the strength to grow and blossom. Take what you have already learned, all the sustenance that you have soaked up through the growing season of your faith, hold on to that and use it as the foundation for your future.

"But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. ...... Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us."

Timothy is someone who is easy to relate to. He’s a man who has been brought up in a deeply religious household, someone who has been used to going to Chapel every week, has probably even been used to studying the Scriptures on a regular basis. At some point he has come to that realisation of who Jesus is, has received the laying on of hands as a public sign of this revelation, and in doing so received the blessings that come with the in-pouring of God’s Spirit into lives.

Paul rejoiced in this, but then poses the question which all of us needs to ask ourselves. "What now?"

Is that all there is to it, the spark ignited but dimly lit, or should we be looking to fan that spark into a flame, to become not what we are but what God wants us to be, and not through our own efforts but through God’s power.

"join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began"

It is God’s will for all of us that we should not only be rooted in the Scripture and in His love, but that we should grow and blossom as Christians - and that truth is applicable it whether you are 6 or 96. Some of the finest trees in the world are hundreds of years old. They have a majesty and grandeur that comes with the years they have survived. They are in no way diminished in stature by younger and more flexible saplings nearby.

We all should take Paul’s words to heart. Rejoice in the roots that we have, our heritage, those who have passed on their faith to us either by word or in books. But we should not hold onto that forever as if that is all that there is. Our spark of faith needs turning into a flame and from a flame into a fire. The plant needs to flourish, grow tall and blossom if others are to notice and react to the fragrance of God’s love in our lives.