Monday, 7 October 2013

Feeling sloth-like? 2 Timothy

The pastor and writer FrederickBuechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1] … I think it is a profound statement. Our calling is where we use the gifts God has given us to serve God and our neighbor in the world. It means that God is calling us to where we will find our most profound happiness. … God has given us all a gift. That gift is to be used in our particular lives to bless the particular people in our lives. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14).  I think this is what he was talking about. You are God’s person in your particular place. God has placed you were you are for a particular reason. If your light doesn’t shine in your place then it will be dark there. God has given us gifts so that we can be the lights of the world.
We have to get away from this idea that we can only use our gifts to do religious stuff in the church. We have bought into an idea of sacred and profane that is not very Biblical. There really isn’t a separation between what we call sacred and profane. If we believe that God is the Creator then it is all, in a sense, sacred. Our gifts might have something to do with Sunday morning, but they might not. Our gifts might mean that we are serving people in our daily lives through our jobs or through our friendships, or our families. Our gifts might mean cutting the lawn at the church, or visiting and encouraging a neighbor who doesn’t get out of her house much.  Our gift might mean joining our pastoral care team, or it might mean doing your job as Jesus would do it- which means doing it well, with integrity, and honesty, and with a heart to serve those you work with.  Using your gift might mean that you are actually in the wrong field of work and that you should seek more training or another job. … But, our gifts don’t always have to be about our job either. It’s nice when your gifts overlap with your job, but they don’t always. Sometimes our job gives us the finances to free us up to use our gifts. … The exercising of our gifts is sometimes called “ministry”. As Christians we all have a ministry. It can be active or it can be inactive, but we all have a ministry.
Paul was reminding Timothy of this when he said, “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.” (2 Tim 1:6-7). Paul is reminding Timothy of his gift which seems to be lying dormant. Christians in general, and Paul in particular, had been persecuted.  In verse 8 we read “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”. Paul is telling him to not be ashamed, which means he is tempted to be ashamed, or possibly afraid. Perhaps if Timothy activates his gift then it is more likely that he too will end up in chains. That is pretty powerful motivation to not use your gifts. Paul tells him to “rekindle” his gift. It is as if his gift is glowing embers and Paul is telling him to put some wood on the embers and blow on it until it becomes a flame.  The fear and shame seems to have caused Timothy to neglect his gift and so it has become glowing embers rather than a roaring fire. 

The danger that Paul is highlighting here is sometimes called “acedia” or “sloth”. We sometimes think of sloth as laziness, but it really has more to do with using our gifts. Sloth is really about when a person stops using their gifts. This means that sloth can come across as a kind of lack of activity or sluggishness, … but it can also look like a kind of feverish activity. … Both are sloth. We can avoid using our gift by running around avoiding it, or by just ceasing to do any activity. The sickness in the soul is the same. It is the desire to avoid using one’s gift.
Take the story of Jonah, for example. In the story God told Jonah the prophet to go to Nineveh and call the people there to repentance.   Jonah did not want to use his gift and so he busied himself and boarded a ship sailing in the opposite direction. Jonah could have just as easily could have stayed home and sat in his house and watched TV (or the ancient equivalent). The disease in his soul would have been the same even though he could have presented two very different symptoms.
If we look at our lives with honesty we will see our tendency. Do we shut down and sit on the couch? Or do we run around like maniacs with way too much to do? It is possible that in both cases we are dealing with sloth. … Of course it could be something else entirely, but we should consider sloth to be a possibility.
Sloth can come about for a number of reasons. Maybe when we are trying to use our gifts we meet with some resistance. Maybe God is calling us back to school and we feel the weight of not having an income, and of sitting in a classroom, and the pressure of taking tests. When we allow those obstacles to get in our way it is possible that sloth could appear. … So our desires being denied, or when our plans fail, then sloth can sneak into our hearts. We throw up our hands and say “why bother”. So we stop, or we run in all kinds of other directions. Both are avoiding using the gift God has given us and the life he is calling us into.
Sloth can then become a kind of sadness about God, or a boredom with God, or a feeling of indifference to God. When we are living lives listening to God and trying to follow the footsteps of Christ there is an energy and passion that is present. … But, when we ignore God’s call on our lives and resist him, then our hearts will be marked by those decisions and we will become bored or indifferent with God.
The cure for sloth is difficult, but the church does have advice. For those who are tempted to run around and fill their time up with other good things, they need to slow down. They actually need to stop if they can and reevaluate their lives. Their excuse is that they are too busy to use the gift God has given them. They are probably doing very good things. The problem is that God has not given anyone too much to do. And they feel like they have too much to do.  God gave a Sabbath to his people and told them to take it very seriously. God wants us to rest to appreciate all he has given us so that we will have thankful hearts. This also renews our relationship with God and gives us space to sense where He is calling us.  So those of us that are hurried and frantic people are to take more time to meditate on God’s word. We are to slow down and approach God in quite extended times of prayer.  God gives us enough time to do what he is asking of us.
For those whose sloth is more likely to look like sitting on the couch eating potatoes chips they are instructed to get a pattern and stick to it. Do everything they can to fight the urge to do nothing. They are encouraged to work with their hands and get their muscles working. They are to stay away from those who tend to drag them into idleness, and instead surround themselves with people who are motivated. They are also encouraged to look at their lives from the perspective of standing before Jesus to give an account of their life. Those of us that suffer from this should turn to God and pray for a heart filled with desire to seek God. The joy we discover as we draw closer to God will destroy sloth.
Timothy was likely not respected because he was young (1 Tim 4:12; 1 Cor 16:10-11) and he was also being intimidated by the persecution he saw Paul dealing with.  Paul tells Timothy “…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). To not use our gift is a kind of cowardice. The spirit we have been given is of power, love, and self-discipline. Each of these is important in order to defeat sloth in our lives. Timothy is told to “hold to the standard of sound teaching” (v 13), and to “guard the good treasure” (v 14). The gift he has been given is precious and it is sinful to not use it.     
We are in the midst of a stewardship campaign at the moment. Part of stewardship is to consider how we spend our money out of gratitude to God who gave it to us. Another part of stewardship is time and talents. Time, talent, and treasure are really a way to talk about our whole lives in a simple way. Time and talent are just as important to consider. Jesus said, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”. There is no shortage of work for the children of God. Sloth can get in the way. It can get in the way by neutralizing us, so we are stuck on the couch instead of using our gifts. Or we can become so frantically busy that we don’t actually have any time left to give to the church or to develop the gift god has given us.  
            May God grant us passion and spiritual hunger, not to avoid sloth, but to be alive in the life God has given us. May God give us a rekindled passion for our calling, which is where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[2]


[1] Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
[2] Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

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