Monday, 22 November 2010

The Power of Remembrance

Memory is a powerful thing. It connects us to our past and so helps us form a sense of our identity. Without that connection we would loose that sense of who we are. Our lives are a unique history of choices, some good, some bad. Memory gives us a sense of continuity. Through memories we are connected to our past and these help to shape our future.

God often reminded the children of Israel to look back and remember where they had come from; Isaiah 51.1; "Look to the rock from which you where hewn and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug". When the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan river they established a memorial (or remembrance); on the West side of the Jordan with stones taken from the river bed, Joshua 4.1-9. These stood as a memorial to the faithfulness of God who brought them over on dry ground and would give them victory over their enemies.

And throughout Israel's history they established landmarks that were reminders of God's gracious deliverance. Even the Ark of the Covenant was a 'memorial' to remind the people that they were in a covenant relationship with God. It contained the tablets of stone given to Moses, Aaron's rod that budded and a pot of the Manna from the wilderness. These were all testimonies to God's greatness, faithfulness and power to save. They stood as a reminder to the people, what God had done in the past He could do again, for those who walked with Him.

Even the land of Canaan was divided by using landmarks that were never to be removed; Prov 22.28. They identified where one tribal possession ended and another began. These landmarks were often large, like a mountain or coastline. You couldn't miss them. Other times they were man made, like when Samuel set up a rock called Ebenezer, (literally Stone of Help), after the Lord defeated the Philistines; 1Sam 7.12-14. When everyone saw this rock they were reminded of God's victory on their behalf.

Experience has taught me that it is impossible to live the Christian life without establishing some landmarks or memorials - places that we can look back to and remember the goodness and greatness of God. I believe this is why the first command for a new believer is to be baptised. By doing so they are in fact establishing that first landmark.

In the NT this was done hard on the heels of any profession of faith; often on the same day. Consider the Ethiopian Eunuch who asked Philip a simple question; "What hinders me from being Baptised?" All that Philip required was a confession of faith. This is a far cry from some of the spiritual hoops we make people jump through before we allow them to be baptized.

Consider too communion. This too is a memorial; a remembrance of Jesus, to use His words, 1Cor 11.24. It constantly pulls us back to the foundation of our faith and what God has done in Christ, paying for our sin and setting us free to live for Him. This simple act of remembrance has great power to encourage our faith. But it doesn't end there. We are called to walk by faith and any walk of faith is bound to establish a personal history with God - landmarks that give us confidence. More of that later.

As I read Paul's final letter to Timothy I am struck by how often he uses the power of memory to help this struggling pastor. At that time Timothy was back in Ephesus. False teachers had risen up, as Paul had predicted in Acts 20.29-30. He had personally disciplined three of them, Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus, 1Tim 1.20; 2Tim 2.17. Timothy now had the difficult job of appointing new leaders and dealing with the fallout from the false teaching that had gripped much of the church. It wasn't easy.

In second Timothy we see Paul appeal the three things in his opening verses that will encourage Timothy. Look at the text 2Tim 1.3-6 NIV:

"I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline".

The first is wonderful. Paul remembered Timothy in his prayers - night and day. It wasn't like Paul carried a list with him. Rather he carried Timothy in his heart; like a son. He couldn't help but pray for him. He valued him. He cared. He remembered his tears, the pressures he felt of ministry and Paul wanted Timothy to know above all things that he was covered in prayer. Someone was watching his back, Paul the apostle no less.

Scripture tells us that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. He prayed for Peter, He prays for us too. But we can at times feel this truth is too disconnected from our reality. Again experience has shown me that Jesus invites others to share His ministry of intercession. He does this by placing a burden on a fellow saint to pray for the needs of others. This is essentially the ministry of intercession. It is Spirit inspired prayers on behalf of others.

I have always believed on the power of prayer that covers and supports ministry. During the late eighties I had two very special women, both over retirement age, who believed that the Lord had given them a burden to pray for me and my ministry. I felt the difference. Outwardly they looked very helpless and frail. One was a widow. But their prayer life was powerful, full of discernment and faith. I valued what they did. You see gifting is not enough. We need unction. The Spirit's touch on our words and ministry that makes it powerful and effective. Pray brings this unction.

Paul reminded Timothy that he had a seasoned warrior backing him up. Learn to welcome the prayer of others over your life and ministry. In turn be faithful to pray for those God puts on your heart. When you do so you are participating in the ministry of Jesus - now! Most often this will reflect the people you feel most connected to. Those you have come to love and appreciate. Every remembrance of them becomes an opportunity to support them in prayer. As we remember those we are connected to, our prayers are fuelled with love and passion for their success and protection. They have an impact.

Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on to remind Timothy of his spiritual heritage; the faith that dwelt in his mother and grand mother and was now in him. Generational faith. Notice that this was passed on to him from his mother and grand mother, not the men in the family. Paul seems to have stepped in as the spiritual father who helped to develop Timothy's faith and ministry. But the seeds of it were sown through the women who nurtured him as a youth. This is a wonderful testament to these godly women, something Timothy should be reminded about.

Each one of us has a spiritual heritage. Neither of my parents walked with God while I was growing up. But others in the church became spiritual parents to my brother and me. They had a profound impact on us. We looked to them for spiritual guidance and it made a difference. Others I know are second, third and forth generation believers. What a blessing. Embrace it. Thank God for it. Value it. And remind yourself that others have gone before you fighting the good fight of faith. Paul was in effect saying this. "The faith that was in your mother and grandmother I see in you. Now get your head down and get on with the job, not giving in to fear".

Finally Paul reminds Timothy to stir up of the gift of God that is in him, "Through the laying on of my hands", 2Tim 1.6. Notice the reminder of how he got the gift. Paul was there, part of the team laying hands on Timothy and imparting spiritual gifts to him, 1Tim 4.14; Rom 1.11. It was a great day and Paul draws Timothy back to that momentous occasion. Not only does Timothy have a spiritual covering in prayer but he has a spiritual heritage and a spiritual gift. But something is required of him!

Stir up the gift is best understood as fan into flame. If you know anything about open log fires you will understand this text. Fires can begin to die out unless they are fanned with a set of billows. In effect more oxygen is being added and this causes the fire to re-ignite and burn brighter and better. Spiritual gifts need to be used if they are to be effective. How could Timothy do this? What was involved? What did he need to do, practically?

Here is how it has worked in my life. First I remind myself of all the times in my life where the gift of God has operated to great effect. I am building faith by doing so by reminding myself of the faithfulness of God. This is what David did when he wanted to go and face Goliath. He had a secret history with God and he began to declare it to King Saul. "Your servant has killed both lion and bear...." 1Sam 17.36. The same gift would operate as he faced Goliath. Notice that David resisted using Saul's armour. It was untested - by him. He relied on what he knew worked.

Secondly I begin to praise God, with thanksgiving. This helps me get the right perspective about the challenges I am facing. It helps me focus on God and His greatness rather my problems and the people causing them. Praise in effect says, 'God is bigger'; bigger than me and bigger than my problems.

Finally I put myself in a position where I need to operate in my gift. David stood in front of Goliath. He pushed himself forward rather than backing away in fear. That's the essence of Paul's encouragement to Timothy. Despite how he felt, despite his tears, despite his fears, Paul saw the spiritual heritage and gifting of this young servant of God and was convinced he was more than able to deal with the problems in Ephesus. And he was right.

People who work out at the gym have a phrase, 'Use it or loose it'. Muscle that is developed has to be used or it atrophies, becomes weak and wastes away. Spiritual gifts are a bit like this. They are best developed by using them. And as we do, we can become sharper in how we use them.

Try to be someone who reminds others of what God has already invested in them. Dare to provoke them to embrace the challenges of life and ministry so that, like Timothy, they can fulfill their calling and destiny. And if God has used you in the past but you feel a little sidelined at the moment, that start to fan into flame the gift of God in your life. Put yourself in a place where you can defeat a lion or a bear so that you will be ready to face a Goliath when that day comes. And when it does, don't shrink back through fear. Just make the flame of your gift hotter and be astonished what God can do, through you.