Today and this weekend, England will celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. At the age of ninety-six, she is the longest-reigning monarch, having held the position for seventy years!
A multitude of celebrations are planned. Some speculate that Americans will be more excited about this milestone than the Brits. That’s surprising given our history of forcefully separating from the crown. We love the history and pageantry of it all.
Given this news, maybe we need to rethink our views of pastoral longevity, retirement planning, and the daily, weekly, and yearly opportunities we have to celebrate our King of kings.
Those numbers can mean several different things.
They can refer to the moment when you just sat down for a good lunch with a family member, friend, or teammate and the waiter took your drink order. Of course, these days, getting into a fully staffed restaurant is a rare thing. This past weekend, the place where I ate Sunday lunch had 20 percent of their tables closed due to staff shortages.
Those numbers can also refer to the first five minutes of the day. Strangely enough, we birth each new day in the middle of the night, when it can feel near hopeless. Darkness is often associated with evil and despair. Unless you’re a night owl, which I am not, you likely hope you’ll rarely ever see those numbers on your clock, watch, or phone.
When you do, it likely means you don’t feel well, someone in your family doesn’t feel well, or there’s something going on in your ministry that doesn’t feel well. If that’s where you were last night, may God give you fresh mercy, peace, faith, wisdom, power, and hope for the situation(s) you are facing today.
I was in the hallway of the Bible building at Howard Payne University when I first heard this advice: “Be kind to everyone. Everybody is either headed into, in the middle of, or just coming out of difficulty.” It’s a true statement even if it’s not a joyful one.
Back to 12:05.
Paul’s encouraging words
When last did you receive or write a note of encouragement and instruction to someone important to you?
I checked this morning. It takes twelve minutes and five seconds to listen, at normal speed, to the second letter that the apostle Paul wrote to his friend, spiritual son, and ministry protégé Timothy, who was pastoring the church at Ephesus. The four chapters are full of love, encouragement, faith, wisdom, and warning from a dank dungeon as Paul awaited his execution for the hope he and Timothy shared.
The Romans didn’t imprison people as a form of punishment. Prison was only a holding place until trial, where you were acquitted or sentenced to death. Paul was facing the latter and he knew it. But even so, he is fully confident in Christ.
Over the years, God has prompted me (as he did this week) to return to this letter for boatloads of encouragement. Most ministry leaders I know can quote, or at least closely paraphrase, several verses from Paul’s last recorded letter. Three words stand out to me today from listening to it again.
The first is how personal this letter is.
Paul and Timothy have a deep history together. Paul recruited Timothy to be on his ministry team (Acts 16:1–5). Over time, Timothy proved to be a worthy partner. Eventually, Paul assigned him the pastoral leadership in this strategic city. Paul knew Timothy’s family, faith, and fears. He addresses all those things and more. There is a great warmth to this letter. Ministry and the gospel really do move at the speed of relationships.
Second, Paul’s words to Timothy are inspiring and encouraging.
Paul knows that Timothy is intimidated and overwhelmed by the situations he’s managing. He knows because God knows that ministry is sometimes hard. It is a “splendid misery,” as my pastor and mentor taught me.
Paul does not minimize the challenges of what it means to be a disciple and a church servant. He does not soft-sell the opposition Timothy faces from those who reject the gospel or are indifferent. In the face of such challenges, Paul reminds Timothy of his calling and the gifts God has given him (2 Timothy 1:6).
Later, he reminds Tim of his deep heritage in the faith and the roots of ministry training he received (2 Timothy 3:10–17). The struggles are real, but God’s presence and power are abundant. Timothy must have been greatly encouraged that both Jesus and Paul believed in him and his work. God believes in yours too.
Last, this letter is instructional.
Even if Paul knew these could be his last words to Timothy, he takes the opportunity to continue teaching and training him on how to lead. In every chapter, he warns of faith failures that can bring great disappointment. He anchors Timothy in the deep conviction that God and his word are true, that God’s way and will are the best for all people. He reminds Timothy of his primary responsibility to preach and teach God’s word with conviction and clarity (2 Timothy 4:1–3). How easy it is for us to lose sight of the simple yet profound work we should be doing.
I don’t know how long you will get to be in your current ministry role. It might be seventy years. Only God knows. However long God deems it to be, I hope you have several letters like this one. In fact, this letter to Timothy is yours! God preserved it so you and I can claim it, both as Timothys and as Pauls.
Put your name in the letter every place you see a reference to Timothy. Own it for your soul. Then grab your pen or keyboard and, in the spirit of Paul, by the Spirit of God, write someone a note or letter of personal, inspirational, and instructional blessing.
They need it and God can use you to provide it.
How can your sermon or lesson be that this week?