Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Paul’s words to Timothy show us his idea of what a follower of Christ is like. We are a soldier in Christ’s army, and a soldier does not expect a life of ease; indeed, he is often keen and up for the challenge of what his job will involve. And for us it is not a job; it is not even a duty. It is a privilege to be a follower of Christ. And He has made provision for us, that we can endure hardness. It’s not that the way is always hard, but hardness will come into it, as Paul himself very well knew.
During this period in our country’s history there are varying degrees of hardness of the way, depending on our circumstances, but something that is probably coming to most of us is a sense of weariness of the way, a weariness of all this abnormal mode of life, and (for some of us) most of all the weariness of not being able to be together in God’s house and to worship in the way that we are accustomed to. The whole experience of lockdown and restriction and (to begin with) the sense of isolation for many has given me a greater appreciation of what people suffer when they are imprisoned for their faith or for any other reason. I have a tremendous admiration for those who endure that hardness and glorify Christ in it, sometimes in isolation for many years. Many of you of an older generation may be familiar with The Colditz Story, either through the television serial or (like me) through reading the book. One of the things that is an abiding memory for me is that year after year the weariness of being imprisoned in that cold fortress came upon very brave men. It was the bravest that tended to end up in Colditz, because they were the ones that had tried to escape from other camps. They would find another winter was coming on with all the cold, and they realized the war’s not over yet, and the weariness of another winter of confinement came over the souls and spirits of these men who were accustomed to a life of adventure and freedom. And to a little degree we can identify with that: just the weariness of the way.
Paul said: Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The hardness of the way of life can engender not just a bitter spirit, but a hard spirit that becomes indifferent to other people’s suffering. Or it can have the opposite effect and make us more aware of other people’s suffering and more compassionate to it. The hardness that we have to endure brings a hardiness into our spirit, a good kind of toughness, like the iron that entered into Joseph’s soul in prison. But it doesn’t make us hard, as such. There’s a tremendous contrast in the spiritual world between the hardiness of spirit that we need and the gentleness of spirit that we need. No one was braver than Christ, and no one more gentle.
It brought to me the picture of the manna coming for the Israelites in the wilderness, in a desert place, in a hard place. God sent them a form of bread, the manna, and it came with the dew. The dew fell overnight, and in the morning when the sun rose and the dew dried off, there was the manna. It is such a picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us often very gently, without being seen, but is totally needed to come upon our spirits, or they will become hard. We are very dependent on the oil and the balm of the Holy Spirit to come, and as He comes He brings Christ with Him, and He brings into our spirit the gentleness of the healing of Christ, the gentleness of spirit that prevents us from being hard in the midst of hardship. He comes so beautifully, as the dew falls down on the mown grass that’s lying bleeding and broken and brings healing and recovery, and He brings Christ, who brings us all that we need.
Paul was one who tremendously found this, and could say then to his disciple: ‘You endure hardness, Timothy.’
You have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:36)
Paul describes himself as having been as gentle as a nurse in the midst of his spiritual children, nursing them as a nurse cherishes her children – Paul, who was so strong, who had overseen the stoning of Stephen. His life then was probably without too much hardship: he was respected and honoured, probably quite well off. Now he was just the opposite, despised and rejected – but not hardened, his spirit softened by the coming of the dew of the Holy Spirit until he loved every one of his converts, and he loved the fallen race of men and sought always to win them to Christ. And he is comforted by different means and such a simple situation as the coming of his friend Titus. He was cast down and almost in despair, but he said:
God, who comforts the lowly, comforted me by the coming of Titus to me. (2 Corinthians 7:6)
It is not wrong to take comfort from our friends. We think: ‘Well, we should be ultimately dependent upon God,’ but God uses people and incidents to bring help and comfort. Don’t feel guilty and somehow inadequate if that is how help has come to you.
An illustration of this comes from my sister Alison’s life many years ago, in 1989. She was in great need. She was overworked, overstrained, she was writing a book review in the context of her own career, she was doing a lot of the looking after of Miss Taylor by that stage, and these and various other circumstances had all conspired to make her dangerously overstrained to a point that she just did not know how she was going to cope with life and with the future. Alison is a very strong and resilient person; this was not like her. She had been taken out in the car by her sister and a friend to try and help her relax, and they had come into my house to see me. I was there alone with my daughter, who was just three years old at the time. Christine was sitting beside Alison on the settee; they were alone in the room, Alison in deep inward distress. And Christine trotted over to a coffee table where was lying my miniature Daily Light, the exact same as Alison’s one. She brought it over, opened it, and held it open long enough for Alison to read the emboldened words at the top of the page for the 2nd of September: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, and on the other side for the morning reading, it said: Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart. Christine closed the book and took it back. Alison only had time to read these verses, but it was the start of renewal and healing. Later on in the day on her own she was still feeling the stress of it all, and she went to look up the verses in her own Daily Light, but instead opened at the 19th of March, with verses like: Strengthen me according to Your word. Because it had spoken to her so much in the morning, it spoke to her again, and the distress lifted from her.
God is a wonderful healer; there is nobody like Him. We cannot explain how he heals a broken heart, an overstrained spirit, in a moment. What no psychology or psychiatry can do in the same way, He does in a second. Always remember that. Always remember when you’re suffering hardship that there is still God, and at the right moment at the appointed time He comes, His touch is wonderful. So endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. There comes His moment, and in Him, as the dew falls, healing comes. He is like the cloud of dew in heat of harvest. Think of that cloud of dew dropping around us. It brings to us health, and it brings the Son of God.
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