What gives you strength? Look back at your own life experiences. In those times when you found yourself strengthened to face some difficult task, to speak a word you might have otherwise held to yourself, what gave you strength?
Paul’s counsel to Timothy is to find strength in grace. In 2 Timothy 2:1-3, he says, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Grace is, at its core, the recognition of what God does on our behalf. Grace recognizes that our strength resides somewhere other than our ingenuity or our physical prowess or our moral steadfastness or our innate ability to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and proclaim we are self-made men and women. Our strength, our capability to speak and act faithfully and for the sake of justice and compassion, derives from the grace of God.
Be strong in that gift. Be empowered in that grace. Why? Purely human strengths rise and then fall with age, with physical and mental abilities. Purely human strengths may wither in the face of opposition or ridicule in those times and places where taking a stand may mean standing for the moment in isolation. But the strength that is ours in Christ endures.
Paul encourages Timothy to “entrust to reliable men” this message so they will be able to teach others as well. This gives a powerful image of the gospel moving across generations, inviting and then entrusting and then commissioning each successive one into faith and service. We can never act for our own sake alone. If we do we deny the connections between us – the ones that bind us not only to our contemporaries, but also to those who have gone before us and those who follow us.
What is your ministry? That is, what do you find yourself called to do in response to the God revealed to us in Jesus? Let’s be clear: Ministry is not a private club reserved for the clergy with ordination documents. Ministry, as Paul spoke of it in 1 Corinthians 12:7, has to do with the whole people of God: “Each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Sometimes we like to focus on certain callings and gifts we have. “I teach,” or “I sew,” or “I visit,” or “I pray.” It is good and wise to know these gifts and callings and to use them for the good of the whole. But we should recognize that we are not valued and gifted for one thing only. Our ministry, our participation in community and service of others, moves in wider arcs than that. So, part of Lay Servant Ministry’s task is to help individuals discover and practice those other ministries that we are yet unaware of. And part of our task is to be open to the possibility of discovering that we have other gifts and graces than those we already know.
Be strong, in the grace of Jesus Christ and carry out your ministry fully. That is the good news we are given and the good work to which we have been called.
Phyllis Stoppel is the Hutchinson District director of Lay Servant Ministries.