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 God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God… 2 Timothy 1:6-8
Driven by the context of Paul’s advice to his timid protégé, as I talk about overcoming timidity, I want to remind you that I’m primarily referring to the kind of fears that we experience while serving in the daunting adventure of God. I’ve more often heard (and used) this passage to urge people to defeat their phobias and quell their fears of “lesser demons.” And, no doubt, many of those types of fears are the brainchildren of dark spirits to keep us embroiled in skirmishes of little consequence in order to avert us from the actual front lines where the actually kingdom advances into enemy territory. While Timothy might well have been afraid of his own shadow, so to speak, what concerned Paul was his timidity regarding his humanly impossible mission in Ephesus. His mentoring advice was intended to embolden him for the eternity-sized tasks at hand.
He gave him a three-fold prescription to dispel Timothy’s fear of the mission – the Spirit promises to saturate him (and us) with more than enough power, love and self-discipline for any world-changing chore to which he assigns us and for which he trusts us.
Treating timidity with power, love, and self-discipline
Have you ever thought about how these three things counter fearfulness? Why did Paul pick these things in particular as an antithesis of timidity? How does this three-fold prescription neutralize our nervousness and allay our fears?
“Power”, of the three, is the most obvious antidote for timidity. When we’re persuaded that we have the power of the Spirit available for ready access in our spirit, we don’t have to fear anything that we might encounter in our service to God. He readied us for every scary eventuality by guaranteeing, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you shall be my witnesses…” The degree to which my spirit is full of the Holy Spirit is the degree of courage that I carry into whatever chilling adventure into which he might insert me.
With Paul on death row in Rome, Timothy was the heir apparent of his apostolic position in Ephesus, if not beyond. Talk about a daunting prospect! From a different prison cell, earlier in his ministry, to that same church where he’d commissioned Timothy to serve, Paul wrote a mandate: “Be filled with the Spirit,” that is, make sure to keep a spirit full of the Holy Spirit. Doubtless, the apostle-in-training, looking for all the encouragement and support he could find, along with all the correspondence of his mentor, constantly poured over that particular letter to the Ephesians. His spirit saturated and spilling over with the Holy Spirit would be key to facing his intimidating assignment. I know that for me, when my spirit is exclusively and excessively occupied by the Holy Spirit, I tend to forge forward in a spirit of courage rather than in fear.
If you tend to toward timidity, I can’t highly enough recommend getting saturated to the point of spilling over in the Holy Spirit. As I understand it, we are initially infused with the Spirit when we receive Jesus, but are filled and empowered with the same Spirit by asking the Father, believing his promise, and receiving the gift from his hand (Luke 11:13; Galatians 3:2; John 20:22). After the Holy Spirit filled them, the disciples of Jesus appear to be altogether different men than the ones who followed him previously. Before their spiritual saturation they hid behind locked doors, the same doors through which they emerged to change the world after the Holy Spirit came upon them, and with this same “Spirit of power” we can overcome fearfulness and timidity as we serve in the grand adventure of God.
“Love,” as a deterrent for timidity, may not be as obvious as “power,” but it’s just as critical. Imagine the mother who suffers a phobia of heights, but for love of her child, scrambles up the tall tree in which her child is stuck. The claustrophobic man will take one last vehement breath and enter the caved-in mine to rescue his beloved wife. Ready and willing to brave whatever danger, their fears are trumped by their love. It was love that compelled Jesus to risk coming all the way here from his splendid neighborhood to ours (not so splendid) and then to go all the way to an dreadful bloody cross, and love makes us brave beyond our normal limits, willing to follow him wherever he leads us, able to carry our cross.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“This is how God showed his love among us; he sent his one and only Son…” 1 John 4:9
“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:5
The Holy Spirit is willing and able to give us this kind of fear-neutralizing love in such a way that it exudes from our pores – the “spirit of love.” When he injects God’s agape into us, the way we think about our fellow-earthlings, the way we feel about them, and the way we treat them, is love.
“Greater life has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
“There is no fear in love…” 1 John 4:18
Could it be a symptom of lovelessness when we let our timidity get the best of us and prevent us from doing God’s bidding? Is it an indicator that we don’t love people enough to suck up our fears in order to help them? I might be afraid to talk in front of people, but because I love them (and it’s clear that God wants me to do this) I have to overcome my fear. If I’m reticent about confronting a friend in their sin, because I love him, I must forge ahead and speak the truth to him in love. Imagine that you’re with a small group of friends, and the Spirit injects into your heart a prophecy to share with them, but you’re scared. “What if this isn’t the Spirit’s word, or the right time to share it? What happens if I don’t say it exactly right?” Understandable concerns, but love for others would compel you to step out and do your best. Your co-worker has just been diagnosed with cancer and you feel inspired by the Spirit to ask her if you can pray for her, but you’re afraid she’ll be embarrassed or that you’ll look stupid. Love gives you a shove. It always does. It inspires us to be bolder, to adventure beyond our humanly, and often demonically, induced boundaries in order to obey God’s prompting to help other humans.
“Since God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” 1 John4:11
“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21
[Next time, the final post on this topic – for now, anyway – on how “self-discipline” counteracts timidity…]