It’s been almost four years since I published my last collection of essays. In that time, I have remarried, completed my Doctor of Ministry, moved to Singapore, launched a new ministry, lost two good friends and my closest cousin to cancer, said goodbye to one son as he went abroad for studies, and moved to a new house. And those are just the highlights. According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale I should be mad or dead or both. I am not dead and my degree of sanity has always been a moot point. What is not debatable is the fact that has been hectic. And all that means is that I am a full-fledged member of the human race in the 21st century.
I also realised that I am not alone in having to confront many changes. The pace of life in the 21st century is punishing and I am just a regular member of this generation. In times of rapid change we grasp for anchors. We seek north stars that will help orientate us in the maelstrom. I have found two that have proved indispensable through the years — the Word of God and the company of friends.
Paul shows the need for the same two things in 2 Timothy. Writing at a time when he thought he was about to die, he makes the following requests:
Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers. (Ch 4:9-13 NLT)
In this personal missive we hear Paul’s cry for companionship. We hear it in his pain at having been deserted by Demas. We hear it in his plea for Timothy to be with him. There is nothing here that supports the notion that if we are mature in Christ we no longer need human companionship. It is not good for anyone to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In times of change we need to journey in the company of good friends. We need our friends. And we need the Word of God.
Paul asks Timothy to bring him his “books and papers.” The NLT Study Bible gives us some ideas as to what these may be:
my books . . . my papers: These writings may have included Scriptures, personal notes, letters addressed to Paul, copies of Paul’s own letters, and other Christian and Jewish materials.
We are not surprised that in a dark hour Paul wants the Word. He understood that the Scriptures were not just “feel-good” literature to make him forget his pain for awhile. He knew that the Scriptures were “breathed out” by God Himself, communication from the living God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) that held out the truth He needed for life and for death.
These then are the two essentials Paul looked for in a hard time — his friends, and the Word. These are the same two essentials we must have as we face the many and rapid changes of our lives.
Of course the true foundation of life is God Himself. He is the sure anchor that will always hold. In our toughest moments Jesus walks with us, as the disciples on the Emmaus road discovered eventually. But they discovered that the reality of the presence of Christ was mediated to them through their companionship and through the Word (Luke 24:13-35).
Many of us are going through tough times. We need to look to the Lord. He will see us through. But we also need to do our part in ensuring that our spirits are nurtured by Him. We need to make time to cultivate our friendships. And we need time to let God minister to us through His Word.
Unfortunately the first things that go when we are going through difficult times are our time with our friends and our time with the Word. May the demands of the day drive us back to these fundamentals, these basic spiritual disciplines of spiritual companionship and scripture reading. Whenwe do, we may just hear our Friend say:
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b NLT)
A few evenings ago I met up with two old friends. We have known each other since primary one (grade one), more than forty years now. Along the way we had all become followers of Jesus Christ. There was a certain comfortable familiarity of old friends reconnecting as we chatted. In our fifties we can look back on our lives and see many concrete examples of God’s grace. He had seen the three of us through all sorts of storms. We were living memorials to each other of His faithfulness.
We also shared about some of the challenges we were facing in our lives today. Life doesn’t get easier when you get older. But as we talked and prayed there was a certain peace that came from our faith in God, a faith built up by a life time of being nurtured by the Word and by friendship. It was going to be ok.