Family praying together around table

Perhaps you have thought, “How do I live into my faith more consistently?” The New Testament writer has simple, helpful advice for us.

The passage can be read here.

Faith for All Ages

Paul, who wrote this letter, (sometimes we call him Saint Paul), did not grow up being a Christian. He became a Christian well into adulthood and that means it is never too late to embrace faith.

There’s more. Paul is writing to a much younger Timothy (calls him “child” which is a term of affection). In this letter, he says, now Timmy, you are young, and you are finding out that life and a job are difficult and you are not sure you can do it. Stay strong in the grace of Christ. That means you are never too young to embrace your faith and be a positive example to others. 

With God, you are never too old or too young to embrace faith.

So whether you are young or old, I want to give you three encouragements that will help you stay strong in the grace of Jesus and that will help your baptism become a living reality in you. 

Accept Where You are Today

You cannot become everything you were meant to be all at once.  You can take the steps to become what you want, but you must accept where you are today.

In another part of the New Testament, Paul writes about the day he realized where he was in his life. He says, “God help me! When I started to pay attention to my actions, I realized that I do things I don’t want to do and at other times I don’t do the very things I know I should do! Lord, have mercy on me!” (Romans 7)

That moment was a turning point for Paul because he realized it is about the grace of Jesus washing him from his mistakes and empowering him to live better today.

I remember when I was a teenager, a man in our church shared his Christian story one Sunday morning. For many years he had gotten off the right path due to substance abuse disorder. He came to our church and the church embraced him and with tears in his eyes he said, “Thank God that God loved me where he found me but loved me too much to leave me there.” That man became an important person in the life of the church. It began when he realized he was incapable of making the changes himself; he needed God.

Not even God can change yesterday, but God can change our tomorrows.

If you can see yourself then accept yourself. Because if you accept yourself, you can improve yourself.

Accept where you are today so that you can see who you want to become.

Be diligent with your growth

Paul gives three examples: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. Each one has a desire.  The soldier desires to win the war. An athlete desires to win the contest. The farmer desires an abundant harvest.

Is it enough to have a desire? No, you must have discipline. 

One afternoon in our confirmation class I shared with a student, “Confirmation is not graduation.” It’s just the beginning. For some of you, graduating is just the beginning. For others, having a career is just the beginning. Parents, how do you like this? Having kids is just the beginning!

Getting married is just the beginning.

For others of you, retirement is just the beginning. 

If you go to Yankee Stadium you see Mickey Mantle’s number on the wall. You go to see the Celtics play and you see Larry Bird’s number up in the rafters. You see the Dodgers play and you see Jackie Robinson’s number up on the wall. They played well and long and then their career ended.

Look up in the rafters here in the sanctuary. What does that tell you? We never retire from the life of faith. I will owe as much to God when I’m 88 as when I am 48.

However, it is a process of learning faithfulness. The way to faithfulness tomorrow is faithfulness today, no matter how small the step.

One Way Simple Step that Takes You Very Far

I want to get very practical here. No one can do the push-ups for you, plow the field for you, or take the next step for you. That belongs to you.

If you want to stay firm and strong in your faith, then be diligent with prayer. Everyone can pray. You can be a small person and be a giant with prayer. (Read about how God is the hope of our prayer here)

Someone asked me once, “What is prayer all about?” That’s a good question to ponder.

Each person has a soul, which is all that makes you yourself. It is your real self and that self has real needs. When we pray, we are inviting God into that space. Where God is there is healing and help.

We often think of prayer as caring for others, but when we pray, we see the benefits as well. When we pray for someone and say, “Lord, give them wisdom,” we also become wiser. When we pray for comfort for someone, we become comforted. When we pray for spiritual growth for others, we also become aware of our own need for growth and help.

Prayer is powerful and is often neglected. As G. K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Try it. Fail at it, but fail forward. It’s progress. Prayer is a powerful push in our progress if we prevail. Start today.

Prayer pushes us to action. Prayer is an act of faith, but the greatest form of faith is action. When you act you are stating your belief that your situation can change with God’s help. If you want to become more diligent in your action then be diligent in your prayer.

Accept yourself. Be diligent in your growth. Third, stay focused in your faith.

Stay focused in your faith

The soldier doesn’t get distracted because the mission matters more. The athlete doesn’t get sidetracked by a life of ease or the afternoon buffett. The farmer doesn’t get distracted by those who can take a long summer vacation. He will get a vacation after the harvest.

It is necessary to stay focused. 

Timothy writes to Paul about how hard it is to lead others and to be a positive influence and to stay the course. Paul tells Timothy, “Don’t get bogged down in the complexity of life. You cannot control how others behave. Stay true and stay focused in your faith.” 

If you stay focused on being someone who loves God, there is a high likelihood that many things will sort themselves out over time. When you love God and live your values, good things are more likely to happen. It will make you an honest person who takes responsibility for your life. It will make you a good friend, a hard worker, and someone dependable. It will help you avoid all kinds of trouble and will give you wisdom for the sophisticated moments of your life. You will begin to notice the wise people God has put around you. You will see that you are Timothy and you have a Paul upon whom you can rely.

This year notice those helpful people. Build your network of faithful friends. Beef up your prayer muscles. There are a thousand ways to get distracted on the device you are now using. Many things are simply below your attention’s worth. When you elevate your mind, you will be the better for it.

We must take the time to refocus. A soldier takes a break from a tour of duty; a trainer has a rest day; a farmer has winter. During those times they rest and prepare for the next season.

When life gets complex, let your prayers become more and more simple, “God, ground me in my relationship with you. Remind me of what I am to do. Show me the next right thing.”

Why? Because the harvest will be yours! The victory will be yours! The battle, the win, will be yours. The next step, however incremental, can be yours. Think about what you want and who you want to become as a person of faith. Christ can empower you by the grace of the Spirit and help you there.

Closing

In closing, friends, neighbors, and family, if we dare to live into this and not get sidetracked by fear, anger, bigotry, grudges, or our own guilt, shame, and imperfections, but allow the promises of God’s goodness to be the focus of life, we can stand stronger in the faith.

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