Timothy was a young man with plenty of reasons for stress. He was sent to be the spiritual leader for a group of people who needed some work on unity and building each other up rather than tearing each other down. They needed to work on seeing things through the eyes of faith. And they didn't always want to listen to him. After all, most of them were older than he. It was enough responsibility and obligation and stress to affect a guy's health. Maybe you've been there with Timothy... overwhelmed.
So Paul encourages him and us. He gives us the cure for all of our stress and obligation. We already have all we need. The answer is right in front of us. We just need to use it. Notice that Paul's encouragement is not just a bunch of fluff. He doesn't tell Timothy not to worry because it will all be OK. He doesn't tell him that life will get easier. In fact, he tells him to expect the kind of suffering he was suffering. But, he tells him, "you have what it takes to handle all life can throw at you. God has given you that gift, so don't be afraid. Use it." Or, to quote the apostle: "Fan into flames your gift from God."
The picture there is of a pile of coals that are dying out as they are being deprived of oxygen. The heat is there. The fire is there. We just need to let it breathe. Let it live. Give it some air and let it take off. Let's fan into flames our faith.
You see, Paul tells Timothy that his faith is a gift. It's not something Timothy (or us for that matter) accomplished. It's something we've been given. In some of you, it looks pretty big. In others of us, it might appear small - like a mustard seed, as Jesus once described it. But faith is faith - and it is strong. It is mountain-moving strong - not because of our strength of faith but because of the strength of faith - the strength of the One faith is in. No matter how much I believed that I could move a mountain, I never would. But trusting God to do what he can and does - that's something else. That's faith. And today, Paul tells us to use ours.
When I was just a kid, one Christmas I got a gift unlike any I had received yet. Growing up with 13 brothers and sisters, Christmas gifts were usually things like socks and lifesaver candies. But one year, a friend of the family gave me a brand new (not even a hand-me-down) model train. Of course, I couldn't wait to play with it. But I had to. My dad, probably wisely, told me to wait until he could help me set it up and make sure it was put together right. He didn't want anything on that fancy new train to get wrecked; he wanted to make sure there was a good spot to set it up where the younger kids wouldn't get at it. So, there it sat, under their bed for safe keeping. And whenever I asked about the train there were too many reasons not to put it together just then. Eventually, I forgot about it and stopped asking.
It wasn't until after I was married and had my own son that I remembered that train. The next time I visited my parents I checked. Sure enough, still there under the bed, looking pristine - dusty, but pristine, still in its original packaging. It was a beautiful gift - but by not using it, by saving it for when the time when all the excuses were gone, we had wasted it, and I got nothing out of it for all those years. Let's not let that happen to our faith - because this gift is so much more practical and usable. You see, the more we use it, the more we really trust our God to keep all his promises - the more we remember his greatest promise to us.
God has promised you and me forgiveness, new life, an eternity of joy with him because Jesus died to pay for our sins, and Jesus rose to guarantee it. That is a confidence that affects everything that happens here. Come hear this Sunday all about the way we can use this faith. Come to church and, through God's Word, do what Paul says, "Fan into flames your faith."