This morning I’m stuck at home enduring an infected tooth extraction that wants to complicate things. Before the painkiller kicks in again, I wanted to share what I’ve read this beautiful, mild autumn morning. It seems such a paradox, such an embarrassing contrast of comfort and misery. The silkiness of Sugar Bear’s coat, (my Chihuahua) a warm glowing honey-colored fur, snug at my side, coat shining in the early morning sunshine. Outside the window, the hummingbirds battle for the next sip of nectar, blossoms nearby sharing their perfume wafting on the soft breeze.
While I nestle under a crimson fleece blanket in my little corner, mug of hot tea beside my chair, I can picture the dreadful, drafty cold stone of the prisons under the streets of Rome.
Stones that never warm, never soften. The human misery that emanates from below the streets, calls from the abyss that is all but forgotten in this teeming city. The unbelievable stench of human waste and sweat to which the nose does not acclimate. The guards, the dregs of the Roman forces, alleviating their boredom and disgust with their duties by pestering and humiliating the prisoners. Runaway slaves, forced into housekeeping duties, trying to haul away the buckets that were used to relieve the prisoners following a meal of wormy gruel. And as always, the voice of a rich baritone growing slightly feeble, singing praises to God. The prisoners used to stop him from singing, taking turns ridiculing him, but after months and months they’ve taken pity on him and some encourage him. A few even join in his singing, as they’ve grown used to his music, as well as his God.
His friends have stopped coming by to bring him food and bits of comfort, a fresh pair of sandals, a parchment to read, or a clean tunic with a word or two of encouragement. For the most part, the poor old guy has been left utterly alone. His cough is getting a bit more forceful, the sound of it ominous. Yet on he sings. Singing and writing, that’s all he does now. He was trying to help out the slaves, to share their burden of carrying the slop buckets, but he’s grown too weak for much of that now. Though he still encourages the other prisoners around him, urging them to have hope and to look forward to their reward. I guess he’s convinced all of them to believe as he does.
As the prison is below the streets of the marketplace, the sun never seems to reach all the way to the cells. The way these walls are constructed, the winds tend to howl down through the opening in the roof, a hole hardly larger than a manhole cover that lowers by ropes whatever supplies, new prisoners, or guards enter the enclosure. And then receiving in return dead bodies, waste, and the occasional guard relieved of duty that cannot wait to leave, drawing their woolen cloaks closer in the growing chill of late autumn.
Paul tried to stand and stretch, his arthritic joints and bones growing stiffer with age, poor nutrition, and exposure. He finished his latest letter to Timothy, encouraging him still, in the face of all that Paul has endured.
“For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that Day.” He continued to stress to Timothy to keep it simple: “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food–catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But YOU–keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive, do a thorough job as God’s servant.”
“You take over, Timothy. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting–God’s applause!”
“Get here as fast as you can. Everyone else deserted me. Bring Mark with you: he’ll be my right-hand man. Bring the winter coat I left in Troas and also the books and parchment notebooks. …Try hard to get here before winter.”…The message goes on, ever encouraging Timothy and his followers, regardless of how Paul was suffering. And I know that he counted his imprisonment and even his death a victory for Christ; so many came to believe as a result of his testimony.
Yet this morning, cozy and growing sleepy in my little nest, my heart breaks for this man of God, enduring more than anyone should have to, all in the name of His Savior and his purpose. “Come before winter.” Those words say so much, don’t they?
I intend to look around. To seek out those who serve quietly, enduring much for the cause of Christ. I’m going to find some way to alleviate some small portion of what they endure for Him. To do what I can to ‘bring a coat before winter.’ And more than anything, I want to follow Paul’s example: “Read these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of laying out the truth plain and simple.” I can do that.
(Quotations from II Timothy, [The Message])