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LEADING CHEERS FROM A PRISON CELL

Someone has observed that an optimist is a person who tells you to cheer up-especially when things are going his way. In 2 Timothy chapter one the great apostle Paul is telling his young preaching friend Timothy to cheer up. Like a leaky tire, Timothy's faith was apparently in danger of slowly going flat. The foes facing Timothy and the Christian faith ranged from false teachers to fatigue and frustration. For these reasons and more, in his opening words in 2' Timothy Paul seeks to cheer Timothy up. Scan the opening verses and you find Paul praying and thanking God for Timothy and desiring and longing to see him. He says memories of Timothy fill him with joy as he recalls Timothy's genuine faith. He firmly challenges Timothy to "stir up the gift of God which is in you though the laying on of my hands" (1:6). How wonderful and helpful if every congregation was filled with such spiritual cheerleaders today!

The amazing thing in all this is that while Timothy finds himself in a frying pan of pressure, Paul himself is in a fire of pain! Even as he cheers Timothy on, Paul is in prison and suffering for the gospel (1:8, 12);  abandoned by close friends and associates (1:15; 4:16); being treated as an evildoer and common criminal, chained in his prison cell (2:9); cold and lonely (4:13); apparently expecting to be executed soon and strongly urges Timothy to come before it is too late (4:6-8, 9, 21). And yet, in these circumstances of weakness, Paul speaks of power in a prison cell- "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7)! Prisons and pressures and problems cannot hinder the presence and power of God! The circumstances Paul faced as he cheered Timothy on were as challenging as those faced by any contemporary preacher or Christian. The difference in Paul and many modem Christians is attitude and perspective. His confidence in God's presence and power moved him to lead cheers rather than complain! During WWII General Creighton Abrams found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides. With characteristic optimism, he told his officers, "For the first time in the history of this campaign, we are now in a position to attack the enemy in any direction." Armed with a similar attitude, Paul considered prison to be as good a place as any for God to give him a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. That's how he could lead cheers--even from a prison cell! Remember- the prisons and pressures and problems of life may lock you in, but they can never lock God out!

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ