The Heart of a Mentor

The apostle Paul sat in a dimly lit prison cell, knowing that sooner rather than later, the executioner’s sword would swing and he would be cut loose to soar into eternity. No longer seeing through a glass darkly, he would see Jesus face to face…. He would be home!

He had had a life full of adventure and intensity. After a brilliant academic career as a Jewish intellectual, he was arrested by the Lord Jesus himself in a dramatic encounter on the Damascus Road. This jettisoned him into a life of complicated cross-cultural ministry, mystical experiences with the Lord and gritty battles of words with the Pharisees and even, at times with ministry colleagues in the Church. It had been quite a life but the end was drawing near. However, there was one more letter he needed to write. So putting pen to parchment, Paul, the mentor, poured out his heart to Timothy, his understudy.

Whenever Paul prayed, Timothy’s face would be there. They had traveled hundreds of geographical and conversational miles together and just thinking about him brought a lump to Paul’s throat. When they had said farewell the last time, Timothy, now a grown and proven missionary associate, had sobbed. How he missed him and how he ached for him.

Paul’s heart was heavy because it seemed that Timothy’s enthusiasm for his role in what God was doing had been draining away. His drive for reaching seeking people was flagging. He wasn’t his old self; his passion which had once burned so brightly was now only embers, glowing coals on their way to becoming cold ashes. (Glowing coals are great for “Kum-Ba-Ya” moments and toasting marshmallows, but they don’t cast much light on dark shadows!)

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is a mentor’s heart-to-heart letter about rekindling passion. There’s a lot at stake, because Timothy is one person Paul is counting on to take the ministry in Asia to its next level. He opens up his heart by giving Timothy a picture: “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you!” (2 Timothy 1:6). The old warrior himself surely had known seasons of discouragement and distraction that are the right conditions for the mold of apathy to grow and spread over one’s heart. This letter of deep concern for one of his dearest colleagues and closest younger friends gives us a classic example of the multidimensional approach of an effective mentor challenging apathy and fanning the flames of the heart – especially a heart that is being tempted to snuggle down into a comfortable community of coals and just “glow for Jesus.”

Perhaps you’ll find Paul’s letter helpful too for fanning your own heart into flame. (I find reading Paul’s two letters to Timothy at one sitting helpful when life is getting out of focus.) But it’s important to remember – he’s not yelling at Timothy with capital letters, underlined words and bold exclamation marks. He’s got a lump in his throat and, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, he is calling out the best in this younger friend whom he loves. Here is what Paul places before Timothy:

1. Remember that there are people who love you, believe in you, and have been praying for you for years – Like who? … like me, all the time, and like members of your family. [2 Timothy 1:3-5]

2. Remember that God has gifted you uniquely. Never mind about others and their giftings. You know your own areas of giftedness. Focus on them and let them fire up! [verse 6]

3. Fear in any of its forms, except for holy reverence for God, is not from God. His Spirit has filled your spirit with power, love, and self-discipline. It’s there. I’ve seen it. Let it loose again, because when it flows, Jesus shines through in who you are. [verse 7]

4. Forget about carrying the burden of ministry by yourself. You can’t do it. Buy into grace deeply, then you won’t be worrying about what others think and you’ll have God’s perspective on suffering. Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you, nor is death. In fact, both are part of the Christian experience. Losing your passion is far worse. [verses 8-12]

5. Don’t forget the central truths of the gospel that I have explained to you and you have seen me live and heard me teach. Don’t just roll ideas around in your head. Keep this stuff in your heart where the Holy Spirit can keep breathing life into it and into you. [verses 13-14]

6. Don’t be distracted by the wrong choices that others make. Stay focused. Recognize the surprising people God sends as encouragers and receive from them as they walk with you.

End of chapter 1. Good stuff, don’t you agree! Read on into chapters 2 to 4. The intensity picks up.
Anybody out there with giftedness that needs to be fanned into flame? I hope you are reading this and receiving it.

Anyone out there in your sphere of influence (perhaps who is even older than you) who is losing their “fire”? God may want to use you as a mentor to walk with them and to speak into their lives. Take them to Him in prayer and listen to what the Spirit quickens in your heart. When you have it clear, and the time is right, let your love pour out, and in humility start walking and listening and eventually in talking with them.

Rev. Keith Elford is Bishop of The Free Methodist Church in Canada