Your faith will not burn on its own
Obviously, not all of us have a grandmother named Lois or a mother named Eunice. Still, there's a lot in these verses for us:
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands... (2 Tim 1:5-6)
I myself happen to have two great-aunts name Lois and Eunice. Aunt Nunie (as she's affectionately known) called me just the other day to ask how she could be praying for me. She's 95 years old, and her faith is hot as a faith stoked for that long in the fires of God's love could possibly be. She's what I want to be when I grow up.
Which means, I need to stoke the fires of my faith. Not just once. Not just when I'm young. Not just when there's an issue. But every single day.
The world's resting temperature is a deadly cold. We often miss this because at night, when the sun is not directing its heat onto the world where we're at, we're tucked in bed, safely under the warm covers. But apart from the sun, the earth cools and cools, until most nights it gets colder than we can stand on our own.
This is why I do not enjoy camping. I cannot remember a camping trip during which I did not freeze all night long. It doesn't seem to matter what I bring to wear or which sleeping bag I choose, camping (for me) means sleeping cold. The world is naturally, when left on its own, very cold.
Hence, of course, the campfire. Who doesn't love that first glow of warmth in the morning after a cold night? The crackle of a freshly stoked fire, the flames that flicker and throw little gusts of heat towards your face. Usually the first person up is the first person to stoke the fire. It's the first order of business.
With all our gear we can afford to let the fire go out, or mostly out, at night. But in the old days, night time was exactly the time not to let the fire go out. People would take turns through "the watches of the night" to keep the fire alive, to fight back against the bitter night cold that would surely snuff it out - if there weren't someone to fan it into flame.
The world is cold. On our own, we cannot generate spiritual life or heat to keep ourselves spiritually protected from the coldness that is the result of our distance from God. Like the sun, he is the light and life of the world, and he alone provides the heat of life, the warm breath of his Spirit that unfreezes us out of spiritual death. To be a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ is to live in the kingdom of the flame.
Our king reigns in fire and provides the life-giving fire of his Spirit to his kingdom. God the Holy Spirit isn't to be related to as a doctrine or a theological entity; he is a Person, he is God himself, dwelling in us, a presence, a reality, and - here's the key - his proximity to us gives us the assurance that the deathly cold of this world is not going to snuff out our faith. Like a campfire, the Spirit sits in the middle of our lives and burns, warms, comforts. He gathers us around.
But the Spirit can apparently also be quenched (1 Thess 5:19). Our experience of his presence can grow dim and cold. This, I think, is what Paul warns Timothy about - don't let that happen. Stoke the fire, don't quench it.
One way to quench a fire is to throw a bucket of water on it. You can intentionally set out to dismantle your faith by rebelliously walking down a path of unbelief or immorality.
Another way to quench a fire is simply to let nature take its course. The natural trajectory of heat is to cool. Heat, by its very definition, is hard work, and when you stop working at it, heat is going to cool. Our hearts are naturally cooling, too, and unless we work to gather wood, stoke the fire, fan the flame, the flame of faith is, immediately but also gradually, going to dim and cool.
And so Paul tells Timothy, "Fan it!"
I guess I'm really trying to make a very simple point. If you want your faith to stay alive, and to keep you warm in the midst of a very cold world, you are going to have to work at it. And the colder the temperatures get, as the world does intentionally seek to quench every single ray of God's Spirit, the harder you and I are going to have to work at fanning this flame.
This morning I begged God - really pleaded with him - to provide a way for faith to continue in the times that are ahead. I woke up just feeling this heaviness and groaning. How will we make it? How will our faith continue, not just as a pitiful spark or a fleeting ember, but as a roaring fire that will draw cold, hungry, dying people into the kingdom that is protected by this wall of fire? How can we keep the fires lit and hot?
I am here, was what God said to comfort my heart. And right away I knew, he is all the protection we need.
I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst. (Zec 2:5)
The thing about fires is, you have to stay close to benefit from the warmth. Again, think of camping. As the night closes in and the darkness brings cold, everyone huddles. The fire brings not only safety from cold. That's the instinct that drives us towards the fire, but once we're there we find a lot of other blessings as well. Marshmallows and hot chocolate. Stories. Laughter. Friendship. Beautiful silent moments. The campfire is a lot of people's favorite thing about camping. It's a necessity. But it's also a luxury, a delight, a treat.
So, snuggle up and let's stay warm together. Closer and closer in he calls us, into the heat of his love and his presence. Fan your faith into flame by scooting in as close as you can to him.