I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
2 Timothy 1:3 NIV
Paul insisted that his life as an apostle had been pure joy. He said this in spite of the fact that he had faced many challenges and uphill battles. However, he had found fulfillment in his work, pouring Christ into the culture that had been drinking from the well of spiritual syncretism.
The source of Paul’s joy was his commitment to Christ and spreading the gospel, but he also said that it was the cause of his pain. It is a strange, but familiar, juxtaposition. Paul was honest about his struggle to hold tight the twin tensions of joy and pressure.
Faith doesn’t eliminate these tensions in life, but it does stabilize us if we believe that God purposed this tension and strengthens us in spite of it. Like Paul, we must manage this tension. We must be faithful to our call and manage our fatigue.
How do we handle honoring God when that means that we have to manage things that we don’t deserve? How do we pray a prayer of surrender when the One that we are praying to is offering us up to things that make us suffer?
Paul teaches Timothy that he should handle this tension by offering God a pure conscience. In the Greek, Timothy would have understood conscience to mean the capacity that God gives us to balance moral and spiritual discernment. It is the place where we judge between right and wrong.
Paul says that he offers God the purity of his conscience because it was tough to live between being faithful and living under attack. When he offers God this kind of conscience, Paul can say, right before he is going to death, “I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
This is how we can live every day with stress on our backs and still wake up every day grateful. We know that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. This is how we handle walking through tumultuous times. We know that what sustains our life is Jesus living inside of us. When Jesus lives inside of us, there is purpose, even to our pain.