Fan the Flame
Imagine an NBA team who signs a player they think will help them win a championship. But when the coach calls him to go into the game, the player just stays on the bench. When the coach asks, 'Why?', the player says, 'I'm afraid I might miss a shot'. The only way you can score points and help your team win is to get in the game and take shots.
God has not given us a spirit of fear: that's not just generic encouragement; in context, it's an instruction from Paul telling Timothy to be bold, to be strong, to say no to fear and timidity:
2 Timothy 2:6-7: 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, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
The for links the reminder about not being fearful with what comes before, the encouragement to fan to flame his gift. So Paul specifically encourages Timothy's boldness relative to 'the gift of God'. Based on on 1 Timothy 4:14, we can understand this to be Timothy's personal spiritual gifting, not 'the Holy Spirit' or some dimension of God available for all believers:
1 Timothy 4:14: Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
So Paul wants Timothy to be bold in the excercise of his gift, and to fan it to flame. The picture painted here is that of burning coals that have a tendency to grow cool unless fanned with oxygen and fed with fuel.
If left untended, our gifts cool, lose their edge, and grow dull by disuse. It requires focus, intention, boldness, and courage. But it also assumes that we know what our gifting is.
Paul seems to assume that Timothy is aware of 'the gift of God'. They shared this awareness, and Paul didn't have to mention it. There is, however an indicator in 1 Timothy 4:13, where, immediately prior to telling Timothy not to neglect his gift, Paul tells him to 'devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching'. Whether we see exhortation and teaching as functions of any elder should perform or specifically as Timothy's gift package, it seems clear that both Timothy and Paul shared an awareness of Timothy's gift.
Let me offer a brief digression on gifts. There are three key gift passages in the New Testament (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Ephesians 4:11-12). I do not believe that gifts are generic, but rather, they are deeply entwined with our own personality, motivations, spirituality, perspectives, and passions. This has two implications: first, it means that what you bring to the table is unique; a gift expressed through your personality and temperment and perspective is a one of kind.
Second, discovering your gift is only part of the equation; you also need to understand how you are wired (are you a doer, a feeler, or a thinker?), and what you care deeply about (your passion). Your greatest contribution to the body of Christ will occurr at the intersection of your gift, your wiring, and your passion.
What do we do this?
1. Find your gift. If you don't know what it is, you can't fan it into flame. In Timothy's case, a presbytery of men affirmed his gifting. Thus, we tend to discover our gifting when we are serving in community, not in isolated spiritual encounter on a mountain top. If you are unaware, take a spiritual gift test and seek the input of those around you.
Relative to gifting, there are two really bad outcomes: first, it's bad to think you are good at something you are not. This is why we have auditions before someone can sing with the worship team: they prevent non-singers from wreaking auditory havoc. But if you can sing, it's confirmed by the audition. Second, it's bad to have a gift and not use. Jesus described a not very good outcome for that way of living (Matthew 25:24-30).
2. Fan the flame. Feed your gift with the oxygen and fuel that makes it grow stronger, brighter, hotter. How do we do this? By stepping out of fear and into faith, boldly using your gift. Look for opportunitites, be proactive, seek out situations to bring blessing to others with how God has wired you.
3. Focus on the family. Jesus taught is that greatness comes from serving others (Matthew 23:11-12). Don't wait for people to rally around you because it's not about you; find ways to serve others, to make them great, to help out where needed. There's no gift called 'helping stack chairs after the meeting'; serving is done with an attitude, not an aptitude. But cultivating an attitude of servanthood will position you for growth.
4. Be done with fear. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat, and related to gifts, it's the fear of not being accepted because you do something poorly or people will think less of you or you'll make a mistake. If you are in a church community that's not marked by love, this could be the case. In a church living with the value of family in which we are for each other, we are committed to each other, we care about each other winning, this fear has no place.
It is not right for fear to keep you on the sidelines, watching the game as spectator. Be done with fear, fan the flame, and get your gift in the game, to the glory of God.