2 Ti 4:16 “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “They have a complex”? A complex is a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes subconsciously organized around a common event-especially events that are negative. This condition may involve many thoughts, emotions, memories, feelings of inferiority, triumphs, bitterness, and determinations centering on that one aspect of his or her life.
One of the primary manifestations of a complex is playing the victim. This mindset is extremely debilitating and can ONLY be resolved with intentional prayer.
Paul, who would have been humanly justified to develop a victim complex, reveals to us how to pray when others fail or hurt us:
Intercede for those that abandon you. (v. 16)
Paul’s “first defense” evidently refers, not to his first Roman imprisonment, about which Timothy would have already known, but to a preliminary hearing leading up to his present trial. At such trials it was common to hear advocates for the accused, but in Paul’s case no one came to his support, but everyone deserted him. The widespread desertion of the apostle may be explained by the fact that, unlike the period of his first imprisonment, it had now become extremely dangerous to be a Christian in Rome. How pitiful to envision the great Apostle Paul in this lonely moment! Yet like Jesus (Lk. 23:34) and Stephen (Ac 7:60) before him, Paul prays that the wrongs done against him would “not be laid to the charge” of his offenders.
Seasons of being abandoned can be viewed one of two ways: isolation or solitude. The prayerless soul chafes under the burden of soul-level isolation from “all those insensitive people”; the soul dedicated to prayer welcomes the opportunity to enter into a level of prayerful solitude with the God of heaven reserved for the forsaken and forgotten. What you do right after and long after being forced into aloneness determines your eventual trajectory on multiple fronts. It is not that you try to forget about those who forgot about you; you simply pray for them where/when you are tempted to resent them. This may have no pragmatic, immediate effect on them, but it redeems you from a bitter end that will ruin you and those you influence.
Allow seasons of loneliness to sweeten and strengthen your relationship with the Lord. (v. 17)
Paul’s courage in proclaiming the gospel was not dampened by the weakness of those around him. The secret to his ministry was his dependence on the strength of his God (Ph. 4:13; 1 Ti. 1:12)! Though nobody remained with him Paul said, “The Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” The apostle to the Gentiles had long before discounted his own life for the sake of preaching the gospel (Acts 20:24). This was simply the latest episode of many wherein Paul put his own life on the line so that through him the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And once again, at least for the time being, he had been delivered from the “mouth” all who were out to snuff out his ministry.
Could it be that the opposite-of-Paul devastation that the abandoned version of us that shows up indicates that we rely upon others acceptance, support, and fellowship to make up “where God is just not enough”? Over the past few years I have heard a song’s insightful refrain:
“This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell, we’d be held.”
The question is can we truly, fully know what it means to be “held secure by God” until everyone/everything we have depended upon is stripped away? I am finding in the seasons of life and ministry when I feel most lonely and inexplicably down that God is still faithful in a manner that enriches/steadies me like no other…but only when I pray instead of murmur. As one writer wisely states, “The key to our souls is contemplation, the acquired habit of being alone with God to hear His voice.”
Renew your hope in ultimate, bright victory that puts the present long-feeling shadows in their short-lived place. (v. 18)
Paul knew that his fate in the Roman courts was sealed (vv. 6–8), and he was ready to die. Yet he saw his death not as a victory for Rome but as a rescue of the Lord. Despite every evil attack, he had complete confidence that God would bring him safely to His heavenly kingdom (v. 1). For this Paul, even in the face of his own death, could do nothing but praise God: “To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”(Note our last post on prayer.). That is what prayer does-it transforms your lonely, forsaken perspective of the present into a praise-fest as you talk to the God whose omnipresence fills your future!
When you are tempted to play the victim card, remember the Heaven you are promised is a place of community, fellowship, and collective worship. Even if we die alone, we gain God’s glory! No matter how lonely or forsaken others may leave you in this life, prayer reminds you that every believer is headed to a city populated with warm, relational manifestations of God’s grace to enjoy for eternity. Some of those very people who will share in that reality are in your life right now. As Paul models in verses 19-22, we must purge out prayerlessness to keep our hearts open to God-entrusted ministry to those with whom we do presently have relationship and responsibility.
As a local church pastor, I am learning that the moment you develop a victim complex you compromise your ability to positively represent Christ. Highly effective leaders have always been those who were prayer warriors where others were woe-is-me whiners. The only antidote in Scripture to keep us from slipping into such a subtle condition is prayer. Paul, the man who gives us the prayer of all prayers for victims, ends this epistle with the following plea to God for others: “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen” (v. 22). Considering that we can have God’s Son and grace WITH our spirit, who else do we need?