According to Homer’s Odyssey, when King Odysseus went off to fight in the Trajon War, he left his son, Telemachus, in the hands of a wise old man named Mentor. He was old yet still useful. Mentor was charged with the task of teaching the young man wisdom. More than 2000 years after Homer, a French scholar and theologian by the name of Francois Fenelon adapted the story of Telemachus in a novel titled Telemaque. In it, he enlarged the character of Mentor. The word mentor soon came to mean “a wise and responsible tutor” – an experienced person who advises, guides, teaches, inspires, challenges, corrects and serves as a model. Second Timothy 2:2 describes it as spiritual mentoring, and the Bible gives us many examples. Timothy had Paul; Mark had Barnabas; Joshua had Moses; Elisha had Elijah.
When we are old, the lessons we learnt are not just for our benefit but to pass on to the next generation. The Psalmist wrote, “Now also I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:18). It is the privilege of older folks to testify the power of God to the younger generations. Mentoring is not just an impartation of knowledge. It’s about an impartation of life and sharing of one’s life journey. It also involves imparting values and vision.
Age should not be a factor to hinder our service for the Lord. In Joshua 14, we read that Caleb did not allow his advancing age to present him from believing that God would still honour His promise given 45 years earlier (Joshua 14:10-12). As one of the original scouts sent into the Promised Land, he saw large cities inhabited by powerful people of great stature (Num. 13:28-33). But Caleb was faithful to God and believed He would help the Israelites conquer the land (14:6-9). At 85 years of age, Caleb was still physically strong and his faith unwavering. He trusted that God would help him to conquer the land, even though it still had giants. So Joshua blessed Caleb with his portion of the land, fulfilling God’s 45-year-old promise. Like Caleb, we must not allow age to prevent us from believing that God still honours His word to us.
We can be useful despite of our limitation when we depend upon God. Let us face it. There are some things you cannot change. You cannot change the weather. You cannot change the tick of the clock. You cannot change the past. You cannot change what is right and what is wrong. You cannot change that your human body is aging and eventually lead you to death. You cannot change the fact that a loved one has died. But we can change our attitude towards the circumstances, people and environment.
With God’s help, He teaches us how to accept what we cannot change. We can overcome them by our change of attitude. Whatever we do, be faithful to His calling. Paul said that Christ “considered (him) faithful”. The word “faithful” is sometimes translated “trustworthy”. Paul could be relied on to carry out his responsibilities faithfully to the best of his abilities. Someone commented “Not skill or knowledge but faithfulness is the first qualification for a minister of Jesus Christ. Paul said elsewhere, “Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).
William Carey, after being praised for his great achievements, was reported to have responded, “I’m just a plodder.” He was willing to stick to the work of God until it is completed. This lays the heart of faithfulness in the ministry.
We are useful because of God’s grace. None of us deserves to be in God’s service, whether it’s teaching in the Sunday school or serving in the mission field. When Paul looked at himself, he was not competent enough to do the job which God had called him. Paul did not have some of the natural qualities we associate with a great preacher. He was gifted with a great mind, but he often said that he had less speaking skills than others of his day. His physical appearance was not as wholesome as others. He was often sick. In spite of his inadequacy, difficulties, opposition and strain, Paul was able to do so much lasting work for God. Paul said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength.” When God called Paul to service, he invested him with sufficient strength to fulfill his calling.
When Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am”, he was saying, “I am an apostle as a result of God’s unmerited favour shown to me and as a result of God’s enabling power at work in me”. Paul was enabled in the Lord’s service because of God’s mighty power that works within him. In 2 Cor 3: 5 “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God”. We are not competent but God makes us competent and He is the one who blesses the work.
Paul recognized this truth when he said, “I have planted, Apolloas watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase”.(1 Cor. 3:6-7). Paul and Apollos could both work extremely hard to preach the gospel but only God could cause His word to take root and grow in the hearts of those who listen to them. Only God can open people’s hearts to respond to the gospel. Only He can cause that person you are seeking to disciple to respond to your challenge and instruction. We must depend on His Spirit to work in us and through us. We may be tempted to use our limitation to give an excuse for not doing the things God has enabled us to do. Just because we do not like to sing in a choir, doesn’t mean there is no hope in the service of the Lord. There is a song of hope born in the midst of pain and setbacks.
Someone once asked Francis of Assisi how he was able to accomplish so much. He replied, “This may be why: The Lord looked down from heaven and said, “Where can I find the weakest, littlest man on earth?” Then He saw me and said, “I’ve found him. I will work through him, and he won’t be proud of it. He’ll see that I am only using him because of his insignificance”. You may be small in your own eyes, but God has need of you to build the lives of the people in the Church.
God’s kingdom grows when we invested in people. We value people above programmes. Leadership in the Bible is viewed first of all as the influence for good one has for another. A leader’s first task is not to keep the machinery of an organization moving and fulfilling its goals but to help those under him to live and serve in obedience to the will of God. It is only in this way that God’s goal for the organization is fulfilled.