One of the best pieces of advice that I've ever heard came from a worship pastor. He said that someone once told him to "sing in his own voice."
I think that's what Timothy was up against when Paul wrote him this letter of encouragement.
It's so easy when you're trying to learn how to do something new or when you're trying to learn how to do something better to look at the people who are already doing it and doing it well and to try to figure out how to do what they're doing in the way that they're doing. We see this very clearly in singing - who among us picks a song at a karaoke and doesn't try to sound like the person who originally did it? Who among us hasn't dreamt ourselves Bette Midler or Whitney Houston or Josh Groban in the shower? It's only natural.
So it's not much of a stretch to think that Timothy may have dreamt himself Paul. It's only natural.
But here's the thing: when we sing in someone else's voice, when we minister in someone else's heart, when we work with someone else's hands, we can only ever do what we're doing well.
Wait a minute. Isn't "well" a good thing? Shouldn't we strive to do things well?
I guess. Think about it, though. When someone steps down from the stage where they have sung in not their own voice, what do you say to them? Nice job. You sing very well. You nailed your Mick Jagger impression. Good work. Way to go.
All good, affirming responses. All the very thing we think we're going for in life.
But what about when someone steps up and sings in their own voice? Think about people like Susan Boyle. Or the 12-year-olds who sing opera. Or any number of persons on The Voice or America's Got Talent. When they sing in their own voice, we don't say the same things we say after a good night of karaoke. No, we say something even better:
That. was. beautiful.
That's what happens when we sing in our own voice. That's what happens when we minister from our own heart. That's what happens when we work with our own hands. Something beautiful.
That's what Paul was trying to caution Timothy against - against having a ministry that was good, but not beautiful. That's what we all need to caution ourselves against - against having ministries, or even living lives, that are good, but not beautiful. They're only beautiful when they are distinctly ours. They're only ours when we sing in our own voice.
Those few words that I once overheard my worship pastor cite as the best advice he ever received have become, for me, the best advice I've ever received. Sing in your own voice. Or in Paul's words, You got this.