Two months ago, on 13 May 2007, nearly 2,500 teenagers were rescued from flooded moorland after appalling weather hit the Ten Tors Challenge – an annual event on Dartmoor in south-west England. Soaking participants were airlifted and escorted from the moor in the largest such operation since 1996.
The ‘challenge’ is a character-building exercise for teenagers – who must display endurance, teamwork and fitness to complete the 55 mile, two-day hike encompassing Dartmoor’s ten granite outcrops or ‘tors’.
It is not without its dangers. During a training walk earlier in the year, Charlotte Shaw (14) fell into a rain-swollen stream and was drowned.
The teams taking part in this year’s event set off on a Saturday morning but by the evening officials decided that conditions were too dangerous to continue. The 400 teams of six teenagers were ordered to stay under cover until evacuation could begin at dawn.
The Ten Tors Challenge was abandoned mainly because of fears over swollen rivers. Two Navy Sea King helicopters and two Army Gazelle helicopters, together with more than 700 military personnel and civilians, brought 2,400 children off the 368 square mile moor in just over six hours.
The fact that there were no casualties was a tribute to two things – the efficiency of the rescue operation and the fact that the teenagers were properly equipped with suitable clothing, tents and survival gear. Without such equipment there would surely have been serious consequences.
Bad weather, low visibility and flash floods can strike a highland wilderness like Dartmoor without warning. Any who go ill equipped for such eventualities risk danger and even death.
There are close parallels in the Christian’s spiritual walk.
Those who follow Christ need spiritual survival equipment. Why? Because ‘in the last days perilous times will come’ – times ‘when [men] will not endure sound doctrine’ (2 Timothy 3:1; 4:3).
We already live in such perilous times. Just as the Dartmoor hikers were overtaken by unpredicted weather, so churches and individual believers can be suddenly engulfed in trouble. The mists of subtle error can obscure the truth; the storms of conflict can tear a church apart; the flash floods of satanic attack can come upon us in an instant when we least expect them.
We need to be equipped to meet these things, as Paul makes clear to Timothy. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This doesn’t just apply to pastors like Timothy, for Paul urges him to provide this same equipment for his hearers: ‘Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Of course, like ‘the whole armour of God’ in Ephesians 6:10-20, spiritual equipment prepares us for attack as well as defence. There is a sword as well as a shield. Even in the best weather the hikers need strong shoes, maps and compasses to reach their goal. We are to be equipped, says Paul, for ‘every good work’ – from proclaiming the gospel to tending the sick.
But how do we acquire the necessary equipment? Through the preaching and teaching of God’s inspired word, says the apostle. In one sense the Scriptures themselves are our equipment but this is not quite what Paul is saying, and the distinction is important.
To fully equip believers to serve their Lord and Master, the Scriptures must be taught and applied to them – by those whom Christ has given to the church to minister the Word of God (Ephesians 4:11-16). And this is where we face a significant challenge.
Ministering to the saints
Paul continues, ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables’ (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Some pastors know just what Paul means. The faithful hearing of God’s Word is in decline. When once the mid-week Bible Study was the power-house of the local church this is often no longer the case.
Many who profess to know Christ are satisfied to attend a Sunday morning service, nothing more. Evening services, Bible studies and prayer meetings aren’t even on their radar screens.
But those who are truly Christ’s will recognise they need the best possible equipment for the race and conflicts of faith.
If we are to acquire such equipment we must be ready to face the cost. There will be a cost in time and commitment in sitting under the ministry of God’s Word. Our priorities may have to be re-assessed.
There will also be a cost in terms of humility. We must be prepared to receive not only ‘doctrine’ but also ‘reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness’. This can be hard and humbling, for our sinful pride will rebel against anything that shows us in a bad light.
But to accept reproof, correction and instruction from God’s Word is to humble ourselves, not before the human teacher but under the mighty hand of God – and be exalted in due time (1 Peter 5:6). We must be willing to open our hearts submissively to all that God would say to us.
Only then will we be equipped for both survival and for every good work – living lives that please God and that ‘work out’ the salvation that God has first wrought in us by his grace (Philippians 2:12-13).