Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wednesday I finally remembered what I taught on Sunday…

I led a discussion on 1 Thessalonians 3:6–13. Here’s the background, which you can read in Acts 16-17:
Prompted by a vision, the apostle Paul went to Philippi to tell people about Jesus. Many came to faith, but others beat him and threw him in jail. Paul went to Thessalonika, and people came to faith there. But opposition arose after some weeks; he had to skip town in the dead of night. He went to Berea, his persecutors followed him, and he went on to Athens. There he asked his escorts to send Timothy and Silas to him as soon as possible.

But Paul was so worried about the Thessalonians that he sent Timothy back to encourage them and see how they were doing under persecution. (Apparently Timothy was somewhat lower-key and could come into town without getting arrested, or having a riot erupt.) Timothy met up with Paul in Corinth, where Paul was so happy and relieved that he wrote this letter, which we call 1 Thessalonians.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Night and day we pray most earnestly” (3:10) that God would open the way for him to visit them again and encourage them in their faith.

Here’s how I approached the passage in my teaching: Since God is the principal actor in any Bible narrative, what is God doing in the lives of the Thessalonians? What do they do to cooperate with God, vs hindering his work in their lives?

How about in the life of the apostle Paul? What’s God doing, and how does Paul cooperate or resist God’s work? Look at all the persecution Paul has faced! Does anybody hate your work so much that they follow you from one town to the next to persecute you? As Paul endures persecution, and maybe considers quitting, do you think he’s perhaps learning something about what’s really important in life?

Of course, all that is just so much historical conjecture unless we ask the question: What is God doing in your life and mine, and how can we cooperate with, or resist, God’s activity in us? I look at Paul’s prayer, and I think of questions like

  1. What happened to the Apostle Paul as he prayed “night and day most earnestly” that the Lord Jesus would clear the way so that he could help someone grow in his/her faith? What would happen to me if I prayed like that?
  2. If God wants to make my “love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else,” (3:12) how can I cooperate with God’s work? How can I hinder it?
  3. How can I cooperate or hinder God’s work when he wants to strengthen my heart to be blameless (3:13), etc.?
We discussed those questions, and I closed with Paul’s prayer from Philippians 1:9–10:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…
Like many church attendees, I promptly forgot what happened on Sunday. But my innovation was this: I forgot even though I was the one who had done a lot of the talking.

Fortunately, I eventually remembered on Wednesday morning. Here’s how it happened. “Desmond”(not his real name) is in a recovery program in our area, and I’ve been meeting him on Thursdays, but a few times we had trouble finding each other. We tried changing our meeting time, but we had not been able to get that nailed down. I was quite disappointed at not being able to meet him, and suddenly I remembered: What if I were to pray night and day most earnestly that God would open the way for me to get together with him? D’oh!

Turns out I didn’t have to pray very long. Desmond replied to my email (he doesn’t have a phone) the same day; we decided on 1:00pm. I thanked the Lord for this encouragement. I might have remembered to ask him to keep the way clear for Desmond and me to actually see each other this time.

You guessed it—something came up. I got to Desmond’s place, and someone at the desk said he’d already left for an appointment (this is the thing that suddenly came up). Desmond had emailed me, but I don’t check my home email frequently while at work. Was I disappointed!

“But God” had heard my prayer, even if I hadn’t actually said it. I turned around, and there was Desmond, walking down the steps. I offered to give him a lift, saving him a bus ride, so we did get to see each other. We talked about our families, and we encouraged each other to walk with the Lord. I dropped him off at his appointment... and I forgot to pray with him. But we do have a plan (and a specific time) for next Thursday. Here’s what I came away with:

  1. What would happen to me if I prayed like Paul?
    I think I’d remember more often who’s in charge, and who has the ability to make things happen.
  2. What would happen to me if I actually remembered on Monday, say, rather than Wednesday, what was said on Sunday? Especially if it was me who was saying it?
    I guess we’ll never know the answer to that one.
  3. Why is it that God wants to do his work through people who forget he’s in charge, who can’t remember what’s preached (even if they’re the ones preaching it), and who forget to pray for/with people?
    Because there is no Plan B! As I was writing this, John’s words came to mind: “And of his fulness all we have received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”
As our pastor likes to say, there is nothing like the church—a crew of motley sinners who often don't even remember who’s in charge, but God uses them—uh, us—to bring about his kingdom on earth. Does anyone dare say to God, “Good luck with that”?

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