Thursday, June 04, 2015

While you're waiting (Ministry in Thessalonians #25)

All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12

A theme throughout 1 & 2 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul teaches about the second coming and ends each chapter with an encouragement based on our hope in Christ's certain return. In 2 Thessalonians the emphasis shifts somewhat. Paul enhances the teaching on the second coming with details about what will happen and how not to be deceived by false claims of a secret return. However, he also addresses something very significant: What to do while you're waiting.

We all hate to wait. I personally rarely go anywhere that might result in a wait without a good magazine or book. Anyone who's walked with the Lord very long knows that the times He asks us to wait on an answer to prayer are much harder than hearing "no" when we longed for "yes". Our human brain tends to only focus well on one thing, and so when something is heavily on our mind, we can neglect other things that are equally true and important. Anyone who has nursed a loved one through an extended hospital stay knows the truth of that principle.

Paul doesn't shy away from the hard truth about the judgment associated with Christ's return. While it will be a happy "meeting in the air" for those in Christ (see 1 Thessalonians 4), it will be a time of punishment for those who don't know God or obey the gospel of Christ. This judgment is also associated with validation of the faith of those who had been persecuted throughout the centuries. God is just, even if that justice did not play out in their lifetimes.

Yet Paul doesn't just use this reminder of Christ's return and teaching on the coming judgment of their persecutors to turn the Thessalonians attention heavenward. Throughout the book of 2 Thessalonians we have every reason to believe that they didn't have any trouble at all focusing on the Second Coming. In fact, many scholars believe they focused on it a bit too much - being anxious about whether they had missed it (chapter 2) and not working in order to wait for His return (chapter 3). Paul's prayer for them here sets a tone for the book: Here's how to live while you're waiting on Christ's return. What can we learn from this prayer?
  • Christ's return should motivate us. Paul prays "with all this in mind". What is "all this"? The coming judgment upon Christ's return and the result of the day He comes: He will be glorified in His holy people, and marveled at among all those who have believed. He will be glorified in our lives, made holy by His grace, and we will be marveling at Him. At His beauty, at His perfection, at His power, at Him in every way. 
  • The One who calls us is the One who counts us worthy of the call. Let's be honest. NONE of us are worthy of our calling. However, through prayer He causes us to become who He calls us to be. The beautiful thing about it is that the new heart He puts within us makes us want to cooperate with the lessons along the way. I call this my "Princess Diaries" analogy. Have you seen it? In the movie, Mia is a homely, awkward teenager who suddenly discovers that she is really a princess - her grandmother is the queen of Genovia (played perfectly by Julie Andrews). Grandma wants to give Mia the chance to decide whether to pursue her heritage as princess and future queen, or to reject the opportunity. Much of the movie consists of Mia's efforts to be transformed from a nerdy young woman into a princess. Sometimes the efforts are humorous, as when Mia trips and falters in her evening attire. Other times they are sad, as when she embarrasses herself at a dinner party by setting the ambassador's sleeve on fire. And occasionally they are dramatic - when Mia's classmates see her new hair for the first time, they are truly amazed at the transformation. Through it all, Grandma encourages Mia that the Princess Lessons are really all about helping her "become who you are" -- and she reminds her that even if she rejects the heritage of becoming Queen, "you cannot reject who you are". That's true of our calling. Romans 11:29 says "The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable." We are made worthy of the calling one painstaking lesson at a time. Like Mia, we sometimes have humorous results, other times sad and embarassing -- and occasionally dramatic. Always we can see the results more clearly from a long, reflective view than we can in the midst of the day-to-day struggles. And if we throw in the towel for a while, we can never reject who we are -- the Holy Spirit won't let us be happy until we take up the lessons once again.
  • He fulfills our good purposes and faith-prompted actions by His power. This verse has been so liberating to me! Have you ever felt the paralysis of analysis when it comes to ministry? You sense a call to ministry, a call to look outside yourself in some way. But there are SO many things you could do ... so many things you should do ... so many things that need to be done ... where do you begin? One of the things I've learned over the years and through the Word of God is that we so often underestimate how thoroughly He has redeemed us. He has given us a NEW HEART. He has transformed us! But just as with Peter and Paul, He left our personalities and strengths and interests intact. Paul didn't quit being an intellectual the day he encountered Christ. Peter didn't stop being bold and daring. But they both walked out their ministry filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the very personalities and gifts God had put within them. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we shouldn't pray and seek God for specific guidance, and I'm certainly not advocating an emotion-led life. But what I am saying is that when we sense His call, it's ok to consider what we really have a passion to do and examine it against the word of God. Do you love to cook, and get great joy out of making economical meals? Maybe God would use you in a soup kitchen! Has writing always been part of your life? Consider whether God wants you to encourage others with your words! The possibilities are endless. Rather than do nothing out of fearing a wrong move, see in this passage the freedom that when we move forward in our purposes and faith-filled actions, they are completed not in our strength but by God's power. When you start something that you just can't seem to help getting involved in, and it bears fruit, that's a fulfillment of 2 Thessalonians 1:11!!  Watch for the fruit of the Spirit in the things you are passionate to do - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. "Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:23). 
  • The purpose is always God's glory. He is glorified in us by grace alone. Don't be confused by Paul's phrase "and you in Him." To be "glorified" means to be given an accurate weight or measure, to be shown truly for what a thing is. Through our actions God is revealed to the world as who He truly is. And through Him, we come to see who we truly are. Biblically, one reason for the delayed return of Christ is that all the world has not yet seen His glory through His people - they haven't heard the message preached and seen it lived out. The longed-for return can only be hastened in one way: As we move toward the fulfillment of the prophecy that every tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented around the throne (Rev. 7:9). 
Biblical waiting is never passive. He is always working in us, whether we are waiting on answered prayers or on the return of Christ. Meanwhile, He has a ministry for us to be involved in ... while we're waiting.

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