Posts Tagged ‘Thessalonians’

prayer bwPray continually. Are you kidding? Who can do that?

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:16-21, CEB]

I mean it! Outside of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite “lay brother” (not even a monk because he did not have the necessary education), who does that? It was Brother’s Lawrence’s words, maxims, and prayers that were compiled after his death into the Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. And what does Brother Lawrence “do” most of any day? He was the cook and bottle washer in the monastery, and all the while, he practiced awareness of God and ultimately, prayer. He prayed continually. Yay Larry.

But what about you and me? I can barely manage to remember to pray the hours, that’s one prayer every 4 hours during the day.

So, just to get a little break from this guilt-producing mandate, I googled it. And there might be a reprieve of sorts. One writer suggested that this passage could have more to do with consistency than non-stop talking (although, I have been known to do the latter under certain circumstances). Another writer advanced that the passage could mean a “ready response” to circumstances, so that the first comeback is a prayer instead of a smart remark. And yet another writer proposed that the verse could refer to an awareness of the beauty around us, thereby giving thanks or when tragedy strikes, ask for mercy, etc. Or, perhaps all of these together make for continually?

Or, perhaps, it’s the goal. Is this verse any more difficult (or easier) than this one, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48, NIV]

And for this reason, I pray this prayer willingly. Join me. Daily.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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T1221029-roadrunner.gifhis day could be any day, even today. Or perhaps “this day” has already happened and, looking back, we can say, “Oh, yes, that day–that day caught me off guard.” When Mike died, not even two months ago, a thief crept into my life and plundered me–that day. I thought I knew the way of life; I thought I had the God journey rooted in my understanding, but that day became this day for me.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. [I Thessalonians 5:4-5, NIV]

My faith is strong enough to keep me standing. I am grateful for the love and steadfastness of the Holy Spirit consciously whispering and sustaining me in ruach (breath of God). I am conscious of the prayers of the people that allow me to crowd surf these days and now weeks.

In some ways, it’s hard to disallow my former self to run this show, that planner and problem solver. She would have had everything worked out by now, she would know how to make all the ends meet and put order to the chaos. She is my cheerleader but she is also my goad. She is impatient to move on, to be in control, to make decisions. Over the years, she has buried her feelings and disappointments and simply built new paths instead. If a way is blocked, she goes another. She is her mother’s daughter, persistent and undaunted, self-sufficient and capable, enthusiastic and confident with energy and passion spread about like buckshot.

She has experienced what happens when her Road Runner stops moving, stops running. Everything in her warns of the danger. Keep moving. Keep talking. Keep busy. If nothing else, at least turn on the white noise.

But another voice is speaking as well, with questions: what’s important to this day? What is needful? Can we negotiate this time? Can we be more like conjoined twins and work together, and not compete to be one way or the other?

And if there is no decision, my “Martha” asks? Who will do the work?

Just wait. The pieces are not all in place yet. Wait. Stand a while longer. Try. Test the silence. Test doing nothing.

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A prayer and a blessing all rolled up into one. It’s a call for guidance and help along the way. It’s a process prayer in the midst of a situation. It’s acknowledging the present while seeking support in the “next step.” And along with this succor comes the presence of love and perseverance.

II Thessalonians 3:5
May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

I want this prayer to be part of my daily mindfulness.

Another reason I like this prayer is that it’s direct and promises an answer from within myself, an answer that I am more likely to understand and hear. So often believers are taught to ask God what to do next. But in this short appeal, we acknowledge that all direction comes from God and will manifest in me.

If God directs my heart, I will know what to do. I will recognize the way.

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Pray for encouragement and strength because it is these two elements that give what is needed to “stand firm and hold fast” [vs 2:15]. So simple: deep power comes from encouragement. I know this, but I don’t use it nearly enough . . . for myself.

II Thessalonians 2:16-17
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

I’m pretty good at encouraging others, particularly in a work environment. I believe in extolling the virtues of my staff and acknowledging a job well done. That’s important. And I mean it. I do appreciate the work, whether great or small, that each person contributes to the process.

I am not as good with myself. I hear the other voice instead, that internal condemnation voice. Even when everything goes well, if there is one flaw or one mistake, the experience can be ruined for me. I push hard. And the voice is good at pointing out my errors, flaws, and missteps.

Worse still, I don’t accept encouragement from others very well either, even though I need it. I crave it. But I don’t believe in its authenticity. I may cast off encouragement because I don’t trust the one who is offering it or I don’t trust the intentions or that person’s knowledge of the circumstances.

It’s a sad situation. People like me, people with a lot of natural confidence don’t appear to need encouragement, but that’s all a sham.

So, here are some things that need to happen, to change in me. First, I must use more energy to disregard the evil voice and allow the Holy Spirit to encourage me and thereby receive strength from within. This is the most important source. Secondly, I must open the doors of my heart to the words of others and look for the good in them. Lastly, although I do speak encouragement and strength and even pray for those in my care, I am not as good at encouraging those above me. It’s the same trap. I have assumed they don’t need it from me just as others have assumed it about me.

Praise and acknowledgment are easy. Prayers of encouragement for others even easier, but will gain even more power if followed by words and practices of good will.

If you are reading this post today, I thank you and want you to know that all will be well. There is hope today because God is sovereign. There is a moment still to come that will speak love to you. There is a person whose touch will remind you of your value. There is a breath. And from all of these things, gain courage to stand firm and hold fast to the truth of your worth.

Live loved.

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I struggled today with the “lawless one,” false signs and miracles and, to cap it off, God willing to send a delusion to those who are determined to believe a lie. No way out for them? No hope? No mercy? Then I saw the truth of it: a tipping point exists for everyone.

II Thessalonians 2:11-12
For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point is one of my favorite books, along with a number of subsequent titles he wrote since 2000. What or who causes a tipping point? In Gladwell’s frame of reference, it has to do with “social epidemics” or how an idea or trend gains and ultimately crosses over into popularity.

I can imagine the “lawless one” being good at any one or all of Gladwell’s people types: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Charismatic people, in the classic sense, make things happen as they scatter what they “know” and what they’ve “heard” and what is “cool.” And eventually, many are on the same bandwagon and believe.

What is truth and what is the lie? It is a critical question to put before the Holy Spirit daily.

Once that tipping point is reached and the lies are accepted for truth and doubt is cast aside as irrelevant and perhaps irreverent, then it’s possible that a way back is lost.

I don’t want to believe this is possible. I don’t want to believe or imagine the existence of an irredeemable soul.

According to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, it is possible to reach that moment, that decisive juncture. I envisage someone backing up and with each step, getting closer and closer to a precipice. If any one of us can see the chasm, then we should be holding on, calling out, wooing him/her back to safety. Right?

Does such a calamitous journey only happen with individuals or does it also happen with people groups? I don’t know. I’m just asking. But it does seem plausible.

I cry out for truth, that none would be deceived, that none would be lost. This is another reason to prayerfully “hold back evil” so that each and every person has a real chance to experience God’s mercy, God’s provision in the Anointed One, and God’s Spirit of renewal from within.

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Somehow it’s easier to hang on to the idea that God is love moreso than God is just. Every day I read a newspaper and my mind reels with the breadth of injustice. Narcissism is the norm and earth-bound justice lines up with the powerful.

II Thessalonians 1:6-7
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.

To hold tight to my belief that God is just all the time, no matter what I see, hear, feel, taste, I must be very conscious and very intentional. I must accept what I don’t understand. I must suspend my personal sense of “justice” and trust in the bigger picture.

When I was a younger Christian (both in years as well as experience), I was often stymied by those well-worn attacks on my God. If God is just, why do babies die? If God is just, why is their disease and suffering. If God is just, why are their orphans, widows, and abuse? If God is just, why are their wars and bigotry and extremism?

Gotta stand. That’s all I can do. Stand.

I have no answer except that God is just. God is merciful. God is love.

If God was none of these things, then there would be no justice anywhere, no love, no families, no births, no hope. There would be no joy, no laughter, no beauty and no faith. And yet, these all exist along side the pain.

I cannot know about the macrocosm of justice.

In daily life, there isn’t a parent who hasn’t heard the same attack: “That’s not fair!” My parent view of fairness and righteousness and justice will always be different from the child. We live the microcosm of justice vs. injustice in families. It’s not an easy road and rarely straight. There are too many obstacles in the road, too many unknowns. If I, in my little world, cannot mete out justice in such a way to please those nearest and dearest to my heart, what of those who work in ever-widening circles of responsibility.

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In today’s world, unless one participates in a charismatic denomination, the idea of the prophetic smacks of the National Enquirer. So, if most people don’t believe in prophecy, isn’t that already contempt? How does a prophet gain credibility?

I Thessalonians 5:20-22
. . . do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

Actually, the scriptures speak of the importance of testing what is said by a prophet. All the way back in the Old Testament, it was written, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.” [Deut 18:22a] This appears to be a straightforward test of a prophecy, if it comes to pass, it’s a true prophecy. Of course, that doesn’t help much in the moment, when a prophecy is uttered.

It’s hard to know, actually. I have experienced a kind of fluttering within my personal spirit upon occasion, a sense of truth being spoken, a type of corroboration or affirmation. But, that’s certainly less than definitive. And so, if the prophecy is important, it’s reasonable to consider putting the words to the test.

But I will say right here, testing a prophecy is about as effective as trusting internal flutterings alone. Oh, I suppose one could compare the prophecy to what is already known and determine if it’s sound and grounded in truth. However, it’s in my mind that a genuine prophecy is outside the normal range of reason. Otherwise, it would just be something the smart folks around us could figure out, they’d be able to predict. You know, those people who love statistics and computers, our weathermen and futurists.

Perhaps the key word here is not the test but the attitude? A prophetic utterance viewed with contempt will rarely find root.

I did check the Greek, as best I am able, and there is a some confusion as to whether the “testing” phrase is about the prophecies or about everything else, that is determining what is good and right vs. what is not. So, perhaps we aren’t supposed to test prophecies alone, but test the world around us.

Others will say that prophecies are not merely predictive, but rather some type of “edification or encouragement.” I think that’s pretty lame. There’s not much danger in doing that, is there? What is there to disregard or disdain?

No, I think it’s all the phrases [20-22] together that have meaning: I cannot hear truth of any kind if I have closed myself off through contempt, either for the speaker or the message. If I have made a decision before the time, then there is no possibility I will hear anything new. In other words, “we hear what we want to hear.”

Also, once we have heard something (anything), we shouldn’t act or react immediately, but let it settle inside. Some testing can be done by comparing the message with what is known, but for what is unknown, it takes a united exploration of those words and ideas with the Holy Spirit. And finally, out of everything spoken, we must hold fast to “good” and truth: once we accept the truth of a prophecy, then we must not let it go. From there comes strength to “avoid evil.”

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