Tagged ‘Thessalonians‘

Pray and do not lose heart

This morning I was reading through Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. As I was reading, my attention was drawn to a simple statement that was repeated a couple of times. It was this: “Do not lose heart.”

It was one of those moments when I felt the Holy Spirit was reaching out through the pages of his Word with a message specifically for me. Lately I’ve seen God at work in powerful ways. At the same time, I have had moments when the pressures of ministry have gotten me down. I have had times when the work of ministry as an Elder in my home church has left me discouraged. Privately, I carry a heavy heart for the state of the Church in North America. I long to see revival. I long to see churches functioning in a Biblical fashion. Sometimes I reach the point where I begin to doubt if we will ever see change, and I begin to question if it is really worth fighting for. I’ve prayed about it at length. It consumes the vast majority of my thoughts throughout the day, and sometimes I have found it difficult to go to sleep at night because my mind is occupied with thoughts in this regard.

In that context, when the Holy Spirit directed me to his Word with a simple message to not lose heart, I listened! Then I looked for other places in Scripture where that same message was repeated. What I found was very interesting.

One day Jesus was teaching the people gathered around him. As he spoke, he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man,” he said. “And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while the judge refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

And the Lord said, “Take note what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

The men gathered around looked at one another as Jesus paused. The parable was finished, but Jesus was not finished speaking. He had one final question to ask the audience, a single question that cut to the heart of the parable he was sharing. At last, he spoke.

“Nevertheless,” he asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Adapted from Luke 18:1-8, ESV).

This singular thought is the same question God asks of you and me today. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? After all is said and done, do you have faith in God? Do you have faith that he is in control? Do you trust him?”

Please note that the focus of this parable is not the widow lady. The parable is not teaching that we need to keep pestering God to get what we want! Instead, the parable shows the difference between the unrighteous judge and the righteous judge. The contrast is in how each judge responds. Jesus is using the parable to teach us about the character of God, the righteous judge. He is trustworthy, and we need to trust that when we pray, he hears us. Even when the answer to our prayers seems to be delayed, he is in fact working speedily on our behalf. He doesn’t put us off. He doesn’t require us to pester him into submission. Our responsibility is to pray with confidence that God has heard us and not to lose heart in the waiting. That is the point of this parable, that we should pray and not lose heart.

In the end, the question God asks all of us is this: Do you trust me? Do you have faith in me? Are you willing to pray, to wait, to believe – even against all odds, confident that I am in control?

Consider also these verses:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).

“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13, ESV).

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV).

I’m confident the circumstances I am dealing with are part of the overall work that God is doing in my life and ministry. You are likely in circumstances far different from mine, but the tendency to lose heart is the same. I offer this encouragement to you. Whatever you are facing, pray and do not lose heart! Have faith in God! Chose to have confidence in the character of God. He is good. He is kind. He is in control. Even as we wait for the Son of God to return, we will have faith in God!

In the end, God is the one who is responsible to bring about the changes we long for. I am responsible to pray and not lose heart.

This article was originally published in the October 2014 Newsletter.

Practice the position

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” the pilot shouted over the intercom as the plane descended the final feet to the tarmac below. Hurriedly, I put one hand on the back of the seat in front of me, placed the other hand on top of the first, and then braced my forehead on the back of that hand. A small baby, held closely to her mother’s breast, sensed the tension in the air and cried out as her mother attempted to brace herself.

It was a clear morning in Nashville, Tennessee, as I boarded a plane headed for Albany, New York. After the routine safety speech, I buckled myself in, and the plane sped down the runway for take off. As soon as we lifted off the ground, a loud banging noise began to reverberate throughout the cabin. Something was seriously wrong. Instead of lifting into the sky, the plane slowed and began to descend. But we were not headed toward the airport. I looked at the man sitting next to me and stated the obvious: “We are going down.”

An eerie silence settled over the passengers as the realization spread that something dreadful was happening. The banging from the right, rear landing gear continued to echo through our cabin.

Finally, a stewardess stood at the front of the plane in the aisle, holding a large black notebook in one hand and a microphone in the other. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I need 100% of your attention. I am about to make an important announcement, and I need to have your undivided attention. We have a problem with the landing gear. The plane is returning to Nashville and will have to make an emergency landing.” At this point, she certainly had our undivided attention.

“Everyone put your tray table in the upright position and tighten your seatbelt,” she continued. We complied. “Are there any other flight attendants, military personnel, or police officers on board this plane?” A man in the back raised his hand. “Thank you. I will need your assistance.”

For the next 30 minutes we rehearsed every detail of what we would be required to do. Each passenger had to practice the position, the position we would place ourselves in at the moment of the emergency landing. “Place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that hand. Then place your forehead on the back of your hands.” She demonstrated the position and then told each of us to practice it. She walked slowly down the aisle making sure each person in each row was executing the position correctly. It was crucial that each of us knew the position. It was a position of great security.

Now, what I failed to tell you earlier is that I am an adrenaline junkie. I love exciting events. On top of the fact that I was preparing for an emergency landing, I was also in prime real estate for an adrenaline fix. I was in the window seat exit row!

The stewardess came back to our row to explain how each of us would help her during the landing. I became assistant number one. My first responsibility was to check for smoke or flames outside my window. If it was clear, then I would remove the emergency exit door, throw it outside the plane, crawl out on the wing, and assist the other passengers out of the plane. The guy sitting next to me became assistant number two. His role was to follow me out the emergency exit, run fifty yards from the plane, turn back to the plane and begin calling to the other passengers, “Come to me, come to me.” In this way we would be able to gather the passengers together to account for everyone.

By this time the banging from the wheel well had stopped, and we all sat quietly in our seats, pondering what lay before us.

The plane banked and turned back toward the airport. The pilot announced over the intercom that we would make a low, slow approach to the airport. We would fly past the control tower so they could assess the landing gear. When we flew over the airport, it looked like a ghost town. There were no airplanes on the airstrip. Any plane waiting to land had been placed in a holding pattern. Four fire trucks, with lights flashing, waited on the tarmac, spaced at intervals along the runway. We neared the ground and passed the control tower. The pilot then brought the plane back up to a safe altitude. In the crisis of the moment, it seemed like a long time passed before the plane finally made a slow turn back toward the airport.

One minute from landing the pilot shouted over the intercom, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”, and we immediately assumed the position we had practiced earlier. Slowly the plane descended out of the morning sky. Tension filled the air. Bit by bit the plane drew closer to touchdown. Ever so carefully, the plane settled on the asphalt.

Suddenly, I felt the plane begin to fall over on the right side, the side of the faulty landing gear. For one quick moment I thought it was going to be bad. But then…nothing. The pilot gradually applied the brakes, and the plane came to a stop. The landing gear had held.

I later found out that what felt like the landing gear collapsing was actually the plane’s settling down on the faulty landing gear – the pilot had landed the plane on the other two wheels.

Applause spontaneously erupted from the passengers. As excited as I was to land safely, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to exit the plane via the wing. I’m quite sure the other passengers did not share my frustration.

Looking back on the experience reminds me of an area of my spiritual life that I often take for granted: practicing the position. In the procedures for an emergency landing, it was critical that each of us understood how to do the crash position. It was so important that each of us had to practice this position. In life, the crash position looks something like this: find your favorite seat in your house and kneel down in front of it. Now place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that and then place your forehead on top of your hands. You are now in the most secure position in the world – the position of prayer.

Prayer should be the cornerstone of your life. It is that time when you personally talk with God. What a privilege! But sadly, most folks neglect this vital practice. We get busy with our lives and forget that God just wants to talk with us. Instead, we should regularly talk with God because we love him. We should be practicing the position.

Consider these verses:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, ESV).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12, ESV).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

This year I pray you will find the joy of talking with God, of spending quality time with him as you pursue your relationship with him. Practice the position when times are good so that when the chaos comes, and it will, you will already know how to do it. Don’t wait until circumstances drive you to your knees. Instead, practice that position daily, learning to have conversations with God about the everyday details in your life. Then you will find that, when the challenges come, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Practice the position.

This article was originally published in “Over the Edge: Personal Stories of Adventure and Faith” by Timothy Mark.

Imitators of Christ

This article was originally published in the July 2013 Newsletter.

I grew up in a tiny town in southern Michigan in the middle of farm country. We lived on Main Street and had a cornfield in our backyard. I loved that simple, hard-working lifestyle. As an adult, one of my best friends owned five hundred acres planted with corn and soy beans. I loved working on his farm with him. He was a dear friend and father figure to me. I highly respected him. A big part of me wanted to be just like him. The longer I knew him and the more time I spent with him, the more I started to look and think like him. I began to understand the business of farming and listened to the grain market updates on the radio to learn the current trading price of corn. I wore jeans, work boots, and a John Deere ball cap. Over time I grew in my knowledge of farming and was able to keep his entire operation going if needed. I even drove the semi to the mill, fully loaded with corn. Those were some of the best times for me and I remember them with a sense of longing.

The interesting thing is this: the more I loved my friend, the more time I spent with him, and as I spent more time with him, the more I began to look and act like him.

This is the essence of being a follower of Christ. I love him and love spending time with him. The more I grow in my relationship with him, the more I look and act like he would act. This is the heart of discipleship.

My natural tendency is just the opposite. I think that if I discipline myself, I can work hard and be a better Christian. But that is not the way it works! Instead, I focus on my relationship with God, and as I grow in that relationship, I find myself wanting to spend more time with the One I love. When I spend time with Jesus, I find myself becoming more like him. I become a disciple of Christ, living my life the way he lived his. I start to look like him in my actions. I begin to think like he thinks. What is important to him becomes important to me. In the end, I become an imitator of Christ and my life is completely changed.

Consider these verses:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1, ESV).

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 1:6, ESV).

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (Paul writing in his first letter to the church in Corinth, I Corinthians 11:1, ESV).

I pray that you are growing in your relationship with God. I hope you are falling in love with him so that you will want to spend more time with him. As you spend more time with him, I believe you will find yourself becoming more like him. In the end, let us all be imitators of Christ.

My farmer friend passed away several years ago. I still think of him in the spring when the fields are plowed and the smell of freshly turned soil fills the air. I find myself wondering what the price of corn will be this year and how the crops are growing in those fields in southern Michigan. And sometimes I still wear my old farmer hat just to remember how it felt to work those fields. In my heart, I guess a part of me will always be a farmer.

But today I have a different love, and slowly I am becoming a little more like Christ every day. I still have a long way to go, but I love spending time with him and I want to be just like him.

Join me, won’t you? Fall in love with God. Spend time with him. Become an imitator of Christ.