Looking for a blessing?

Are you looking for a blessing?

Let me clarify. I’m not talking about a blessing for you to keep for yourself, but a blessing for you to give to others.

Still interested?

Let me suggest that Paul’s blessings to the Thessalonians may provide you just the blessing you are looking for.

Check out these blessings.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

“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” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Now you have checked out these blessings, what are you waiting for?  Pass them on!

Little Words, Big Prayers

The language of prayer runs throughout 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Both letters emphasize giving thanks in prayer. Both consider the faith, hope, and love of the church as being at the top of the prayer list. Both have rich blessings that beg to be repeated.

But what has captured my imagination in my latest reading of these letters is one particular description of prayer. Perhaps it has captured my attention because I really needed to hear it.  Check out the wording Paul uses.

  • We always thank God… (1 Thessalonians 1:2).
  • We continually remember… (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • We also thank God continually… (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
  • Night and day we pray…(1 Thessalonians 3:9).
  • Pray continually…(1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • We ought always to thank God…(2 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • We constantly pray…(2 Thessalonians 1:11).
  • We ought always to thank God…(2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Reflecting on Paul’s prayer language in these letters has me thinking about my prayer life. These little words have me thinking about having a steady, consistent, faithful prayer life rather than being stop-and-start, hot-and-cold with prayer. These little words have me thinking about people who I earnestly prayed for over a period of weeks, maybe even months before letting them just fade away from my list long before their need for intercession was over. These little words have me thinking about people I once prayed for with thanksgiving but now take for granted. These little words have me thinking about sin I used to pray I would overcome but that I now just accept as part of my nature.




Night and day.

These little words can help us offer big prayers.

According to the Teaching

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

Idle Christians can do tremendous damage to the church and in the community. They do not work. They do not pay for their own food. They are not busy. They are busybodies. The problem is so serious that Paul uses some strong language to warn the church about the problem of idle busybodies. These strong words need to be read in context. They are written to address the problem of idleness (some treat these words as though they were directed at people who did not hold to “sound doctrine” or more accurately, the accepted traditions of the church). Read them in context.

  • The church is commanded to keep away from the idle (3:6)
  • The rule is: if a man will not work, he shall not eat (3:10)
  • The idle are commanded to settle down and earn their bread (3:12)
  • Do not associate with those who refuse the instruction (3:14)
  • The church is to warn the idle one as a brother (3:15)

But Paul did more than use strong language to address the situation. Paul and his team confronted the situation by setting an example of hard work. They were busy laboring and toiling. They did not seek to burden anyone by eating food when they were not working. Paul makes it clear they had every right to expect support from the church, but they gave up that right because the situation with idle busybodies demanded it.

The church has always had to face difficult problems involving the behavior of members and the effects that behavior can have on the church and the community. Imagine the courage it must have taken to look a fellow Christian in the eye and say, “If you are not going to work, you are not going to eat.” Who wants to sign up to be the deacon in charge of that program?

Are we willing to address dangerous situations with strong words? Are we willing to back up our words with an exemplary lifestyle? Would ministers be willing to give up their God-given right to pay if the situation demanded it? Perhaps the first step for paid ministers to take in order to live an exemplary life would be to work honestly for their food at their job. Labor and toil. Night and day. Not looking to take advantage of people for financial gain. Not becoming a burden to the church. Not expecting a level of dedication from “volunteer ministry helpers” beyond what they are willing to give of themselves even though they are “paid staff.” Truth is, I have seen some paid ministers who were less dedicated to their ministry than the volunteers who helped them. Is that the example Paul is looking for?

People are to work to earn a living. Ministers are to be an example of industry. The church is to address the serious problem of idle busybodies. This is the teaching of the church. Are we living according to the teaching?

Rapid Spread

“Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance”
(2 Thessalonians 3:1-5).

Paul prayed with thanksgiving for the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Paul prayed for them — asking God to count them as worthy of the calling so they would bring God glory by the way they lived their lives (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12). Paul prayed for God to encourage and comfort the Thessalonians in their ministry
(2 Thessalonians 2:26-17).

After Paul has revealed his prayers for the Thessalonians, he now asks for their prayers for his ministry.

The message. Paul asks them to pray that the message not only will spread rapidly but also be honored wherever it is proclaimed. Could a lack of evangelistic fervor or success betray an underlying problem of prayerlessness? Might a similar focus on prayer ignite a passion for spreading the word? Should we join Paul in praying for the rapid spread of the message? Evangelism is the result of prayer.

The opposition. Paul asks them to pray for his deliverance from evil men. Not everyone accepts the message. Not everyone has faith. In fact, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “not all ‘believers’ are believers.” Some who masquerade as believers are wicked and evil men who are agents of the evil one, seeking to discourage those spreading the gospel. While some men may be unfaithful, God is always faithful. Could it be the discouragement we sometimes experience is rooted in prayerlessness? Deliverance is the result of prayer.

The direction. Paul asks them to pray for the Lord to direct their lives into deeper love and perseverance. Evangelism is rooted in love. Standing firm in the face of opposition requires perseverance. We are never going to convincingly spread the message unless we truly love the people we are trying to reach. How do you learn to love people, particularly if you are one of those people to whom a loving attitude does not come naturally? Paul seems to suggest prayer. How do you continue to press forward into the face of opposition, some of it by men who are nothing more than scoundrels? Again, Paul seems to suggest it happens by prayer. Love and perseverance is the result of prayer.

Paul has been generous in his prayers for the brothers and sisters at Thessalonica. But he does not consider himself to be on a level above them. If he did he never would have asked for their prayer support. He humbly asks for their prayers. He is specific with his request.

Is the message spreading? Spreading rapidly? Are people honoring the message or holding it in contempt? Have you been sidetracked by evil men to the point of giving up? Has a lack of love dampened your zeal and enthusiasm? Are you wondering what you can do to get the situation turned around? May I suggest praying for others and asking them to pray for you. That’s not at all a bad place to start.

A Strong Grip

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 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” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17).

The stability of the church in Thessalonica was important to Paul. In his first letter to them Paul expressed thankful relief that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8). In his second letter to them he expressed concern that they not become “easily unsettled” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). And here Paul tells them to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you. . .”
(2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Why all the emphasis on stability? Paul knew the church was going to face some difficult times. Facing persecution would provide a great challenge to their Christian faith. Was their faith in Christ strong enough to withstand the opposition they would face? False teachers would lure them away from a Jesus-centered community. Was their commitment to Jesus deep enough to overcome the bait of false teaching? Worldliness would distract them from their top priorities. Was their faith in things unseen authentic enough to ground them in what was most important?

Hard times were coming. Their faith would be under fire. Stability was essential if the church was to survive. Paul reminds them of some great truths about God and their relationship with Him so that they may the stability they need to face whatever was coming their way in the days ahead. We could use the same refresher of the teachings.

God saved you. When hard times come, remember God has rescued you before and is perfectly capable of doing it again. Your salvation is rooted in God’s call. God initiated a relationship with you. God saved you — you did not save yourself. Don’t get anxious. Stand firm on God’s call.

God’s Holy Spirit transforms you. No, you are not yet the finished product, but don’t let that discourage you. God is not finished with you yet. God will not abandon you in the process of transformation. The Holy Spirit of God is working right now to make over your heart and mind into something possessed of God. When false teachers entice, remember salvation depends on the Holy Spirit’s work. Don’t grow restless. Stand firm on the Spirit’s transformation.

God’s Son shares glory with you. There is nothing for believers to fear in the return of Jesus. The second coming will be a glorious time when Jesus is revealed and shares His glory with us. When the world’s siren song is heard, remember God has called you to something far better than this place. Don’t be afraid. Stand firm on Jesus’ sharing glory.
So you need a stabilizer — something to hold onto? Are you facing persecution? False teaching? Worldliness? Or maybe the big challenge you are wrestling with is just plain old apathy. Well, here is something on which you can get a strong grip – God. Father, Spirit, and Son. God called you, the Spirit is transforming you, and the Son will share His glory with you. Hold onto that!

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.

The Breath of His Mouth

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 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”
(2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Not only do I obsess over the identity of “the man of lawlessness,” but also I obsess over his revealing. When was he revealed? Or perhaps more appropriately, when will he be revealed? Did it happen in the first century? The fourth century? Will it happen next week? At the end of time?

And it is difficult not to get carried away talking about this league with Satan. Here’s a topic I can chew on for a while – counterfeit miracles. Counterfeit miracles? Now just how does that work? I don’t know, but what’s more, there are counterfeit signs and wonders, too.

Suddenly I have this vision of Steve Martin in his bedazzled jacket!

Are you ready for a miracle? I’m ready as I can be!

It starts making sense when I consider those especially susceptible to the deception of the counterfeits have refused to love the truth. They have rejected salvation. That works, doesn’t it? They reject God, and so they are easily duped by some phony spectacle sent by Satan. But wait, here’s where it gets really confusing. Satan doesn’t send the delusion. So where does the delusion originate? God. That’s right; it is God who sends the powerful delusion. What’s up with that? I guess the best way for me to make sense of it is to understand God is not going to force Himself on anyone. If someone rejects Him, it is not out of character for God to give him what he wants. God can do that, even if it doesn’t make complete sense to me.

After all, God is God. And what’s more, I am not.

But there is something in this passage easy to miss as I pore over the words, looking for hidden clues about the lawless man’s identity and exposure. Something easy to miss as I wrestle with understanding the deep mysteries of God’s working through powerful delusions. It’s the power of the Lord Jesus. No matter how lost we get in the details of this most difficult to interpret passage, the simple truth is – God wins. The Lord Jesus is victorious. And how does the Lord Jesus win? What is the secret of His power? The Lord Jesus will overthrow the lawless man with “the breath of His mouth.” Imagine the power! I guess this shouldn’t be such a surprise to someone who believes that with His very breath God spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into mankind.

But the more I get wrapped up in all the theological arguing and the hermeneutical wrangling in this passage the more I become impressed with myself and my ability to think and reason and study and bring forth conclusions. And the best antidote that I know for being impressed with myself – my study, my arguments, and even my faith is seeing God afresh. And that’s what happens when I read those simple words about God’s breath. I realize I’m not so impressive after all. God is. And it’s when I begin to grasp that the Lord Jesus wins and He does so by the breath of His mouth that I realize the best things I can do are pray for His coming, prepare for His coming, and humble myself before the Almighty God.

The Throne

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-7).

Who is this “man of lawlessness?” Some suggest he is a false prophet. Others think he is a emperor or some other political ruler. Still others are convinced Paul is talking about a future head-of-church. There are those in each of these camps who are not shy about naming specific names as candidates for the infamous one.

There are those who are obsessed with nailing down his explicit identity, as if their salvation depended on it. Others are concerned not so much with naming the suspect but just love a good discussion, or more accurately, argument about hypothetical situations and mysterious identities.

In all of our talk about the man of lawlessness, let’s not miss the point. Paul wants the Christians at Thessalonica to look forward to the return of the Lord. He doesn’t want them being unsettled, alarmed, or deceived by those who claim to have had a word from the Lord telling them that it’s already over and they have missed out. In 1 Thessalonians Paul consoles a church that is so eager for the Lord’s immediate return they are discouraged by the wait. In 2 Thessalonians Paul has to address the false notion that Jesus has already come.

The death, burial, resurrection, and return of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. Paul warns the church to be alert. They must not allow themselves to be unsettled or fooled by those who would take away the gospel and thereby take away their hope. Christian faith is anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be patient! Be hopeful! Be ready!

Jesus is coming again, but first, the man of lawlessness will be revealed. He will be exposed at the proper time, when he is no longer being held back. Who is he? Maybe the better questions are: what is he like and what does he do? To answer we need to look closely at words like “lawlessness,” “doomed,” and “rebellion.” We should consider his opposition to the worship of anything except himself. He wants to be exalted, the center of attention. He wants to be on the throne and will oppose anything that gets in his way.

Whoever this “man of lawlessness” may be, we do not need to become so preoccupied with naming him that we miss the intended teaching of the passage – don’t lose your foundation, Jesus is coming! And maybe the best way for us to prepare for His coming is to consider whether anyone would ever nominate any of us as candidates for “man of lawlessness.” Are we fairly described as lawless rebels? Are we seen as contrarians, always looking for something or someone to oppose? Are we comfortable as long as we are the center of attention but insecure when the spotlight shines on another?

The throne belongs to God. If we are to be ready for Jesus to come, we better climb down from the throne, worship God and God alone, and encourage rather than oppose others as they worship Him.

Easily Unsettled

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him. God wants His people to be encouraged and comforted by this basic Christian teaching.

God does not want us to be a fearful, troubled people. And what better to settle us down than to let our minds rest on the end-times scene of the sky cracking open, Jesus being revealed, and our being gathered to Him.

This coming of and gathering by Jesus brings peace of mind to hearts troubled by illness, grief, poverty, spiritual struggles, and personality clashes. Whatever trials we may be going through, we can rest on God’s promise of Jesus’ return. What a blessing to be a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd — green pastures. quiet waters, and the assuring presence of the shepherd’s rod and staff.

Yet sometimes the peaceful flock is excited, shaken, even troubled by people claiming to have a message from God.

A rumor here.

A report there.

You begin to feel the wool standing on the back of your neck as you grow alarmed at the claims you are hearing.

“Listen to this.”

“Read that.”

“You have missed out on what God is doing.”

“This is not my opinion, I have a word from God.”

While it’s hard to believe there are people who would do this to a peaceful flock at Thessalonica – upset their tranquility by trying to convince them they were going to miss out on the joy of Jesus coming and gathering His people — it’s even harder to believe they justify their actions by claiming authority from God.

The apostle Paul calms the flock with words of reassurance. He asks them to slow down and not jump to conclusions. Not every vision, prophecy, or “breathless report” (MSG) is to be accepted. Simply put, some people who loudly and boldly claim to have a message from God, in reality, do not.

Jesus is coming and when He does, His people will be gathered to meet Him.

Settle on this promise.

The End of Prayer

“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 1:11-12).

Sometimes when I read passages in which Paul reveals the heart of his prayer life, I feel shallow. Too often my prayers focus on things temporal, things that before you know it will be forgotten or considered insignificant. Not so with Paul. In this passage Paul reveals the end of prayer. Not “end” in the sense of the cessation of prayer; but “end” in the sense of “goal.”

Paul’s prayers are filled with God-conversation about people living in God’s calling. He talks to God about energizing people: giving his brothers and sisters the power they need to faithfully act on their good intentions. “To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call. . .” (verse 11 NRSV).

Paul’s prayer-objective is to see people live out their faith in order to bring glory to God through the life they are living. God’s strength is essential for such glorification to be realized. People can have the best of intentions, but without God providing the muscle through His grace there will not be real change in their lives, just more of the “same old, same old.”

But when God’s gracious gifts are received and embraced, amazing things can happen. Real change begins to take place from the inside out. Hearts are softened. Wills are strengthened. Good intentions and good ideas are turned into concrete actions. Love emerges. Faith lives. The Spirit reigns.

In other words, a life worthy of what God wants begins to emerge. Perfection? No, not at all. Just read the rest of this letter and you see that Paul is not expecting exact faultlessness but he is expecting change. Many of us have just settled into a routine of Christianity that has little expectation of real change taking place. We wave our hands and say something about how wonderful is God’s grace. We become dismissive of our sinful patterns of living that are so very comfortable. Such an attitude is just not acceptable. Like Paul, we need to pray for change.

Paul is praying about matters of utmost importance. He is praying for change, significant change, to take place in the lives of the Christians in Thessalonica. Please understand Paul is not writing about self-achievement, but a living out of the faith empowered by the gift of God’s grace. We receive the gift of God’s presence and power even though we are completely undeserving. An inability or even refusal to change our behavior to a lifestyle worthy of God’s calling is a sure indication that we are not open to God’s power being unleashed in our lives.

Change is an indication that prayer is bringing requests right to the throne of Almighty God and He is providing the needed impetus for transformation to take place. How am I going to make the changes I need to make so that I can bring the glory to God that I want to give and He so deserves? I am going to have to reconsider the end of prayer. Where do my prayers lead? Where are they going? What am I seeking? It is time for us to get out of the shallows and dive out deeply and boldly into the depths of God.

May God be glorified! That is, the end of prayer.

Among Those Praising

“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” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

It is one thing to believe God is just, to be assured God will bring justice to those bringing trouble on God’s people. But it is entirely another thing to wait for God’s timing in bringing about His heavenly payback.

Make no mistake, it will happen. The day will come when God’s just judgment is made known. The Lord will be revealed. There will be blazing fire and powerful angelic beings. The persecuted believers in Thessalonica will be given “relief” while those who troubled the church will be punished with eternal destruction by being “shut out from the presence of the Lord.”

The difficulty for many believers is waiting on God’s timing for all of this to happen. When people trouble the church, we want instant justice. We want relief and we want it now! This desire for instant justice may be magnified by our “instant-everything” culture, but it is nothing new. Perhaps the most relevant illustration of the ancient desire for timely justice is Psalm 40 which provides the lyrics for U2’s signature song, 40.

How long?

The more impatient we become with God’s timing, the more likely we are to take matters into our own hands and dish out some destruction of our own by shutting out people from the presence of God. And we feel so much better when we have finished shutting them out. You might say we feel “relief.” But when Jesus comes, he is coming to receive glory and praise from His people. Some will be among those praising Him when He returns, others will not.

Do we really bring honor and glory to God when we cannot trust Him to bring about justice at the right time? Can we praise Jesus as Lord and at the same time determine that we must manufacture our own relief rather than patiently waiting for Him to provide? Is it possible to declare His majesty while we grow so impatient waiting for Him to act that we seize control and shut people out of God’s presence? How can we honor God when we are so consumed with ourselves?

How long?

I do not know when, but I am sure the day is coming. And when He comes, I want to be among those praising Him, even if that means trusting His timing rather than my own. I guess it comes down to a matter of who is the focal point of my faith. Is it God? Or is it me?

I want to be among those praising Him.