REASONS FOR GIVING THANKS

“There is another reason why we always give thanks to God”.

1 Thess 2:13 GNB

Giving thanks to God is one of the most basic reactions to the awareness of God that human beings make. We know there is a God – and we are grateful to know that this universe isn’t just left to drift aimlessly along – there is a God guiding it, so we thank God there is a God! Someone said some time ago, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on”. We know this and we thank God that there is human life and that we ourselves have been born and we are alive – there are plenty of forces working against human life. We thank him for food, for harvests, for water, for the skills some have with cooking, and for the financial systems that make the distribution of food possible. We thank God for each other, for families, for human love, for growth and development.

But we give thanks on another level. Writing to the Thessalonians the three ministers thanked God that the message they had offered was “picked up” by the Thessalonians and received as if it was direct from God. We thank God for the gospel of Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s grace. And we go on to thank him for the new life in Christ which we derive from his gift to us of Jesus and his love, his salvation and his forgiveness. We thank him for the strength, purpose and hope which believing in Jesus has brought us – and which he renews in us day by day. We thank him for the fellowship of his church and the avenues of service which this great body provides for us.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make us always grateful.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, kindle in all hearts a desire for peace. Help us all this Christmas to resolve to do, think and say thoughts that will lead to wholeness in the relationships between nations. Build up communities. Cause hatred and strife to cease. May goodwill abound. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 59:9–15a

THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD

“We kept urging you to live the kind of life that pleases God”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

Some people believe that living the Christian life just involves “being good”. Others think that it means you have to be “super-religious” rather like a modern version of a monk but not in a cloister. Others again think it’s mainly a matter of quoting the Bible – learn a lot of texts, have one to trot out for any and every occasion and you’re in the top class – hey presto!

“A life that pleases God” involves, firstly, a quality of life. Its foundation consists in faith in God. He is your reference point every day. You look at the whole of life from his perspective. It is basically an attitude of mind. When you have faith, you breathe an air of strength, usually of tranquillity, and are positive in all things. Secondly “the life that pleases God” involves you in working at a task. For some people this is fulfilling some routine duty in their church fellowship – collecting and banking the collection, singing in the choir, serving in the women’s fellowship or whatever. But it could mean witnessing by teaching a youth group, preaching in worship services, or even the ordained ministry – but it is some specific task that needs to be done to bring glory to God and benefit others.

Thirdly, the “life that pleases God” means enjoying fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. It is a life of devotion to Christ, through prayer, worship, Bible reading and sharing with other Christian believers. It means helping those other believers and being helped and strengthened by them. It becomes love – for God, for Jesus, and for other disciples.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to live a life that pleases you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for world peace. Prompt leaders of the nations to grapple with the deep problems and to seek new solutions to old problems. Help them to see the bigger picture and to rise above the selfishness of nationalism that causes so much conflict. I ask in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 59:1–8

SHARING IN HIS OWN KINGDOM

“God…calls you to share in his own Kingdom”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

Living the life that pleases God rather than yourself begins when you acknowledge that he is the sovereign Lord God. He is high over any other being that other people may believe in. And he rules both in the wider world and in the individual lives of his children.

Jesus spelt out the nature of that Kingdom life in what he did and taught. The beatitudes spell out some of the qualities and attitudes of Kingdom living. “Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Matt 5:3); Those who mourn are happy because they receive comfort (Matt 5:4); humility, rather than proud, pushy arrogance is a Kingdom quality and those who are humble will receive a reward from God (Matt 5:5); it is the nature of Kingdom life that those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires, for God will satisfy them (Matt 5:6); people who live the Kingdom life are merciful to others and they receive God’s mercy in return (Matt 5:7); if you are good and have a pure heart, you will have the vision of God (Matt 5:8); working for peace is a Kingdom activity – you can’t participate in God’s Kingdom if you always want to fight and go to war; working for peace is what God’s children do (Matt 5:9); this Kingdom belongs to people who get persecuted because they do what God requires (Matt 5:10); Kingdom living often earns tough opposition and people insult you and tell all kinds of lies about you because you belong to Jesus, don’t be unhappy about it, but rather be glad; they did the same to the prophets of old (Matt 5:11,12). Things are quite topsy-turvy in the Kingdom!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to live your Kingdom life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for those people who feel that they are being weighed down by their aches and pains. Help them to summon up sufficient strength and hope to “chase away the blues”. Give them extra joy to find beauty, love and purpose in life. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Lamentations 2:1–5

THE DIVINE CALLING

“We kept urging you to live the kind of life that pleases God, who calls you to share in his own Kingdom and glory”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

People who don’t believe in God feel that they are free to do whatever pleases them. They are answerable to no one but themselves. Some appear to get on all right. Others make a horrible mess of the whole thing, never achieving happiness or peace of mind. They spend much of their lives wishing that things had turned out differently.

No doubt the people who became the first believers in Thessalonica lived in that way until they heard the Good News of Jesus and the mighty acts of God from the preaching of Paul, Silas and Timothy.

They learnt that there was a God, a sovereign Lord God, who had acted decisively in sending Jesus Christ for their salvation. He loved them and he had a claim upon their lives. He called them every bit as much as he had called Abraham two thousand years earlier. But his call was not for them to go out and found a new nation as it had been with Abraham. It was to live the kind of love filled, and joy-drenched life that Jesus Christ had come to offer people. They had to forsake their sins and unbelief. And they were being called to put their trust in Jesus and discover life in its fullness.

This same call comes to everyone who believes in Jesus. It is a call to a new and better quality of life which you are challenged to live for the glory of God. He offers you the gift of his Holy Spirit to enable you to know his kind of life.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me respond to your call and live your kind of life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Thank you, Lord for the wonder of the Advent and Christian season. Thank you for the lights and the decorations, the music and the special events, the giving and receiving of gifts, the sense that Christmas is “something different”. Fill me with wonder and joy in Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Malachi 3:1–5

THE FATHER’S GUIDANCE

“We encouraged you, we comforted you, and we kept urging you to live the kind of life that pleases God”.

1 Thess 2:12 GNB

Fathers urge their children on – to maturity, to wisdom, to success and to achievement. When the children suffer setbacks or failures their fathers comfort them – as do their mothers. They encourage them to get up again and try again. They tell them of mistakes they made when younger and how they put their disappointments behind them and carried on. They tell them how to avoid mistakes in the future.

That is how Paul, Silas and Timothy guided their new disciples in Thessalonica. Having introduced them to Christ as their Lord and Saviour they kept a watchful eye on the new disciples as they made their way in changing from the non-gods they had previously worshipped to following Christ. It was no easy change as it involved a belief system, cultivating devotional practices, and getting accustomed to life in the church of Christ. Instead of pleasing themselves these new converts were guided into seeking to please God in Christ. No doubt some struggled in prayer, whilst others probably found it difficult to understand the new doctrine they were being taught. Yet others would have to make adjustments in terms of working with and making allowances for other people in the Christian fellowship. However they struggled; the new converts would also have to reckon that “we’re all in this together”.

To nurture other disciples is an important function and ministry. Often those doing the “fathering” learn and grow every bit as much as do the young disciples. And love has to be the foundation of the whole process. It is a God-given role. But it builds the church – and people.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, build us all up in love and service.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help all Christian believers to realize that we are all one in you. Bind us together in love. Help us all to reach out to each other in appreciation and kindness. Inspire us to be beacons of light in the darkness of the world around us. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Hosea 6:1–11

THE FATHERLY ROLE

“You know that we treated each one of you just as a father treats his own children”.

1 Thess 2:11 GNB

One of the titles given to ministers is “Father”. In the Catholic church it is the normal form of address. It is also the word used for the Pope. He is “The Holy Father”. “Many stories are told about the great-heartedness of the late Pope John XXIII. One day he visited a Roman prison where he spoke to the prisoners about the all-sufficient grace and mercy of God, the Father. Afterward, a murderer stepped up to him and enquired wistfully, ‘Does that go for me, Father?’ Whereupon the Pope threw his arms around the wretched man and drew him closely to his bosom in one glorious gesture of compassion and yearning” (Upper Room Disciplines, 1967, p156).

Paul had previously used the image of a mother when he wanted to emphasize how gentle the apostles were in dealing with the Thessalonian Christians. But the father can also be a significant figure. Gordon MacDonald told how his father took him up a mountain slope to learn to ski. At first the father made the son ski inside his firm and strong hold. But three attempts later MacDonald said the father’s hands were lighter in their grip on the boy. Then after starting the fourth time the father said, halfway down the slope, “Go ahead, son, you’re skiing by yourself” (G. MacDonald, Restoring your Spiritual Passion, p149”). A father teaches and guides – and trusts. This was how the three apostles acted towards their new believers. They guided them – and showed them how to live the Christian life in a society that was hostile to their new-found faith. Likewise guide those you can in Christian living.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to guide others in Christian living.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless those families who are undergoing strain. Help the members to be extra tolerant towards each other and to be understanding. Help them not to reply to unkind words with retorts that increase strain and animosity. Help them to heal the rifts. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Jeremiah 18:1–11

UPRIGHT BEHAVIOUR

“You are our witnesses, and so is God, that our conduct towards you who believe was pure, right and without fault”.

1 Thess 2:10 GNB

The sincerity of a minister of God should be evident in the selfless way in which he works for his “flock”. “In 1855 when Ivan Sergiev took up his appointment as a priest in Kronstadt (near to Leningrad in Russia), he found himself among many petty criminals and down-and-outs. Daily he went to their wretched dwellings to talk to them and comfort them. He gave away all he had, so that many a time he would come home minus some of his clothes, or even without his shoes. He established workshops and an orphanage, and daily would feed up to one thousand destitute people. His was certainly ‘the kind of religion which is without stain in the sight of God’” (The Soldier’s Armoury, 1979, p118). Ivan Sergiev created integrity by the strength of his faith and by his caring and compassion.

The three apostles who brought the gospel to Thessalonica in the first century also established credibility by the nature of the gospel they proclaimed and the lives they lived which were open to the whole community to see. After a while, members of a congregation can tell whether a minister of God is acting in the interests of the people he is serving or is championing his own cause first and foremost. Likewise, the Christian believers can help, guide and influence their ministers by their prayers and by their loyal support. The passion with which they serve their church, inspired by Christ and the Holy Spirit, can make the difference between a going and growing church and one that merely maintains its witness.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help our believers and ministers to work for your glory.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord God, be with the managers and staff of all supermarkets at this time of the year. Help them to cope with the pressure and strain of the extra shopping people do. Enable them to look forward to a good rest when the season is over. I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 58:1–14

HARD WORK

“Surely you remember, our brothers and sisters, how we worked and toiled! We worked day and night so that we would not be any trouble to you as we preached to you the Good News from God”.

1 Thess 2:9 GNB

Not all Christian ministry is carried out by highly trained, professional ministers. Many denominations have systems of lay people who get authorized to conduct services of worship. Carrying on their “secular” occupations during the week they enter pulpits on a Sunday and conduct worship. A period of study and training precede this important ministry. The Methodist Church in Britain, from its earliest days, had such a ministry. Four out of five Sunday services were conducted by this order of “local preachers”. The apostle Paul was a tent-maker by profession. Whilst in Thessalonica he plied his trade by day and did ministry in his spare time – in the evenings. Presumably Timothy and Silas did the same. This meant they earned their keep not by preaching but by tent-making – or whatever occupation Timothy and Silas followed. This released them from being financially dependent on their Thessalonian congregation.

Some ministers have done a similar thing today – it is referred to as “a tent-making ministry”. It gives for an extremely demanding way of life. Hence Paul, Timothy and Silas had their hands full exercising pastoral care, offering teaching and guidance to individual members and helping them with problems as they tried to leave their previous religion behind. And they had no Bible to guide them. The New Testament was only then being written. The apostles got there first – the scriptures followed on later.

Respect the Christian leaders whose work, when done conscientiously, is demanding both in the consumption of time, its wide variety of duties and requirement of love and devotion.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and empower all hard-working ministers.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, be with all people who will be starting out on a new level of life at this time of the year. Some will be leaving educational studies behind. Some will be moving into careers. Some will be marrying. Help them to move forward with courage and purpose. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Isaiah 5:1–7

ENDEARMENT

“You were so dear to us!”

1 Thess 2:8 GNB

Christian church. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity. Every Christian believer should be empowered by it. And every Christian minister should be motivated by it. “William Booth was always haunted by concern for others. After 1868 he never spent a Christmas Day with his family at home. That year he did, after returning from a Christmas morning preaching engagement. But he was troubled. He said, ‘I’ll never do this again. The poor have nothing but the public house, nothing but the public house.’ That was true concern. William Booth was a man in whom dwelt the compassionate Spirit of Christ” (The Soldier’s Armoury, 1974, p108).

Reading the New Testament accounts of the life, travels and achievements of the apostle Paul you become amazed at his intellect, formulating Christian doctrine for the first time. You marvel at his tireless energy, his wearying travels, his creative writing, his grasp of truth, and his leadership of the churches that he founded. You wonder at his deep grasp of God’s control of his life and his understanding of Christian discipleship. He actually “shaped” Christianity in its formative years. You do not expect this giant of a man to regard the people to whom he and his fellow-teachers ministered to express tenderness and endearment. But he did. Underneath the immense thought and passionate striving for the truth there was a tender heart. The people to whom he had brought the gospel were dear to him.

Try to encourage this tenderness and love in your congregation. It comes from the Holy Spirit’s working.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help our community to love one another.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, I pray for students who will be receiving news of their exam results at this time of the year. Help them to respond to good news with thanksgiving and to greet bad news with the determination to try again. Help them all to mature and move forward. I ask in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Joel 2:1–14

LOVE IS THE SECRET

“Because of our love for you we were ready to share with you not only the Good News from God but even our own lives”.

1 Thess 2: 8 GNB

A retired minister once spoke to a junior minister who had come to him for advice with a problem. He said, “You know brother, there is blood in our calling. Lots of people don’t realize that”. He meant that it is costly to minister to people. It is infinitely more than just standing up in a service and talking. The minister who doesn’t love the people to whom God has called him will be like “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal”.

What drove Paul and the other apostles to endure shipwreck, endless walking journeys, stoning by mobs, misunderstanding by those to whom they preached the Good News, imprisonment, and often rejection? It was the love of Christ burning in their hearts, never quenched, never dying, never tiring, but ceaselessly beating, as Christ’s own love had done for them – and their awareness that they could never repay that love except by loving those to whom they went and preached.

And loving them meant sharing their lives – their time, their efforts, their energy, their drive, their hope, their faith. Love is the secret at the heart of the existence of the church of Jesus Christ. Christ’s love is the furnace that moves the engine of all human relationships in the church, whether in Thessalonica, London, Durban or Dundee. And all who come within its influence feel themselves compelled to become little fires of self-giving compassion. Stir that fire up. Keep it stoked and fuelled. Make it spread and grow and bring the warmth of God to others.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to share myself and your love with others.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, so many people will be meeting with grief at this time of the year. Bless those who find themselves bereft of an important and close family member. Help them to find something positive to celebrate in the reflections on the coming of Christ. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Hosea 4:1–9