SUCCESS AND FAILURE

“Our visit to you was not a failure”.

1 Thess 2:1 GNB

We live in a world that hero-worships those it deems to be successful. This world demands that we shall strive for success. Our own nature drives us to seek success – whether that be in the form of career achievement or significance in some defined area of expertise, such as playing bowls or growing roses. Sometimes a person develops an extraordinary capacity for Christian devotion and those who know that person probably regard him or her as being successful in discipleship.

But success and failure are not easy to define. Most modern readers of the Bible would probably regard the Apostle Paul as the most successful of the Apostles. He was certainly diligent and hard-working – and had a capacity for thinking through the meaning of the Christian faith. Although he travelled to any number of towns and cities in Asia Minor and Greece and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in them, he did not found churches in all of them. It appears that his mission was not too effective in Athens. But he knew, from the quality of the response by those who believed in Thessalonica, that his visit there had been effective. This was what made him proud of them. Success was measured, for him, in the strength of the faith of those who did become Christian believers. Probably also the number of those who responded positively to the Christian message would have prompted him to see his visit to Thessalonica as success.

As a Christian believer, strive to excel in prayer and in devotion to Jesus. Strive also to excel in serving the church and the community in love and in humility.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to be faithful rather than successful in service.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for the parents of children who have learning difficulties. Enable them to be infinitely patient and supportive of their children. Help them to find educational facilities that are designed to cater for, and to educate, such children. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

BROTHERS AND SISTERS

“Our brothers and sisters, you yourselves know that our visit to you was not a failure”.

1 Thess 2:1 GNB

It is interesting to trace the origins of the Christian church community. It all began way back when God called Abraham and his family to move to Canaan which later became Israel. God’s call was passed on down the family line to Isaac, Jacob, and their children. It all began with a family serving God. When Jesus Christ came, he called a band of twelve men to travel with him and learn of him and the kingdom he talked about. With the exception of Judas Iscariot those disciples became bound together by the call of Christ, loyalty to him and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Later the Apostle Paul became an integral and leading member of that community. Because all were equal, and because love was the driving force of the Christian church the members were drawn to each other – in love. They seemed like family members and sometimes they seemed to have a greater love for one another than they did to their own natural family members who refused to join the church.

Their faith strengthened these ties to each other. They sought comfort in the church circle in the face of the opposition that was directed against them and the faith in which they were involved. Many Christian communities to this day address each other by these family designations. It is a mark of closeness, respect and the fellowship that belonging to Christ brings and establishes. All Christian believers are brothers and sisters to one another in this spiritual sense. Try to do all you can to promote and deepen this sense of family unity in your Christian group.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to promote family solidarity in our Christian group.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for those scientists who are engaged in research to find cures for Alzheimer’s disease. Help them to double their efforts and to co-operate with other scientists across the world who are doing similar studies. Give them success. I ask it in the name of Jesus. AMEN

EAGER EXPECTATION

“(People) marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of (God’s) Son, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom”.

1 Thess 1:10 EHP

One of the striking features of the New Testament is the way the writers constantly point their readers forward to coming events in the future. The prophets of the Old Testament had done a similar thing – for them God was often promising a future golden reign, the coming of the Jewish Messiah and many blessings from God.

The apostles who went throughout the eastern Mediterranean regions included this vision and hope as one of the beliefs of the gospel. The Christ who ascended some time after the resurrection would return in power and glory. At first it was expected that this would be an event in the lifetime of those who were listening. Paul included this element in his preaching. It was one of the claims of their creed. So many staggering things had happened in their lifetimes it seemed natural to think that the final one would come, bringing to consummation all their hopes and expectations. Thessalonians was one of Paul’s earlier writings, but as the years slipped by, the emphasis on this belief dimmed somewhat.

Nevertheless, Christians have continued to believe that Jesus will come again. Every time we say the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, we affirm this belief. It is a statement that points to the final supremacy of God as creator and redeemer. It is a further acclamation of Christ as the Lord and Saviour of the world. It kept the martyrs faithful to their calling and sustains all believers when they suffer and struggle. It helped those Thessalonians then – as it does us today.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I await your coming in power and glory.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for the President of the country. Help him to act with wisdom and understanding in all that he does and says. Give him energy to keep going when he is hard-pressed by problems and cannot see any solution. Keep him going when he is tired. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

THE DIFFERENCE IS GOD

“All those people speak about how you received us when we visited you, and how you turned away from idols to God, to serve the true and living God”.

1 Thess 1:9 GNB

Many people who do not believe in God cannot see what believing in him does for those who do. They – or some of them – claim that those who are religious are just hypocrites.

Joe was a farm labourer in Lincolnshire. He grew up drinking heavily and sometimes became violent. His fellow labourers regarded Joe as “one of the boys”. Joe married and became the father of a little girl. In her teens she was invited along to the Salvation Army where she gave her life to Christ. She arrived home one day dressed in a Salvation Army bonnet. Joe was furious and attacked her, hitting her and knocking her bonnet off. But she told him about her faith and what God had done for her. Eventually she invited him along to “the citadel”. There Joe gave his life to Christ and changed completely. Soon he was appointed “Colour Sergeant” and carried the flag down the main street of the town, leading the band as they marched from the town square to the church for the evening services. The difference in him was remarkable. Now he wore his own Salvation Army peaked cap, and on Saturday nights went round the pubs selling the Salvation Army newspaper, “War Cry” to those who had once been his drinking pals.

And the people in Thessalonica and all Macedonia and even into Achaia could see the difference that had come over the Christians who had come to believe in Christ. The cause of the difference was God. Does he make a difference to you?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord God, make a difference in my life and faith.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for all who hold public office – town and city councillors, members of provincial councils, members of parliament and cabinet ministers. Help them to work diligently for the people and to exercise wisdom in all things. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

THE WORD GETS AROUND

“The word has gotten around… The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore – you’re the message”.

1 Thess 1:8 EHP

A generation ago a deep thinker by the name of Marshall Mcluhan came up with a profound insight. He said, “The medium is the message”. Everybody in any form of communication reflected long and hard about the implications of Mcluhan’s statement. He particularly wanted to prove that communication by television meant that “the box” shaped what came over to viewers.

St Paul was saying a similar thing when he wrote to the Christian congregation in Thessalonica. So startling was the news in pagan Greece that a group of Christian believers had become changed  people and had become advocates of the gospel they believed that they now were spreading the news of their new life. The message wasn’t just coming from these outsiders. These Thessalonians had become the message. They were living proof of the truth of Jesus Christ and what he had taught – and the life he had brought.

The Christian church has propagated its message for over two thousand years by means of people whose lives have been changed. Apostles, bishops, local priests and ministers, monks, nuns, friars, evangelists and lay people as well as ordained have conveyed the message of God’s love and Christ‘s salvation. The truth has been there in the Bible – but the human purveyors of the message have lived the gospel and have helped to change other people’s lives by the living, walking truth they have demonstrated.

And you are the message in your small world. You believe it, you offer love, caring, guidance and truth by what you say and by what you do. Don’t you?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make my life a message about you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, please help me today to go forward with hope, trusting in your sovereignty and love. Help me not to be petty. Help me to be aware of other people’s needs, and their problems. Make me strong in my work and caring towards my family. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS

“You became an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia”.

1 Thess 1:7 GNB

Sometimes it happens that a group of people who do something together “click” and they become a group whom others admire, their achievements stimulating others to greater heights. It happens in sports teams. It happens in work places, schools, churches, local councils and cultural clubs. The people concerned tend to become proud of each other. Sometimes they even glory in each other’s accomplishments.

Paul was obviously proud of the strong faith that had bound the Thessalonian Christians together and that had enabled them to weather the storm that erupted in the first period of the team of himself, Timothy and Silas as they brought the gospel to these previously pagan people. Not all places turned out to be such fruitful centers of Christian growth. It was a great encouragement to the three ministers as they sought to take the gospel to other places in the province of Macedonia, of which Thessalonica was a main center, and Achaia which was the southern province of Greece. This shining example of Christian growth, ministry and service, brought glory to God and served as a challenge to other Christian groups in the surrounding towns and villages. It said to them all, “This is what adopting Christianity can do for you – it brings people together, it builds people up, it enhances the community life of the city and changes people for the better”.

What can you do to make your Christian fellowship an example to other congregations, groups and communities? As is often said, “Comparisons can be odious” and the purpose of Christian  growth and faith is not to create competition between fellowships. But one community can help another – or inspire them!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help our Christian group to become strong in the Lord.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, let the gospel of Jesus Christ be the centre and focus of all Christian worship today. Let the preaching be grounded in the Bible and make sense to the hearers. May worshippers hear “a word from God” and their faith be deepened. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

RECEIVE THE MESSAGE WITH JOY

“Even though you suffered much, you received the message with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit”.

1 Thess 1:6 GNB

When Paul and Silas first visited Thessalonica they caused an uproar. Some heard and received the gospel but others made big trouble and, so dangerous was the situation that some of those who had come to believe sent Paul and Silas away by night for their own safety. (The story is told in Acts 17) So incensed were their enemies when they heard that Paul and Silas had moved on to Berea that they sent people there to stir up trouble as well. All of this made it hard for the new believers. Hence their leaders could say “You suffered much”.

But the trouble did not get the Thessalonian believers down. They experienced the joy that comes from knowing and being possessed by the Holy Spirit. True believers all know joy when they hear the message of Jesus Christ preached. It touches deep places in their hearts. And they can tell when the preacher is “on the money” as opposed to dealing with trivialities. They can tell when their teachers are stirring up diversions to give them cheap excursions into escapism as opposed to offering them the meat of the message.

All believers know suffering in some form at some time. But when they are truly possessed by the Holy Spirit as well, they know how to tap into the source of joy. Joy is the second-mentioned fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. And if believers know suffering, they also know joy. It is not happiness or pleasure. It is deep tranquillity and peace that bubbles from within and comes from the heart of Jesus. And it is infectious .

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me know “the joy of Jesus”.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help me to remember that my whole life is upheld by your grace, that I don’t have to do a multitude of meritorious things to earn your approval. Help me to walk with Jesus day by day and to depend on him for guidance, provision and wisdom. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

FOLLOWING THE LEADER

“You imitated us and the Lord”.

1 Thess 1:6 GNB

Many Christian believers have come into their faith during their later teen years. When they did, many of them were monitored and mentored by an older Christian, sometimes a person of many years’ experience in the Christian walk. Such a person often helped them to explore the Bible, explained how to deal with temptation and guided them in their first steps in prayer. It proved to be an invaluable introduction to living the Christian life.

The people in Thessalonica needed guides and role-models as well. The three leaders, Paul, Silas and Timothy served in this capacity for the new believers. Living as they did in a pagan society; life was tough for the new Christians. They were dependent solely on the three leaders to answer their questions, help them work through problems, and to encourage them to pick themselves up when they faltered. These Christian guides would also have to show the new believers how inadequate their previous faith was. The established guides would have to be supremely confident in the power of the Holy Spirit to show them how to lead, teach and be role-models to the Thessalonians. In particular they would have to explain how they themselves were modelling their lives on Christ, guided in this respect by the Holy Spirit. Explaining how the Holy Spirit and Christ related to each other would be a major task as it still is today.

It is good for new believers to have seasoned Christian guides and teachers. This is needed as much today as it was in new Testament times. It is important for those well grounded in the faith to understand that they are being watched and copied by new believers.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to support those who are new in the faith.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless all university and college students who are writing exams today. Help them to think clearly and to write quickly, to remember what they have learnt and to give a good account of themselves to the examiners. Help the examiners to be fair. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

WALKING THE TALK

“You know how we lived when we were with you; it was for your own good”.

1 Thess 1:5 GNB

St Francis of Assisi was one of the Christian church’s greatest saints. He founded an order of monks to help them live a disciplined Christian life. “One day Francis said to one of his young trainees, ‘Let us go down to the village and preach to the people’. So they went. They stopped to talk to this man and that. They begged a crust at this door and that. Francis stopped to play with the children and exchanged a greeting with the passers-by. Then they turned to go home. ‘But Father’, said the novice, ‘when do we preach?’ ‘Preach? Smiled Francis. ‘Every step we took, every word we spoke, every action we did, has been a sermon’” {W. Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, p271).

What is often forgotten is that the lives of Christian believers often speak louder than the words they use. Paul, Silas and Timothy had convinced the Thessalonians of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the empowered lives they had lived out in Thessalonica. People had observed them, listened to them, marked how and what they did and had silently asked themselves, “Do these lives portray the truth of what these men say? Do they walk the talk?” The answer they came to was a positive “Yes”. Many teachers came, gathered an audience, then took a collection, then left. The Christian trio had stayed to prove the claims they had made. They set an example of how Jesus could take control and make new people of ordinary men and women. It was the first “Church Growth” movement in the world.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to show how Jesus lives in people.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless today all who are to undergo surgery. Give them a quiet mind and doctors who will relate to them with sensitivity and care. Help the nurses who will assist in the operating theatre to be strictly professional. Prompt families to be caring. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

COMPLETE CONVICTION

“We brought the Good News to you, not with words only, but also with power and the Holy Spirit, and with complete conviction of its truth”.

1 Thess 1:5 GNB

Why did those early apostles respond positively when God called them to go out into the Gentile world and risk their lives to tell other cultures about Jesus Christ being the Savour of the world? We get to know what it all meant in some words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. He said to people who were making him out to be a second-class apostle, “I have worked much harder (than his critics), I have been in prison more times, I have been whipped much more, and I have been near death more often. Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water. In many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from fellow-Jews and from Gentiles; there have been dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilds, dangers on the high seas and dangers from false friends. There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep, I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter or clothing” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 GNB).

That is the testimony of a man who has staked his life on the truth of what he preached, who has known Christ as the most powerful reality in the world, and who believes passionately in the truth of what he lives for and is prepared to die for. It has to be the truth. It makes life worth living.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, lead me to complete conviction of your truth.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless today all parents who will hear that they are to become grandparents. Remind them that a baby is God’s opinion that life must go on. Bless also those who know that they are going to be great grandparents. Fill them with love and joy. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN