Devotional: September 10, 2020
So, when we couldn’t stand being separated from you any longer and could find no way to visit you ourselves, we stayed in Athens and sent Timothy to get you up and about, cheering you on so you wouldn’t be discouraged by these hard times. He’s a brother and companion in the faith, God’s man in spreading the Message, preaching Christ.
What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.
May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you!
First Thessalonians 3: 1-2, 9-11
It was so good to see so many of you on Sunday, at our first in-person worship service since mid-March. It was refreshing and encouraging to see each other, even with masks on. I know I was blessed. I believe others were blessed as well.
Here, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica. We don't know exactly why Paul cannot visit them, but he missed them terribly. So what does he do? He does the next best thing. He sends his younger friend and protégé Timothy to check up on the Thessalonian church.
Timothy brings back a good report, a very encouraging one.
This pandemic is not the first time that people have been separated from loved ones. There have been wars that have taken family members away for months, or even years. Families have moved across the country, or even around the world. Many have been frustrated by this current forced separation brought on by the pandemic. Why? We have been separated from those who are physically near us. They are not that far away, and yet we cannot see them, or hug them.
Although the Apostle Paul is frustrated, he finds a way to communicate with and encourage those whom he loves. He does this in spite of the distance between them. In many ways, Paul’s experience mirrors our own.
He writes these letters during “hard times” (verse 2). I believe many have had a hard time during this pandemic. The lines at the community food bank bore witness to this fact. I also know that we all have experienced hard or difficult times during our lifetimes.
Paul honestly feels like he “cannot stand” the separation from those he loves. Many of us have struggled with the forced separation this pandemic has thrust upon us. Restrictions have not allowed some people to be with loved ones in the hospital, or in a care facility. Babies have been born. Friends have passed away. Many other life changing events have occurred amongst us where we have not been able to physically hug, and to hold each other’s hands.
He does what he can to communicate, by sending Timothy. Young Tim is his “living letter” to the church at Thessalonica. Tim’s presence reminds them of Paul’s care and concern, and of the Lord’s love for all of them. In a similar way, we have become resourceful. We have put our creativity to work. I had a doctor’s appointment on Facetime. Many others have learned to use Zoom, and other technology, out of necessity. Teachers and others who work in the schools are learning new technology to teach remotely.
Paul spends time in prayer, praying for those he cannot see in person. Whether or not we are away from others, prayer isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity. Prayer is not our last option. No! Prayer should be the first thing we should do, no matter what else is going on in our lives.
Finally, Paul longs to see the Thessalonians, and prays that God will pave the way for that to happen. Even though some of us have seen one another, it was with masks on! Therefore, I am still praying to “see your faces again” like Paul. In other words, I pray that the pandemic, and our hard times will end. Seeing others smile is something that helps us communicate. Hugging friends, and enjoying just being together is what Paul was yearning for. We can relate to that longing.
We all learn from difficult times like these. Patience is not always our strongest suit. Yet I believe we all have been faced with this challenge at times. God always uses hard times like these to stretch us, and to help us learn and grow. When we reflect upon these months of social distancing, do not focus entirely on all that has been bad. See if you can discover where it has been a blessing.
Some have shared that they have been forced to clear a calendar that was too full. Others have spoken about spending more time with family, a bonus gift for some. Some have found themselves communicating even more with loved ones who are distant. Families and friends have done more “checking in” on each other. In a sense, rather than focus on all that has been difficult, we should seek the silver lining.
Paul ends this third chapter of Thessalonians by looking to the future, rather than to the past. He writes,
“May the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.”
First Thessalonians 3: 12-13
Let us pray for strength, patience, purity, confidence and joy in our lives, no matter what God has in store for us. Challenges will always occur. Yet how we choose to live through those challenges is dependent upon the attitude we choose to adopt. Seek God’s companionship, and find joy in His presence, especially when you are unable to be with those you love and miss.
When we feel alone, and separated from the world, help us to remember that You are always with us. Remind us seek You first in our lives, as we pray through whatever life brings to us. Keep watch over those who we yearn to see safe. Give us the patience to wait upon You, O Lord. Thank You for the tender care You provide when our hearts are sad. Heal this world. We pray this prayer in Your faithful name. Amen