My first inclination is to think that the Thessalonians lived in a time and circumstance totally different than mine. Their first century church was planted amidst some pretty hostile conditions (Acts 17:1-10) and the opposition continued even after Paul was sent away for his own protection. Along with their new life in Christ came new troubles with their culture.
But noodle on it a bit, and you can make the case that our twenty-first century church exists increasingly in a Thessalonica like culture. Increasingly we’re finding ourselves on “the wrong side of history” by the prevailing rule of thought. Once referred to as a moral majority, the basic truths we stand for are more and more viewed as immoral. So maybe there’s more of a connect with the Thessalonians than first thought.
Perhaps that’s why the following seems to resonate this morning. After asking for pray for himself — for protection against “wicked and evil men” — Paul prays for them:
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
(2Thessalonians 3:3-5 ESV)
Their season, circumstance, and situation would require two foundational operative realities: 1) the love of God; 2) the steadfastness of Christ. Both terms are a little ambiguous.
Was Paul saying that to thrive in hostile times loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength would be vital? Or was he emphasizing that in order to be faithful ambassadors of the gospel they would need to love others with the transcendent love of God who so loved the world? Yes and yes, I’m thinking.
And was Paul saying that they would need steadfast patience as they waited for Christ’s return, that being focused on that future day would help them get through their present reality? Or, was Paul praying they’d know the steadfast endurance of Christ who for the joy set before Him endured even the cross? How about yes and yes, again?
But here’s the thing that’s grabbed me this morning. While they would need the love of the Father and the endurance of the Son, it would only happen as their hearts were directed to those operative realities by the Spirit.
May the Lord direct your hearts . . .
Direct. To make straight. To guide. To remove the hindrances or barriers of getting to where you should be. That’s what Paul prayed for. That’s what the Spirit of God does.
The Holy Spirit is the Helper, the One who comes along side and guides and leads us into the truth of God’s love. Through Him we remain connected to the risen, ascended, living Christ (Jn. 14:16-17, 15:26, 16:13). He pours out God’s love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5) and strengthens us with the power of Christ as, through the Spirit, Christ dwells in our hearts (Eph. 3:16-17).
Loving God and patiently waiting for Christ can only happen as our hearts are directed to things above by the Spirit. Loving others and enduring opposition, as we become increasingly out of sync with society, possible only as our hearts are empowered for mission on earth by the same Spirit.
A directed heart. How I need a directed heart.
By the Father’s grace through the Spirit. For the Father’s glory through the Son.