My life alongside God's word, volume 3. Prayer section.
Christmas is usually a time of joy and special celebration for Christians. The incarnate God, God clothed with human skin in order to be seen, was born as the tiny baby Jesus, in a humble animal shed, to a poor Jewish couple. First Elizabeth and the unborn John, next Mary, then the angels, the shepherds, and later the wise men, were full of joy and praise to God around His birth, see Luke 1:44, 47, 2:10, 2:20; Matthew 2:10.
Joy characterised the early Christians.
Luke records this in Samaria, in Pisidian Antioch, in
Lystra and Derbe, and in Philippi, Acts 8:8, 13:52, 14:17, 16:34. Paul wrote about it, see Romans 14:17; 2 Corinthians 1:24, 7:4, 8:2; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 1:4, 1:25-26, 4:4;
1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:19-20; among others.
To one church he wrote: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. He did himself what he told others to do, Philippians 1:3-4.
Christians in Thessalonica (modern day Greece, capital of Macedonia region) were going through a lot of suffering. You can trace this theme through Paul’s letter, where he also uses some of his own troubles to encourage these new believers to stand firm. See “endurance inspired by hope”, “in spite of severe suffering”, “we had previously suffered and been insulted”, “in spite of strong opposition”, “our toil and hardship”, “you suffered from your own countrymen the same thing those churches suffered from the Jews”, “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials”, “we kept telling you we would be
persecuted. And it turned out that way”, “in all our distress and persecution”,
1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1:6, 2:2, 2:9, 2:15, 3:3-4, 7. Yet it was this same church, these people under non-stop trials, that Paul urged to be joyful, prayerful and thankful.
Christians are to be heavenly-minded earthlings.
How can this be? We must think carefully about the answer because it is a challenge to us all. We Christians are not to be only earthlings, people who live on this earth. We are to “heavenlings” – a word I have just made up to express what I mean! Christians are to be heavenly-minded earthlings. Paul writes about this idea to the believers in Philippi and Colosse. Some people are “enemies of the cross .. whose god is their stomach .. their mind is on earthly things”. Now notice the change. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”, Philippians 3:19-20. “Holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse .. set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”, Colossians 1:1, 3:2. Our spiritual resources are so great, earthly things cannot disturb our inwardly happy and peacefully content feelings. We can live with songs in our
hearts and on our lips.
I have travelled around villages, displaced camps, and resettlement townships in Sudan, and I remember happy singing congregations. I have photos and videos of children and adults singing God’s praises at the tops of their voices. This is such a challenge to me now. I have lived for the last eight years with no voice box. My gracious heavenly Father allowed cancer to remove my ability to sing and to hum tunes. I am not able to breathe quickly enough to join in the singing at church gatherings. But, Holy Spirit filled and led, I can still “sing and make music in (my) heart to the Lord”, Ephesians 5:19.
It seems that the Thessalonian Christians “thought more of their Lord than their difficulties, more of their spiritual riches in Christ than of their poverty on earth, more of the glorious future when their Lord should come again than of their unhappy past”. Paul had been their teacher, along with Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy. Once, just before he
preached the gospel in Thessalonica, he was imprisoned with Silas in Philippi. “About midnight they were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them”, Acts 16:25. These teachers had first lived out what they were now telling this young church to do. They were living examples.
When Christmas comes try to take these words into your heart and life:
Pray as you breathe, without thinking about it – automatically just do it, 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Thank God for every circumstance you face as coming from the hand of God. This way you will be able to accept it, whatever it is, verse 18.
Rejoice, be glad, delight in everything, for every day you live, verse 16. This does not mean you have to like your troubles and trials. But you do have to look at them in the right way. Always view them through the heavenly salvation your Lord Jesus Christ is definitely bringing you to. This is the “heavenlings’” perspective.
Perhaps as we reflect on this over Christmas, we can also look ahead into the new year, if our Lord Jesus waits. Verse 18 ends with a phrase I have not yet written about: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.
What is God’s will for you in the coming year?
Amongst other things it is clearly to “Be joyful always; pray continually;” and “give thanks in all circumstances”, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.