“We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:2-12
Paul’s letters always reveal his heart, not only for the people he addresses but for the possibilities his great God can bring about in their lives. I am intrigued here that in referencing the Thessalonians’ afflictions, he never prays for those afflictions, but only for their faith and spiritual growth in and through them. The afflictions are a given; Paul’s yearnings are for them, that their faith be firm and growing. His comfort and encouragement in his own suffering is in learning of their steadfast faith, his joy and love overflows in prayers of thanksgiving and petition for their increasing love and holiness. Not once does he pray that suffering cease, that things get easier or more comfortable, that they be delivered from whatever it is they are enduring. His concern is the lasting, deeper work of the heart, which he knows is accomplished in the furnace of affliction.
This gives great instruction for us in heightening our view of God and His ways, and our consequent deeper concern and prayers for ourselves and others. Is our first impulse to pray for deliverance from some pain or illness or difficult situation? For success and favor, for earthly acceptance, accomplishment, and reward? For a change of hard circumstances? If so, have we taken time to consider instead what God might be doing, what facets of His magnificent character He might be revealing through His sufficiency, guidance, lovingkindness, and power in weakness and suffering? Have we pondered what lessons He is sowing deep into the inner life through failure or delay or trial? Perhaps He is actually answering earlier prayers— for patience, for enabling, for faith, for reconciliation— by means that are beyond our imagining or desire, but are perfect and supernaturally ordered. Whatever His ways, we know they are good and trustworthy. (Psalm 119:68;145:17)
“Praise to the Lord Who o’er all things so wonderfully reigneth! Who, as on wings of an eagle uplifteth, sustaineth. Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth?” ~Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
Oh God, heighten my view of You and the significant, divine work You are about, always. Deepen my perspective, my concern for others, and my prayers, to look to and depend on You for the eternal, not the superficial. Increase my faith, establish my heart in holiness and likeness of You, and make these my deeper desires for others.