Hello and welcome to my final podcast of the week. I hope that you have been encouraged as you have listened in and that you have encountered the presence of God as we have met together. Yesterday we ended up by looking at Jesus’s simple instructions to love God and love others and all of the stuff that can get in the way.
Today I would like to focus on one such distraction: our attempts to control our environment and arrange events to fit with our preferred future. Lets focus on vs 2 and 3 of today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians chapter 3:
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.
Paul had been trying to visit the church in Thessaloniki for some time. In yesterday’s reading we heard how Satan had blocked Paul’s planned journey. So instead, Paul sent Timothy – of ‘Letters to Timothy’ fame – to strengthen and encourage the Christian community during a period of trial. It would appear that Paul was suffering an intense period of persecution. His justification for sending Timothy was to strengthen and encourage so the church wouldn’t be unsettled by the suffering Paul was enduring…. THAT HE WAS DESTINED FOR.
This persecution was inevitable, Paul himself had predicted it, it was unavoidable, it was his destiny…
The word ‘destiny’ here means to be set down… like an object that has been carefully placed in position. Other translations of this read “we are appointed to this”… or it is “part of God’s will for us”
There is that sense that this is part of what God had in store for Paul. If someone had ‘appointed’ Paul, and Paul had given himself into the service of God, then his appointment was from the Father himself and this was all part of discharging his duty.
This does not mean that God had caused the persecution, but rather that for God’s kingdom to advance it would inevitably lead to opposition and so part of Paul’s appointment was to be persecuted and suffer. But what I think is key for us today, as we endure this time of pandemic and lockdown, is Paul’s perspective.
Paul had made a decision to follow Jesus. He had been appointed to take the gospel to the gentiles. His direction was set and nothing would knock him off course. Every conversation, every blessing, every hardship, every shipwreck or beating was part of God’s will for him and it was a privilege for Paul to be in the Father’s service.
Being in service to the God of the universe meant that whatever happened next, Paul could trust the King to be working out his purposes. In short, Paul trusted God with his past, his present and his future, and rather than trying to manipulate the situation to suit his own wishes, Paul’s desire was that the events would unfold according to God’s plan, not his own. He had given up control and instead simply trusted his Father.
We can easily get caught up in trying to control the outcome or circumstances of our lives. We can fight and battle or get stressed and anxious that life isn’t working out as we planned or we can set our feet on the rock of faith and, come what may, we simply stand secure.
A wise man once said to me, “we cannot control anyone, so why do we even try?” – in the same way, we cannot control the future, so why do we try? Our only security comes from our faith in God.
So in this uncertain time, as we come through this global pandemic, with the country in recession, with little progress in the Brexit trade negotiations, with having to go to work and the possibility of contracting the virus, with workers furloughed, job insecurity, the threat of redundancy, with underlying health conditions, with elderly parents in care homes, with a delayed start to university, and a phased return of schools… with… insert your current worry here…
We have a choice…
We can worry and try in vain to control an uncontrollable situation, or we can put our unshakable trust in God, our Father, the king of the universe. We can set our feet on the rock of faith and, come what may, simply stand secure. And whether we live or die, succeed or fail, lose everything or gain the whole world, we can trust that in all things… ALL THINGS… that God is working for the good of those who love him.
So today do we need to let go of control in our lives? Do we need to surrender our fears and our futures to him and trust that he knows what he is doing?
When Jehosaphat king of Judah was confronted by a vast army in 2 Chronicles 20, he recognised he was powerless to control the outcome of the situation; he prayed this prayer, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you [Lord]”
Let’s pray and put our trust in God today.
Father, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Thank you that you are all loving and all powerful. Today we chose to trust in your love and your power to bring about your will. We surrender to you all of the things that are causing us stress and worry, we surrender our futures to you and we trust that, come what may, you will lead us through this time in our lives. Amen.
BIBLE READING: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.