Summary: Our lives are to be characterized by prayer. We are to be quick to pray in all circumstances, and not just in emergencies. We are to give thanks in everything through prayer.
Do you know what the key to a healthy life is? It is healthy emotions, and the healthiest emotion to have is gratitude. Gratitude actually helps our immune system. It makes us more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. People who are grateful are happy because they are satisfied with what they have. An attitude of gratitude reduces stress in our lives and leads to greater spiritual and physical health.
Having an attitude of gratitude is not easy. It involves lots of prayer. Paul revealed that he needed prayer just as much as other people. He wanted to be preserved blameless. Christians must remember to pray for their spiritual leaders, because their leaders, like all Christians, will face hardships. Every hardship is a gift from God that is to be used for our growth, sanctification and intimacy with God.
God wants us to be people of prayer. Regular prayer creates intimate fellowship with God. Through prayer we discover the goodness and faithfulness of God. While taking time to get alone with God is ideal, we don’t have to limit ourselves to such times. God hears our prayers no matter where we pray.
Will God’s plan fail if we don’t pray? God does not depend on our prayers. The time we invest in speaking with God affects the work that he is doing in our lives and in the world, but he will carry on without us. Does our prayer (or lack thereof) impact God’s work? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the situation.
Prayer will help us to abstain from anything that might lead us to sin or look like sin to others. Prayer will help us to have pure hearts and impeccable Christian witness. Prayer will help to warn us about the dangers of sin.
We are called on to pray for our Christian leaders. We are called on to respect and obey our Christian leaders as long as what they tell us to do is in line with God’s will for our lives and as long as these leaders are true followers of Christ and not false teachers. Being a disciplinarian is not an easy task, as those of you who have children know all too well. The health of a congregation depends on commitment to standards of conduct and doctrine. Leadership is hard work with a measure of authority from God to do that work. That authority is not personal power but moral responsibility to lead and guide.
The Thessalonians were not giving their church leaders proper respect. That’s why the apostle Paul was careful to defend his apostolic authority and the apostolic authority of elders and deacons in the church. Paul accused the Thessalonians of being unruly and out of line. Fellow believers must warn those who refuse to walk in unity with the Christian family. Believers must encourage those who are unruly, weak or new in the faith.
Part of the role of leadership involves discipline. All Christians share that responsibility. We are to tame the unruly and comfort those who are weak in body, mind and spirit. That includes praying for them. Discipline must be tempered with patience. There is no room for retaliation. Patience and discipline must have the ultimate goal of restoration and reconciliation. Jesus outlines the steps to take when imposing discipline in Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Discipline is in line with what the church is called to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18-rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything. We are called on to rejoice in our sufferings. When Paul tells us to give thanks in everything, he does not mean that we should thank God for the bad things that happen in our lives. It means realizing that God is working to produce something good even in bad circumstances.
On the surface this doesn’t make sense. Why should we rejoice when we are going through tough times? Why should we rejoice when the ravages of old age and age-related health problems have put us in nursing homes such as this one? Why should we rejoice when we are hurting? The answer is because we always have a basic joy called Jesus. In this season of Advent, we are celebrating both the joy of his birth over 2,000 years ago and his eventual return. The light of Christ that shone with his birth, ministry, death and resurrection shines through into the reality of our daily lives. This can only happen when we rejoice and pray constantly. When we do, God will work in and through us and in spite of our circumstances. Obedience to this requirement won’t be easy, but the rewards of obedience are rich and full.