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"Therefore we also pray always for you that...the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
While doing Search the Scriptures for 2 Thessalonians, I took some extra time to reflect on Paul's prayers for himself and for the Thessalonians, especially when they were under difficult circumstances. Trials. Persecution, as in this case.
Of course, there were the things we'd usually expect--justice (v.6,) peace (v.7,)...
But interestingly, also for God's glory.
Paul's long prayer closes with his exhortation to them of their primary goal, regardlesss of what they were going through--to glorify the name of Christ, and to seek their own glory only in Him.
Compared to what I usually pray for myself or others when going through a tough time, this was a new thought:
"Take it away!"
"If I have to go through this, give me more strength/wisdom etc to accept it"
"Where are you, God?"
"Please do something about this, please help!"
Which are not necessarily the wrong responses; but when I compare these with Paul's, I see how much greater his perspective was, in seeing God's overarching purpose and plan for allowing such things to happen. In not losing sight of the ultimate priorities working through our present concerns.
Paul's absolute conviction of the worthiness and greatness of God's glorification allowed him to see beyond, to see everything towards that end. To be so heaven-minded. To have such a love and faith in God that we truly desire our lives to glorify Him; even when it doesn't come easily, even at times when we are most tempted to be self-centred, even through the painful experience of injustice and suffering.
Perhaps this sounds even sadistic (if that's not too strong a word) at first. But I have seen people who lived this out, who showed me, in the raw, gory valley of real pain and real suffering, what it means to let the name of Jesus Christ be glorified in our suffering, and us in Him. I have seen their strength and peace and unfailing love and trust, when everything seems to be falling apart. I have watched, and wondered. And I caught a glimpse of Christ's love in a staggering and poignant form, in them. When I I silently marveled, at them.
"...the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."
In contrast, so much of self still taints the way I see things that happen to me. I assess experiences and events by how they make me feel, how they benefit or disadvantage me--forgetting that even my standards and basis for these judgments are constantly changing, on their own. I focus on what I can do to solve the problem, to get rid of what I don't like, so that I can continue pursuing an earth-bound definition of happiness.
Learning to see the end of the story, even as we are in the middle of discovering how it gets there...
Photo by Maulana on Unsplash
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we continue to face suffering. Reversing the order of that sentence would still be truth--as we continue to face suffering, we grow in spiritual maturity. God intended a link between the two that we often cannot--short of looking at it through the analogy of a writer developing characters--understand. That, and having experienced myself how suffering can produce growth in a way that no form of happiness could, have enabled me to accept what might otherwise seem unsatisfying or even sadistic to some.
Instead of being discouraged that no matter how holy we are, we can't earn ourselves freedom from pain or guarantee against heartbreak while we're on earth--being able to have this spiritual maturity and perspective when we face suffering is a precious gift from God, one that strengthens and encourages us. Instead of praying to be spared suffering a more mature response would be to pray that we would be prepared for suffering when it does come. There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah I stumbled across this morning which reminds us--just like Habakkuk's "Though the fig tree wither and the vine fail...yet I will rejoice in the Lord"--that God can be most present, most real to us, in our suffering.
Isaiah 30: 20-22
And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers,
Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying "This is the way, walk in it,"
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
To have faith which enables us to see our "teachers" in the difficult situations and trials of our lives. To sense God's guidance, as result, leading us by the Spirit to respond blamelessly, humbly, to grow even as we suffer.
You will also defile the covering of your images of silver,
And the ornament of your moulded images of gold.
You will throw them away as an unclean thing;
You will say to them, "Get away!"
And led by these teachers, our opened eyes enable us to identify the idols that nestle in our hearts, the small petty sins we'd been doing too well to address, the pride we'd been nurturing, the self-entitlement, selfishness, or materialism. We see them, with startling clarity, at the bleak moment when we're forced to realize how destructive and empty they are
And, as David pleads in Psalm 119:37, we want to "turn my eyes away from worthless things."
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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