2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
I don’t remember now how many years ago it was, or who was the speaker, but I’ll never forget having it pointed out that this verse records an answer to prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 it says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” Paul was writing to the very same people, so here he is pointing out that God had answered his prayer for them. Recording answers to prayer can be an important aid in strengthening our faith. Not too often, but sometimes I go back and read devotional notes from even years ago, and I’m always touched by the faithfulness of God. If our memories were better, we’d have a stronger grasp of just how faithful He is. Actually the term, “answers,” isn’t entirely accurate. What we mean when we use it is, “affirmative answers.” Sometimes God’s answer is, “No, that’s not in your best interest at this time.” We don’t like that answer! The key to getting more affirmative answers is getting our hearts in line with God in the first place. David understood that when he wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) That’s what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of our being in Him and praying in His name. (John 15:7, 16:23-24) When we ask God for things in line with our relationship with Him and in keeping with the character of Christ in us, then the response is going to be affirmative every time. That said, we need to remember the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed earnestly to avoid the cross and all it meant, but His even stronger desire was that God’s perfect plan be accomplished, whatever that meant. (Matthew 26:39) Sometimes God’s plans look horrible for us in the short term, but the end result is always blessing and glory. (Jeremiah 29:11)
When I look back over the 60+ years since I was baptized there are literally countless examples of affirmative answers to prayer, but there are also many examples of negative answers. I am more grateful for some of those negative answers than for some of the affirmative ones! From all of that I have gained an assurance that God is listening, and for that I am hugely grateful. I talk about prayer fairly frequently in this church and I try to encourage people to pray, and I am mystified that so little prayer actually seems to take place. There are those who absolutely panic when asked to pray in public. There is a very real factor of not wanting to be embarrassed, especially in Japanese culture, but that being a factor shows a fundamental lack of understanding of prayer. I obviously can’t get it across by my wisdom and persuasiveness, so I’ve got to depend on the Holy Spirit. A few days ago the Lord was indicating that it would be helpful for me to study Paul’s pastoral prayers, but I haven’t done that yet. Often God’s answers to our prayers depend on our follow-through. I am not to bemoan anything or accuse anyone, but examine my own heart and life, seeking to be fully faithful and obedient to my Lord.
Father, You’ve been shining a light on some of my shortcomings recently. Thank You. Help me not gloss over any of that, but allow You to grow and shape me as You know needs to be done, for the sake of the Body of Christ and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!