Don’t Worry, Be Prayerful

Prayer - B and W

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Anxiety and worry are sins we tend to minimize. They seem nothing more than natural reactions. Maybe we even regard them as appropriate in view of life’s realities. But does anything strike more closely at the heart of faith? If we trust God, if we believe his promises, then do we worry about the very things he has promised to take care of? That’s exactly what we do, and Paul tell us to stop.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry about things like food or clothing. “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.” In this part of his letter to the Philippians, Paul is dealing with a strained relationship between two ladies. And anxiety has a way of poking its nose into those situations, too, doesn’t it? We worry about how to fix it. We worry about being treated unfairly. We worry what the other person is saying about me. We worry about who is taking sides with whom. Maybe we worry that others will discover my own shameful part in the whole affair.

Such worries certainly spoil our joy. They also stand in the way of reconciliation. But worst is their toxic effect on faith. God calls us to replace such anxiety with trust. Trust the one who has cancelled the anxiety of sin and death by the giving them to his Son to deal with on the cross. Trust the one who invites the weary and burdened to come to him and find rest for their souls. Trust the one who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. How will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Trust the one who has given us every reason for faith and joy.

How does such trust express itself? God will hear it in our prayers, won’t he? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Instead of lugging our load of anxiety around and letting it destroy our joy, pass it off to God. Relieved of the burden, keep on living in joy.

Our Lord is happy to trade our worst for his best. With our fellow man he urges us to show our best. We let our gentleness be evident to all. But with our God we have an invitation to give him our worst. We unload our worry and anxiety on him with prayer. God will hear it, and he will do something about it. Then we are free to live our lives in joy.

Joy and Gentleness

Play-Doh

Philippians 4:4-5 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

A theme of joy pervades this entire letter to the Philippians. But immediately before Paul wrote this admonition to joy, gentleness, prayer, and peace, he addressed a problem between two women in the church at Philippi. Somehow these two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, had gotten crossways with each other. He wants them to settle the issue and get along with each other. Then they can work together again. He asks the rest of the congregation to help them in this.

To this end Paul breaks in with this command: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He expects that, with hostility giving way to joy, other changes will begin to appear as well.

The first fruit he expects joy to produce is “gentleness. There is more to this than meets the eye. “Gentleness” is about the best one-word translation for Paul’s Greek word in this sentence, if we are not going to use a whole paragraph. But since we have a moment to examine it here, I will give you the paragraph. People in positions of power (think of judges or kings) can often afford to show a measure of leniency and moderation. They can offer a controlled response to those below them. Just because those in high position enjoy personal security, and others can do little to hurt them, they are able to be gracious, calm, and generous. Neither fear nor force drives them to act. The sense of confidence their noble identity gives them, makes it possible. It is the way Christ our King has treated us.

We lose this sense of gentleness when we forget we are God’s children. We are royalty in his family. We possess utter safety and security under his protection. We have no reason to feel threatened and insecure. But if we do, protecting our now fragile self-image becomes more important than loving and serving others. We let them get to us and hurt us. We stop acting nobly in kindness and love. We behave more like the riffraff in the city jail—brawling, posturing, and competing.

No doubt Euodia and Syntyche slipped into this kind of behavior. They forgot who they were. Gentleness gave way to scratching and clawing. No doubt you and I have been involved the same kinds of clashes at church. Don’t overlook how spiritually dangerous this can be. In Galatians 5 Paul lists the kinds of sins that prevent people from inheriting the kingdom of God. We easily agree that sexual immorality, idolatry, drunkenness, orgies will do so. But he also includes discord, jealousy, envy, and fits of rage. They are the polar opposite of gentleness, and just as dangerous to our souls as the more “flagrant” sins he lists.

Paul’s solution? “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Joy will make a difference. This isn’t a manufactured peppiness. It isn’t the same as pasting an artificial smile on our faces. This positive and happy expression comes “in the Lord.” In the Lord all our sins are forgiven because Jesus paid for every one of them at the cross. The joy of relief replaces our guilt. In the Lord I already possess my own little piece of heaven. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees eternal life. The joy of that hope replaces our fear. It makes it possible to rejoice in the Lord all the time.

In the Lord I learn that I am not merely a spiritual survivor rescued from disaster. In the Lord we belong to the nobility of heaven. All things in heaven and on earth must serve us, even if they don’t seem to in the moment. We occupy a secure and privileged position. Our joy in who we are by grace, in whom God has made us, inspires our gentleness, even if others aren’t being so gentle with us.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all,” Paul concludes. By that he does not mean “put on a show for everyone to see.” He doesn’t want them to see it as though they were distant spectators watching through binoculars from the upper decks of the stadium. He wants all of them–all of them–to experience this gentleness from us. Let them see it making their own lives more pleasant. Let them feel it like a child getting to know Play-Doh by squeezing it through his own fingers.

How long could Euodia and Syntyche extend their grudge match while squeezing joy and gentleness through their fingers? How long can we maintain grievances when our joy and gentleness are evident to all? Nothing does a better job of burying the hatchet. When grace fills our hearts with godly joy, others will see it in our gentle lives.

Jesus Has the Complete Solution

Puzzle Solution

Mark 7:34-5 “He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man’s tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”

Several years ago we had a plumbing problem under our house. The washing machine kept backing up into the bathtub. We had a home warranty, so we called the home warranty service, and they sent out a plumber, but they weren’t able to get things flowing right. We tried various drain cleaners. We got another plumber. We had a friend try who had some experience with this sort of thing. Finally, my wife went to Home Depot, rented a snake, and got the job done right herself. No more messing around with an incomplete solution.

Jesus didn’t leave the man in our lesson half healed, in need of physical therapy or months of rehabilitation. He wasn’t going to have to visit doctors and speech therapists to finish the job. As soon as Jesus spoke the word, “Ephphatha!” the man’s ears were opened and he could hear. The miracle involved more than his ability to perceive sound. He knew how to process it as well. When we are infants, it takes years to understand what we are hearing. We have to listen for a long time to learn the language so that we know the meaning of the sounds that are entering our heads. Not this man. His ears were opened and he was able to speak plainly. It all made sense to him, and he could express himself as well as understand. Jesus’ solution for him was complete.

That’s nothing unusual in our Savior’s ministry. When Jesus healed the paralytic, he got more than strength restored to his legs. He immediately received the coordination and skill necessary to walk and run. I have read medical accounts of people who were never able to see receiving treatment that gave them their sight. It took them years to understand what they were seeing, to develop a sense of depth perception, to deal with peripheral vision. When Jesus heals blind men in the gospels, even the man born blind, they are immediately able to use the ability they have been given, even joining the crowds in following and praising Jesus.

In his saving work Jesus didn’t die for some sins or most sins. He sacrificed himself once for all. He didn’t do most of the work necessary to redeem us and give us eternal life. On the cross he declared “It is finished.” A member of my church was once talking to a friend about getting to heaven. The friend said, “I just want to make sure that I am going to heaven.” Our church member replied, “I’m a Lutheran, and I know that I am going to heaven.” That is not because he is a Lutheran of course, but because he knows the Bible’s promise. Jesus’ solution for us is complete.

Now you may be thinking, “But my life seems to be filled with a lot of half-complete and incomplete solutions.” Here is our problem: we forget that Jesus wants to do more than fix our immediate crisis and make us happy. More than that, he wants to grow us up in our faith. Paul reminds the Romans that we rejoice in our sufferings, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). James encourages us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). The author of Hebrews urges us to endure hardship as discipline. Why? “Later on…it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Any solution from our Savior that lacked these things would be less complete, not more, wouldn’t it? Jesus doesn’t let us down in this regard. He does everything better than we think, because his solution for our faith is complete.

 

Jesus Gets Personal

Tailor

Mark 7:31-34 “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hands on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’).”

Have you noticed that Jesus did not perform all his miracles of healing in the same way? Sometimes he touches the sick person’s body, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he issues a command to the sick person’s body or to the disease. Sometimes he merely says that the request is granted. In a couple of cases he makes no verbal reference to the disease at all. Sometimes his makes use of some other things in his healings–a little mud, a little water, even a little spit.

Why the difference? The healing of this deaf man helps us see that Jesus’ care and concern for each individual whom he helps is personal. This man was deaf, so his friends could not tell him, “We are taking you to Jesus to get help.” He had literally never heard of Jesus. In the hustle and bustle of the crowd, this man could well have been confused about what was happening, and who was helping him. So Jesus takes him aside where he can be sure that he has the deaf man’s attention.

Then Jesus wants to communicate to the man what he was about to do. He doesn’t want the man to think that his condition spontaneously changed. He should know that Jesus is the loving Savior who has helped him. But how does one tell this to a deaf person before the invention of a standard system of sign language? Jesus’ series of gestures tells the man what he needs to know. The fingers in the ears, the spitting, touching the tongue–all of this indicate that something is going to happen to his ears and mouth. The look to heaven indicates divine power at work. The great sigh perhaps even communicates the great heart of love out of which the gracious gift would flow. Jesus has tailored the details of this healing to show his concern to this man in a very personal way.

Jesus’ concern for us is still so personal. His help, his love, his involvement in our lives is still tailored to fit each of us in a unique and individual way. Isn’t it strange, then, how often we feel that the only time God is singling me out for special treatment is when I think he has singled me out to make me suffer. We dwell on our discontent. Everyone else is healthier than me, wealthier, prettier, more successful, smarter, more athletic, more artistic, happier, more popular, or more gifted. “Nobody,” we tell ourselves, “has to put up with what I put up with.” At best, we begin to doubt God’s intelligence or his love. And doubt is the opposite of faith. Worse yet, many times people are angry at God. No one likes to admit it. They say that they are mad at their boss, mad at their spouse, mad at their parents, mad at society, mad at their “situation.” But probe and prod, and we find that we are actually mad at God, because his perceived mistreatment of us feels so personal.

The truth is, Jesus has designed a plan to care for us and love us that fits each one of us to a “T.” And he never wavers, he never strays from the path, in putting that plan into effect. Even our salvation fits us so well. Maybe it seems that salvation is more of a generic, unisex, one-size-fits-all affair. The same Savior carried everyone’s sins to the same cross, where he suffered the same punishment for them, and purchased the same forgiveness in dying the same death, after which he offers the same eternal life by his same resurrection from the dead.

But if that same solution works for every one of us, it is because we all shared the same need. Christ’s love is such that he would have willingly, even gladly, died for any one of us, even if I were the only one who ever sinned. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. But he also gave him for me. Our Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. That’s the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

So Jesus also has tailor-made a life for each one of us in which just the right people have been involved to bring us the gospel at just the right time. Just the right crosses have been fashioned to fit us and keep us in humility, and make us aware of our never-ending need for the Savior whose blood has bought us and whose power sustains us. He brings us relief just when it serves us best. We can trust the choices Jesus makes for our lives, because his concern and care for us is so personal.

Because He Is The Son of God

Jesus Before Pilate

John 19:6-7 “As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’ The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’”

The chief priests and Jewish leaders had been complaining about Jesus’ claim to be king. Now they come to the real issue. They didn’t care about the Roman government. They believed that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. Obviously they would not have been so vexed if Jesus meant that he was merely a son of God, a believer, an Israelite. But that’s not what he meant, and that’s not what anyone understood him to say. He claimed to be the Son of God.

Jesus made no secret of his divine identity. In John 8 the Jews tried to stone him after he told them, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I Am,” identifying himself with the Lord who appeared to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Less than a year later, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication and made the claim, “I and the Father are one.” The Apostle John tells us, “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” His claims to be the Son of God inspired their calls for his death.

Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God still make people see red. Why are Christian missionaries put to death in certain parts of the world? It is not because of the humanitarian aid that they bring. It is not because they preach Jesus as a nice guy who teaches us to love our neighbor. It’s because they preach Jesus as the Son of God. That truth confronts the falseness and futility of the gods they have set up for themselves. If they can’t kill the leader, they will kill his messengers.

Why have people been fleeing the Christian faith in the United States, making those who identify as “Nones” (no religion) the fastest growing “religious” group? Western Europe is all but completely dark and secular. It’s not because Jesus claimed to be nice, or wise. He claimed to be the Son of God. That leaves no room for my own ideas about sexual choices, priorities, or my own claims to goodness and decency. The more we have rejected his claims on our time, our behavior, and our beliefs, the more we have called for him to die as a part of our lives. In every age, the problem with humanity is the same: when the real God shows up, they call for his death. They want him out of their lives, whether literally or metaphorically.

The bare fact that Jesus is the Son of God, however, calls for our trust, just because of who he is. Once you find the true God, does it make sense to follow any other?

Look again at the scene in Pilate’s court. The Son of God stands before the governor. He can create the universe out of words, send down fire from heaven, control the winds and the seas, and bring the dead back to life. He has control over the chief priests, the Romans, and each of us as well.

But what does he look like? He is a man, and a rather humiliated man at that. He stands there soaked in his own blood. He endures the insults of Jewish official and Roman governor alike. His own people are calling for his death because he claims to be who he is: the Son of God. The governor values Jesus’ life less than the governor’s own political career. It is more convenient, less of an interruption to his day, to let Jesus be killed. Jesus doesn’t speak in his own defense. He does not plead for justice. He does not power his way out of the predicament. The Son of God endures it all, and then crucifixion and death.

Why? This is how much he loves you. This is how intent he is to see your sins forgiven, your soul redeemed, your heaven secured. You won’t find love like that from any of the gods in any of the holy books in any of the world’s other religions, even if they were something more than myth. Only here. Only Jesus. “He claims to be the Son of God,” they say, and he is. And the fact that he endures so much to save you invites our faith in his grace.

Loves Even Traitors

Judas

John 13:21 “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus knew what was waiting for him later this night and the next day. We should be surprised if his spirit wasn’t troubled. He knew that he would be beaten, scourged, crucified, and killed. He knew that he would be deserted by his disciples, mocked by his enemies, even abandoned by the heavenly Father on the cross. Does a man sit on death row without feeling some sense of dread at what is about to happen to him?

But that was not the issue that occupied Jesus’ thoughts at this moment. He is not thinking about himself. He is thinking about someone close to him. From our perspective in time, we find Judas disgusting. We are appalled at his decision to sell the Redeemer of the world, the best friend anyone could ever have, for the equivalent of about 4 months salary, one third of your annual income. We have made his name synonymous with treachery.

But Jesus loved Judas, even Judas, with his whole heart. Out of the whole population of Palestine, Jesus had made this man part of his inner circle. Judas was one of his twelve chosen and closest friends. He trusted him to take care of his money. He was an integral part of this brotherhood, a dear member of this family of faith. Jesus didn’t choose Judas and trust Judas just to set him up. He didn’t seek Judas because he needed someone to play the traitor’s role. That’s not how our Savior works. He wants all men to be saved. He treasured Judas’s friendship, appreciated his gifts, valued his contribution to the team.

In fact, he regarded Judas so highly that, with all the things facing him in the next twenty-four hours–torture, crucifixion, and death– the loss of Judas is what troubled his spirit at this moment. If Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who was not part of the Twelve, then the thought of what Judas was about to do was especially hard to bear.

You and I are not Judas, at least not now. But we can still learn from Jesus’ relation to him. If we are contemplating sin, if we think it will be our little secret, Jesus knows. He knows if we visit that website. He knows what we slipped out of the cash register or out of the supplies at work. He knows that our excuse for being late was a lie.

And our sins trouble him, not just because they are damning and they condemn us to hell. Jesus is the one who grieves over sinners because he loves them, in spite of their sin. The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s grace as something in which we now stand, an ongoing attitude of forgiveness flowing from God to us at all times. The Apostle John tells us that God is love. That is not an abstract concept. That is a real and warm concern that he has for us at all times. It is why Jesus was about to do what he was about to do–give his life for the sins of the world.

If Jesus’ spirit is troubled over the loss of Judas, a traitor, we mean so much to him as well. His grace calls us back to him. His grace assures us he forgives us. His grace promises that we are accepted and loved.

What If God Were One of Us?

Jesus dead

Hebrews 2:16-17 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Since death entered our world, a lot of things die. Plants can die. Animals can die. Even angels, who don’t have a body, can be thrown out of God’s presence–in that sense “die.” But Jesus did not come to save any of them. He became what he came to save, a human being, a descendant of Abraham. An old Joan Osborne song asks the question “What if God was one of us?” Then it wanders around in speculations about what this would mean. Here in Hebrews, it’s not a question, but a statement, a promise. God’s Son Jesus IS one of us. Then it tells us what this means.

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Jesus’ genetics were just like yours and mine. You know that when you cross a horse with a donkey, you get a mule–something that has some characteristics of both the horse and the donkey. But a mule is not the same thing as either a horse or a donkey. Jesus’ conception by the power of the Holy Spirit did not make him something like a human being, sharing some of our characteristics but not the same thing. His body functioned just like yours. He did not have altered or improved DNA. He was like us in every way, except for sin, which isn’t really part of what makes us human anyway.

This was necessary for his high priestly work. Priests offer sacrifices. That is what Jesus came to do. Someone other than a human being could perform the procedures necessary to have a sacrifice. You could train an unusually intelligent chimpanzee how to go through the ritual of slitting a lamb’s throat and arranging the carcass on the altar. Or God uses angels in Scripture to fight battles and deliver important messages. Performing a sacrificial ritual would be easy work for them to do. But this misses the point.

As our merciful and faithful high priest, Jesus came to offer a sacrifice like no other. He offers himself. He offers himself where each of us should have been offered. The point of Biblical sacrifices is not to feed God, as in some religions. In Psalm 50 the Lord says, “I have no need of a bull from your stall…If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you.” A sacrifice, rather, is God’s way of sparing someone from getting what he deserves. He allows a substitution to be made.

A lamb, a goat, a calf, or a pigeon doesn’t make an appropriate or effective substitution for a human being. The only substitute that matches is another human being. But he must be innocent: no death-deserving sin of his own. Jesus is the flesh and blood Savior who serves as our substitute. He satisfies God’s demand for justice, “that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” It’s all possible now that God is one of us.

Fear and Death Destroyed

Grim Reaper Cross

Hebrews 2:14-15 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Death is a problem. Is that a statement of the obvious? We can even say that death is the problem. This is true on a number of different levels.

Death is the problem because it gives the devil power over us. It’s not just that death is painful to experience, destroys our earthly bodies, and ends our earthly relationships. Death is the consequence of our sin. We suffer it because we are members of the rebellious family of mankind, and we have mounted our own personal rebellions against God. Sin qualifies us to share the devil’s fate in hell. It disqualifies us for life in God’s presence. The power of death is its power to make sure we get what our sins deserve.

Since God is the one who determines when each person will die, he has power over death. But God doesn’t want to use death for its original purpose. “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone” he says through the prophet Ezekiel.

The one who infected humanity with death by leading our first parents to sin is the devil. The one who is constantly working to arrange for us to die in unbelief is the devil. Death, used for its original purpose to judge and destroy the enemies of God, is the power of the devil. He introduced it and still manipulates it to keep us from God and heaven.

Death is a problem because it makes us slaves to fear. Until we know what Jesus has done for us, we are “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Fear is a powerful motivator. It gets you to do things you otherwise would not. It drives us to all kinds of bizarre behaviors. It inspires silly superstitions, like trusting in rabbit’s feet and avoiding the cracks on the sidewalk. It makes us selfish and unwilling to share with others. We horde and we hide because we fear the day when our own stock will run out, and we freeze or starve to death. It keeps us awake all night, afraid of the boogeyman as children, afraid of dread disease as adults.

Jesus became a flesh and blood Savior because he came to deal with our death. He does so by his own death. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death…” Death, by definition, involves a separation–whether the separation of the soul from the body, or the separation of the sinner from God. God is a Spirit. Neither of these separations are possible for him as such. So Jesus shared in our humanity so that he could die.

By his death he destroys the one who holds the power of death, that is the devil. He didn’t make the devil cease to exist. He took away his deathly power. He ruined the devil’s work of damning souls. Jesus’ death made himself look weak, but it is actually the most powerful thing in the world.

When you split an atom, that atom “dies,” if you will, and you unleash incredible power. When you split the flesh and blood Son of God from his soul, and from his Father, in his death at the cross, incredible power is unleashed. A chain reaction begins that serves the death sentence for everyone’s sin. Satan is left disrobed and disarmed, a whimpering little spirit whose deadliest weapon has been taken away from him.

Jesus also “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might…free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” The death of our flesh and blood Savior removes our fear because it promises us God is not going to punish us for our sins. It removes our fear that death is going to be the end. Now we know that it is the gateway to life that never ends.

This sets us free to live our lives without the guilt trips, and without the superstitions, and without the desperation and panic that comes with the belief that I have to look out for number one and save myself. Jesus shares our flesh and blood to deal with our death and end our slavish fears.

Stronger Hearts

Heart dumbell

1 Thessalonians 3:13 “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

Do you like to exercise? I have reached the age when doing something that uses muscles I don’t use while sitting at my desk leads to feeling it in my back, my shoulders, or in my legs the next day. In order to get into better shape, I need to expand what I do. But in order to stay in shape I also need to repeat what I do. Exercise those muscles just one time, and they won’t become so strong. They will merely be sore.

Doesn’t the strengthening of the faith in our hearts call for a similar plan? We need to expand our exposure to God’s word, and hear facets of the gospel we hadn’t heard before. We need to gain new insights into his great love for us. As Paul wrote the Ephesians, “May (you) have power together will all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Then our faith grows broader.

But we also need to drive it deeper. We need to repeat those things we already know about God’s love. Using the same muscle over and over makes it strong. Hearing the same gospel over and over makes faith strong. This is how God answers our prayer to strengthen our hearts.

Even a little, wavering, struggling faith is a saving faith. But Paul didn’t want the Thessalonians to stagger to the finish line with a faith that barely got them through life. He wanted them to have a strong faith that lived in full confidence of God’s grace. He wanted there to be no doubt they would stand before God on the day of Jesus’ return, “blameless and holy,” washed from every spot of sin by Jesus’ blood received by faith.

I pray the same for you. I would like you to accomplish great things for God. I would like you to be shining examples of Christian faith to the people around you. But more than anything, I pray that God will strengthen your hearts so that you will make it all the way, and you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when Jesus comes with all his holy ones.