II Thessalonians 3:1-5
I’ve been listening to a lot of gospel music lately. I do it because gospel music makes me happy, and offers glimpses of hope in a world that at times seems overshadowed by darkness. One of the songs I’ve come to find solace in goes like this:
Life is easy when you’re up on the mountain;
you’ve got peace of mind like you’ve never known.
But things change when you’re down in the valley;
don’t lose faith, for you’re never alone.
For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley;
when things go wrong, he’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times is still God in the bad times;
the God of the day is still God in the night.[i]
The song acknowledges that life has its ups and downs, its mountains and valleys, and that it’s easy to talk of faith “when life’s at its best.” But when we’re “down in the valley of trials and temptations, that’s where [our] faith is really put to the test” (quotations from the 2nd stanza). Doubtless we know this to be true from our own experience.
St Paul knew it. He had been on the mountaintops with God, borne into the heavens by the Spirit; but he also knew what it was to descend into the valley, to encounter resistance, persecution and evil. It’s moving to see him, a great giant of the faith, beseeching the Thessalonian Christians to pray for him. It is a mark of his humility, I think, and a valuable sign for us. We need one another. We need one another’s prayers. Paul is well aware of his own weakness and of the enormous challenges that are part of his calling, and he is humble enough to implore his fellow Christians to pray for him.
He wants them to know, too, that he is praying for them. He assures them that “the Lord is faithful”and that “[God][ii] will strengthen [them] and guard [them] from the evil one.” He has confidence in God concerning them, and trusts that by God’s grace they will continue to live faithfully even in the face of life’s challenges.
Listen to his prayer for them: “May the Lord direct your hearts,” he says, “to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God” – that is, may you know that you belong to God, that you have been chosen by God in love, that God’s love surrounds you on every side and in every circumstance of life, and that that love can never fail, or be taken from you. You are loved unconditionally, now and forever. Abide in that love, draw strength from it every day, rest in it every night. Whatever you’re going through right now, of this you can be sure: you are deeply loved by God, and always will be. God will never forsake you.
But then Paul adds a second petition: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God,” he says, “and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Look to the example of Christ, says Paul, who for our sake “endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb 12:2). He was steadfast in faith, abiding with confidence in the love of his Father, steadfastly carrying out his mission, even in the face of opposition and rejection. Draw on Christ’s strength, trust in his power, claim his steadfastness and embrace his promise of life. There will be times when you may be tempted to despair, perhaps even times when you question your ability to cope with life; trust that Christ’s strength and steadfastness will pull you through.
For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley…
… the God of the good times is still God in the bad times;
the God of the day is still God in the night.
To our friends and to those of you who may be listening in this evening: know that we brothers are praying for you. With Paul, we ask the Lord to “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ,” so that you may be strengthened for whatever it is you are facing at this time, and that you may be assured that you are held, securely, in God’s loving arms.
Please remember us also in your prayers.
[i] “The God on the Mountain,” sung by Gospel singer Lynda Randle
[ii] or Christ
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