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About this series
The Awesome Power of Encouragement
Do you know someone who needs a spiritual "shot in the arm?" Do you long to receive encouragement from others and be the kind of person who brings out others' highest potential? First Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's game plan for encouraging believers. This book teaches practical ways to bring hope and love into the lives of those you care about most, and also presents the New Testament's clearest teaching about the future of the Church - the rapture.More from this series
There are a lot of people that feel desperately confused, very guilty, and when they need to come and be with God’s people the most, it’s when they tend to come the least.
The first two years of my Christian life were some of the most joyful, confusing, difficult, and frustrating of my whole life. I didn’t know anything. I had never opened the Bible until I was eighteen, I didn’t know much about this new life, and boy, I was forgiven and I had peace and I had purpose and I was excited about it but I’d take one or two steps this way and then, boom, four or five back this way.
And I’d make real decisions about really wanting to follow God and address issues in my life and three days later I’d find myself doing just the thing I said I didn’t want to do anymore.
And then I’d feel guilty at church, then I felt this, and then I, pretty soon I learned how to sleep in and then avoid Christians. And then I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought my faith must be defective.
But it was real and I kept longing and wanting to be near to Christ but it was so hard and I got so frustrated. You know what I didn’t understand?
Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, there are spiritual laws that govern our lives. And the law I didn’t know about was the law of entropy. That’s the second law of thermodynamics for all the non-engineers and science majors who didn’t study that part.
It has to do, basically, with that well-known fact in life that when you go on a diet you can work, work, work, work, work to lose ten pounds and you can gain it back in three days. It’s that well known fact that when you clean your garage that it doesn’t keep getting cleaner and cleaner. It just starts getting dirty. That when you wash your car, three days later it starts looking bad again.
That when you make commitments, that when you move and work in relationships it gets better and better and better. Just do nothing – it’ll get worse. You see, the entire universe is moving from order into chaos. Things aren’t getting better and better and better. Things, left to themselves, do what? They get worse!
And it’s true spiritually. Every single one of us will go through seasons where, in your heart of hearts, you will find yourself drifting away from God. Now, I think it’s much more common among young Christians because when it happens to us we didn’t know what was going on.
But old Christians aren’t immune to it. You’ve got this lure of the world that’s happening every day. And then you got the lust of your own flesh and then the tempter comes in and those three things all concert together to draw your heart away from God.
And so then you’re away one weekend or you skip a couple three days of reading the Scripture and the prayers are just a little perfunctory and you have a good relationship and you back away from that and pretty soon those things, layer upon layer, upon layer, upon layer… and you find yourself , the last one to know usually, drifting away from Christ.
And it can happen to anyone. In fact, it does happen to everyone to some degree all the time. And that’s what I want to talk about. That’s what the apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, is going to talk about tonight.
How in the world do you overcome this magnetic draw away from Christ? Let me give you a couple symptoms if you can’t already think about what they are, when spiritual entropy begins to occur in your life. I think there are internal symptoms and I think there are external symptoms.
The internal ones: first, at least in my own experience, time in the Scriptures becomes unfocused, sporadic, then negligible. Prayer becomes shallow, inconsistent, less honest, and then perfunctory. You know? Just do it around the table because we’re supposed to.
The external symptoms: first, our schedule. The pace and busyness of life, work, hobbies, families, and activities – it seems to increase. It’s an amazing thing, when I drift away from God my schedule gets busier, and busier, and fuller, and fuller.
And then our decisions: When you begin to drift, pressure replaces priorities in the decision-making process.
And then finally, our fellowship. This is the last to go, actually. These other things have been operating at least when that happens in my heart. But regular fellowship in church, in Bible studies, small-group involvement, in your service and ministry – it becomes increasingly, first it starts sporadic. You start, you hit and miss, you know?
And then, after you hit and miss, then you rationalize, “We need this time out. We need to get away. We need to be refreshed.” And then something comes up and then you don’t feel all that good and pretty soon it seems like a couple weeks but it’s been a couple of months. And you’ve distanced yourself from God’s people. Have you been there?
I have. I’ve been there a bunch, multiple times in my life. Those are the symptoms when spiritual entropy begins to occur. Here’s the danger: The danger is the longer we drift the more difficult it is to return.
The word picture that comes to my mind is that of a little boat, like a little rowboat drifting out to sea. The farther it drifts, the greater the danger. Picture, if you will, a little rowboat and it’s out by the harbor, and then it gets out past the harbor, and then the waves, and the currents, and the winds, and it gets beyond the horizon. Now, it’s so far away from shore no one can see it.
Spiritually, there are people that you know and there are people that I know, who are spiritually drifting away from God, and the truth, and all the things that we know are right. It happens. In fact, it happens so regularly that in Hebrews 3:13 we are given a command about how to relate to one another. It says, “But encourage,” build up, “but encourage one another,” when? “day after day as long as it is still called today.” Now, how many days does that apply to?
When you wake up what do you usually call it? Today. “Encourage one another day after day as long as it’s still called today,” why? “lest anyone of you be hardened, your hearts be hardened, by the deceitfulness of sin.”
See, no one wakes up and says, “You know something? You know, God’s been so good to me, He loves me, He’s restored relationships, He’s done such a work of grace in my life, I never knew what peace was, I’ve got forgiveness, I’ve got purpose, He’s used me in the lives of other people. Today would be a good day just to drop out. You know? I think I’ll just quit the Christian life today,” no one wakes up and does that.
You do it by little, tiny degrees. The question then is, “Who do you know that is in spiritual danger?” If you visualized in your mind a little rowboat, drifting past the harbor and then the wind and the current taking it out to sea, who is in that boat? Is it you? Is it a friend? Is it a family member? A mate? A child? Is it a coworker? You know they’re a believer and you’ve watched the slide. Is it an old friend from college?
Who is it? Who would be in that boat if God would bring someone to your mind that you know and you can sense they are drifting away from Him, who would go in there? See, that’s the big question because you need to listen tonight with two ears.
I mean, the goal is you do that all the time. But with one ear, I want you to listen to what God is going to speak to us and say to yourself, “How does that apply to me?” But with the other ear, I want you to listen to everything you hear and I want you to say, “Oh, God, who is in that little rowboat that the current is pulling out, they’re going farther and farther away from shore, and they’re going to destroy themselves. They’re going to have a fractured family, they’re going to end up shipwrecking their faith, they’re going to end up doing something very, very dumb and it’s going to cost them a lot, and it’s going to embarrass Your name, and it’s going to embarrass Your Church, and they will reap the consequences forever.”
Who is it? Because I’m going to tell you, there’s a lot at stake tonight. This is exactly the situation that the apostle Paul is going to write into. There’s a church he’s been away from for, plus or minus two years, eighteen to twenty-four months.
And he knows that there’s incredible persecution on the outside and he knows there’s great temptation on the inside. And he, literally, can’t sleep at night and he can’t sleep at night because he’s fearful.
And what he’s fearful about is that all their labor, all their preaching, all their discipling is going to go straight down the tubes because these people are going to spiritually drift, and they’re going to end up shipwrecked, and after coming to Christ they’re going to drift away and there’s going to be no impact, no fruit, no church, and you know what? This is something that makes the apostle Paul’s heart beat and pound and it’s one of his passions.
And what we’re going to look at tonight is a letter he writes to that group where he jumps into what I want to call his “9-1-1 rescue response.” If you’ll open your study notes, we’re going to look here and we’re going to see that there is a way to help people.
I’ve been in restaurants, I’ve seen the people come in, I think, “They used to go to our church,” and then I rationalize, “They’re probably going somewhere else.”
And I sit here at a restaurant or in the mall just like this and as I sit here I don’t say anything. I don’t say anything because I don’t want them to reject me, I don’t say anything because I think they’ll think I’m butting into their lives, I don’t say anything because I’m not obeying Scripture.
What we’re going to learn tonight is what to say and how to say it and how to do it in such a way where those people, you’re going to be like a little tugboat. And as those people are drifting out of the harbor into danger, God is going to show us, through the apostle Paul, how in the little tugboat you can come alongside, throw a little anchor, or whatever rope you throw over, hook onto their boat, and pull them into safety.
And you won’t be pushy, you won’t be holier than thou, and it’ll happen in a way that will restore them to the Savior.
And so let’s look at the model that the apostle Paul gives us here. He’s going to model a 9-1-1 rescue response.
In verses 13 through 16, of chapter 2, Paul thanks God continually for the manner in which the Thessalonians received the Word of God. Now, just before I read it, listen carefully. Here’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to tell them, “I am so impressed,” notice he starts very positively. He’s going to say, “I’m so impressed about how authentic your faith is,” and then he’s going to say, “I know it’s authentic because you have held strong, even in the midst of persecution.”
And then he’s going to have a little aside where he talks about the evil of those who persecute the Church and then the judgment that God’s going to have on it.
So follow along with me, verse 13 he says, “And for this reason we constantly thank God that when you received from us the Word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Do you hear what he’s saying? He’s communicating his gratitude.
He says, “I’m continually thankful for you.” By the way, that’s the best way to start with people. Be thankful and communicate your gratitude for times in your shared experience when you know their faith was authentic, when it was operating well.
Now, how does he know? Look at verse 14, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea: for you endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen even as they did from the Jews.” He’s going back to the early days, they received the Word, you came to Christ, you had a lot of pressure, you had a lot of persecution. He says, “Hey, I want to congratulate you and I want to thank God for those early times in your faith where I saw you stand up under difficult times.”
In fact, the little phrase here where it says, “You received the Word of God,” where he says, “not as a word from men but from God,” and then he says, “which also performs its work in you,” that word for “work,” we get our word “energy.” It’s used in the New Testament for a supernatural activity. He says, “There was clear evidence of a supernatural working of the Spirit of God through the Word of God that was transforming your life even in the midst of great persecution.”
Now, he has a little aside in verse 15 and 16. He says that just as the Jews persecuted him, and the Lord, their countrymen are doing it to them. And he goes on, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out.” Now notice his description of the enemies of the cross of Christ.
One, they are not pleasing to God. Two, they are hostile to all men. Three, they’ve been hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles, in order that they might be saved, with the result that they’re always filling up the measure of their sins. Then notice the conclusion, “But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”
He paints a picture of real gratitude. And he does it in the context of, “I know it’s real because I reached back into our shared experience and how you walked with God in the midst of hard times against some pretty tough cookies.”
So here’s the application. I’m going to give you four steps of rescue intervention. Step one: Communicate your gratitude for the authenticity of their faith in the midst of spiritual opposition.
See, when I’m sitting in that restaurant, or when I’m at the mall, or when I bump into someone, or if I see someone at church and I know, “Man, it’s been a long time since they’ve been here, or they’ve not been to our Bible study group or whatever,” see, how they’re feeling is how we felt when we’ve been there or maybe some of you are there tonight.
You feel down on yourself, you feel like you know, you’ve got to perform and do something good to get God to love you, which isn’t true, but you feel that way. You think everyone is down on you, and you think everyone is going to really get hard on you, if you go back.
And so what you need is people to help you, and love you, and support you, and you do what I do. I tend to avoid them at that time. So guess what we need to do. We need to communicate our gratitude to God for the authenticity of their faith. And you need to reach back in a shared experience.
In one of my surgeries, I had the chance to lead a young mom to the Lord. And I led her to the Lord and she comes from a very difficult background – her father is an atheist, she had never been in a church in her life, but little by little as I went to physical therapy, I got to share my faith and then she began to read the Scriptures on her own, and little by little she trusted Christ.
And early on she was very, very faithful in church and making good progress. But she’s got all these demands, and all these pressures, and you know how it is, right? In those early years?
And I hadn’t seen her for quite some time. And so she stopped in to Saturday night and I just, first of all, I think the way you greet people is important. I just said, “Oh, it’s so good to see you. I’m so glad you’re here.” You see, that’s a lot better than, “Oh, where have you been?” You understand what I’m saying? You know, let’s communicate some love.
Everybody in this room has dropped the ball spiritually and if you haven’t, you will. So, what we need to do is be positive and encouraging towards people. Well, she needed to pick something up and I gave a couple words of encouragement but there wasn’t much time and she swung by the office to pick something up.
And then I was able to share. I said, “Boy, you know, I think of when you trusted Christ, the impact you’ve had there. And, you know, the steps you’ve taken, how it’s impacted your family, I am so thankful to God for how He has already used your life and the authenticity,” I didn’t use this word but I communicated it, “the authenticity of your faith.”
And you could just see her eyes start to light up. She was starting to remember, “Oh yeah, yeah.” And then you know? So guess what her next line is. “Oh, you know, I need to be here a lot more often. You know, I miss everyone and I’ve just… I’m listening… you know, I’m reading on my own, and then I was able to say, “Yeah, you know, I think all that’s really great. But we miss you. It’s not a matter of just what you need. You see, God has given you something, and as you come you have something to give to the body, and we’re incomplete without you. We really miss you. But I’m thankful to God for all He’s done in you.” Do you hear that?
Have you got step one of rescue intervention? That’s how you communicate to people that are drifting away. Now, we’re going to talk about step two in just a second. Let’s look at what the apostle Paul does.
After he communicates his gratitude then he expresses genuine concern. Verse 17, “But we, brethren, having been bereft,” that’s an interesting word. The NIV I like a little better says, “Having been torn away from you for a short period, in person, not in spirit, we’re all the more eager with great desire to see you face to face.”
By the way, this little word “bereft,” or “bereaved,” is the idea, you might circle it. It means to be physically separated but also with mental anguish. It’s an involuntary separation. One commentator says you could translate it, “orphaned.”
Do you hear what he’s doing? He’s communicating his sincere concern. This isn’t perfunctory, this isn’t, “Oh, we happen to go to church together.” This is, “I care about you.”
And notice the word here, he says, “We have great desire.” It’s the most emphatic, intensive form of that verb that you can have. In fact, that same word is translated, in a negative way, of being extremely lustful. Exact same word but it’s used in a positive way here.
He’s saying, “My heart beats for you! And even though we’ve separated geographically, I’ll tell you what, you’re…” Out of sight out of mind doesn’t happen to the apostle Paul. “Out of sight? Deep in my heart.” He says, “I greatly desire to see your face,” why? “for we wanted to come to you. I, Paul, more than once and yet Satan thwarted us.”
Do you get the picture? The apostle Paul is saying, “You matter. I’m concerned about you. Not only am I grateful for what God’s done in your life but I’m concerned about you, and I care about you, and I love you.”
And it was almost like they’ve had no contact. It would be like someone that you haven’t heard from in a long, long time saying, “Oh, I’m glad I finally got to see you and I’ve really missed you.” And you say, “Yeah, right.”
And then they have a box and they say, “Here.” And you say, “What’s in the box?” “Oh, you open it.” And you take the box and you open it. And there’s a stack of thirty letters in it. And somehow they couldn’t get the right address, they couldn’t find you.
And on the corner, stamped in red in every letter it says, “Return to sender,” “Return to sender.” And here, for a two-year period there are thirty letters, they’ve been thinking about you every month, every two weeks, writing you a letter, praying for you. You just didn’t know it.
That’s what he’s saying here. Then notice the reason. Look at verse 19, “For who is our hope, our joy, or our crown of exultation?” I mean, why do we live? Why do we get up?
The apostle Paul says, “I don’t get up so that I earn more money this year. I don’t get up to find out what’s going on in the stock market. I don’t get up just so that my life will be successful, wealthy, happy, comfortable, and all my circumstances turn out right. I get up in the morning, and I live for your spiritual welfare and progress. You are our hope, our joy, and our crown.”
There are two words for “crown” in the New Testament. This one is in reference to a crown of victory. It’s the idea of royalty coming and arriving with his crown, as a sign of honor, and he says, notice what his crown is: “Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” He says, “The day when I come to Christ, whether He comes back,” or whether I die and go to Him, when I go to Him, and when I go up to that believer’s judgment that doesn’t have anything to do with our sin because that’s dealt with but it has everything to do with reward, the crown that I’ll wear on my head of victory and royalty will be my relationship with you as a church. I invested in you. I loved you. I led you to Christ. I built into your life. I gave my life. And when I stand before God, you are my crown, my joy, and my hope.” In fact, he repeats it, look at the last line: “For you are our glory and joy.”
Now, you know something? If the person, even if it’s you – you need to get to know some others, but if the person in that little rowboat that you have pictured in your mind is drifting out to sea, and is spiritually adrift from Christ, can you imagine what would happen if someone communicated that they really cared? I mean, they really cared. Not perfunctory.
In fact, step two of our rescue intervention is: Express your sincere concern for them, as a person. I put that very purposefully. Not as a project, not out of duty, not, “I’m making seven calls and I hadn’t seen you in church lately,” you know? “You’re on my list, I’m on the Slipping-Away-Falling-Away-Back-Slidden-Recovery-Committee.” You know? Give me a break.
People need to know that, in your heart of hearts, they matter. Most people don’t believe anybody thinks they matter. Express your sincere concern for them, as a person. How? With words and ways that make sense to them.
I was the black sheep of the college ministry that I was involved in. In fact, one guy, I’ll share later, said, “I don’t think you’re ever going to amount to anything.” And I had trouble getting up and going to church. Everyone went to Bible studies and I blew about half of them off. I still remember a couple that I fell asleep at.
Everybody was memorizing a couple verses a week and I said, “Look, guys, if you want to do that, fine. They’re all in here. Why, you know, mess up my brain with spending all that time?”
I wanted to grow in Christ as long as it didn’t cost anything. That was my motto. And so I kept getting involved in a number of things that were not very healthy for me. But you know what? Timothy is really right as the Spirit of God speaks through him.
You can deny Him but He won’t deny you. He really won’t. And you can deny Him so that the blessings of God can be off your life but, see, something happened when you trusted Christ, if you really trusted Christ. You said “yes” to Him, and God said “yes” to you. You can break your word ‘til the cows come in; He’ll never break His word to you.
He won’t let go of you. He’ll make your life miserable until you come back to Him but He won’t let go of you. “Well, He’s making my life miserable!” And, finally, in a moment of weakness, I said to my roommate, “Bob, I’m tired of this. I’m living on the fence and it’s very uncomfortable.”
And I said, “Will you help me? I really want to walk with God but I’m just lazy and I keep blowing it off and…” He said, “Okay, well, I’ll help you. I’ll help you get up for church.” And he said, “The other thing I’m going to do, I’m going to help you because, man, Chip…” Bob was big, strong wrestler, heavyweight wrestler at our college, big dude about 235, 240, his arms were like my thighs or close. Huge guy.
And he said, “Chip, until you get in God’s Word for yourself, you’ll never grow. Every morning I get up and I have a quiet time.” And I said, “Bob, every morning I like to sleep!” He said, “Well, Chip, do you do you mean business or not?” I said, “Yeah, Bob, I really want to do it.” I said, “No matter what I say in the morning, you help me get up.” This is the kind of concern, this is the kind of concern that goes to the nth degree.
So I’m doing what I do best early in the morning, at that point in my life, sleeping. And the alarm goes off, get rid of that thing, it’s a nuisance. I had the habit of throwing on my sweats five minutes before class and running into class with a baseball hat on. Many of you students understand that life.
And so it went off in time for a quiet time. Bob says, “Get up, Chip.” “Ah, get out of here, Bob.” “Chip, you told me to wake you up.” I said, “Hey, Bob, get out of my face, man, I’ll read the Bible tomorrow.”
Bob reaches down to my ankle, true story, because he didn’t do this once. He took my ankle and he lifted me up just like this, out of my bed. And then he, hey, he could do it with one arm. And he lifts me up, walks me over, and he said, “Drinking fountain or shower?” Man, I said, “Bob! Get away!”
And he said, “We’ll try the drinking fountain today,” and he hits the drinking fountain and it’s pouring over me, and I’m going like this, he said, “Chip, you made a commitment.” I said, “Bob, okay, put me down. So help me, I’ll read my Bible, okay?”
So he took me down and I got up and I read my Bible. The next morning he took me into the shower. The next morning I got up on my own. He got me to church, he called, he reminded, he prayed, he invited me to meals, he took me home with him on breaks, he brought homemade cookies from his mom, he loved me in a way that made sense to me. He cared. He cared when it is easy, he cared when it was hard. Bob wouldn’t give up on me and he wouldn’t let me give up on my faith.
There is someone you know, and I want you picture them again in a tiny, little rowboat, and the current is taking them out, and the waves are getting big, and the sharks are circling, and they’re just about out of the horizon, and someone better get in a boat and go out after them.
And you can save them. But if you don’t they’re going to get eaten up. We’re a body. We belong to one another. We matter to one another. And so step number one: Communicate your gratitude for the authenticity of their faith. Step number two: Express your sincere concern for them, as a person, in ways and means that make sense to them.
Now, the apostle Paul will tell us step number three. Paul is going to demonstrate his deep concern and genuine fear and because of that, he will send Timothy to encourage the Thessalonians. In chapter 3, verses 1 to 5, he’s basically going to say, “You know what? I’ve been up nights, I’ve been pacing the floors, I don’t know how you’re doing, I am going absolutely nuts and so what I did is I sent Timothy to find out about how you’re doing.”
He pursues a relational connection. Look at it. Verse 1 of chapter 3, “Therefore, when we could endure it no longer we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone.” And you ought to jot in your Bible: 2 Corinthians. Because you’ll learn that when Paul was in Athens he was having a very difficult time. It’s one of the few times in the Bible we learn of a great apostle where he says, “Man, I am depressed. I am down.”
And yet, rather than keeping a close friend he says, “Hey, Timothy, I may be down, I may be depressed but I’ve got to find out how they’re doing.” By the way, do you hear what’s behind this passage? Do you love people or not? Do I love people or not?
Do you? If you do, you go after them. If you don’t, then you rationalize like I do and, “Oh yeah, they’re probably this and probably that.” And then three years later, “Oh yeah, I heard they’re separated.” Four years later they’re divorced. Five years later there are two kids bouncing around all over the county, two days here, three days here, and you and I saw it five years ago.
But, you know, what would they think if we pry into their life? They might thank us for all eternity is what they might think.
“When I could endure it no longer I thought it was best to be left in Athens alone and we sent Timothy, our brother, and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ,” why? “to strengthen,” literally the word means “to support,” “and to encourage,” or comfort, “you as to your faith,” why? “so that no man may be disturbed,” NIV: unsettled, “by these afflictions.”
The word “disturbed” or “unsettled” means “shaken” or to be lured away by a deceptive means. That happens to all of us. He said, “We sent Timothy because, man, we are uptight in our soul because we know that every believer will encounter spiritual entropy. And they’ll get unsettled, they’ll get disturbed, their faith will get shaken, and they’ll be lured away.”
“For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” The apostle Paul basically says, “All that jazz you hear on the radio and on TV about, ‘Come to Jesus and all your problems will go away and you’ll be healthy and wealthy and drive nice cars is a bunch of baloney!’” He said, “When you follow Christ you’ll be destined for swimming upstream in a downstream world. It will be hard, it will be difficult, but you’ll have the truth. And you’ll have purpose, and you’ll have peace, and you’ll have all the things that matter but it won’t be easy.”
Notice what he says: “For this reason then when I could endure it no longer I also sent to find out about your faith for fear that the tempter might have tempted you,” the tense of the verb here: it was already occurring, “and that our labor should be in vain.”
Let’s bring it into our day. Step number three of our rescue intervention for that person in that little boat drifting out to the spiritual sea is: Pursue a specific means of relational connection for the purpose of spiritual encouragement and protection.
It’s not enough to know who they are, it’s not enough just to drop them a note, it’s not enough to start really caring, it’s not enough just to express your concern. You’ve got to pursue a relational connection.
The man who helped me the most was a guy named Dave Marshall. He’s a bricklayer with a high school education that has people like me, and dozens, and dozens, of others, in continents all over the world, as missionaries as a result of his ministry.
He’s as down-home, humble, regular a guy as you’ve ever met, who loves God passionately. He has the most, the most uncharismatic personality I’ve ever met.
There is nothing about Dave Marshall that is, “Oh man!” He’s just solid. He’s just solid. He just walks with God day, after day, after day. And you know what? He pursued a relational connection.
He met me and he said, within two weeks said, “Chip, I’d like to meet with you. Would you like to learn to study the Bible?” I thought, “I’m a new Christian, the answer should be yes, so ‘yes!’”
And seven o’clock, every Tuesday morning, he came and knocked on the door. I bet half the time I rolled over and acted like I didn’t hear it. But you know what? Next Tuesday morning, knock on the door. He saw me Wednesday. You know what I didn’t get? “Hey, Chip! Where were you Tuesday morning?” What I got was, “I missed you, Chip. I’m excited about getting together with you again and I’m praying for you.”
He loved me. And you know what? I ate meals at his house, had Bible studies at his house. He was not a great basketball player but he knew I liked it and so he would just come by and say, “Hey, let’s go play basketball.” And we’d go to the park and they were interesting times.
He had a left hook that wouldn’t quit. And when we got down I said, “Dave, please quit, please quit.”
But see, if you’re going to rescue people it’s not enough to know, it’s not enough to express, it’s not enough to communicate. You and I must pursue a relational connection. It means you give them a call this week, it means you ask them to lunch, it means you drop them a note, it means you drop in at their work. They’ll usually be there.
It means you say, “You know what? You know, from now until December I’m really trying to get in shape, and you said you were. Would you like to work out twice a week together?”
Whether it’s a hobby, a social event, you figure out how you’re going to connect with them relationally, and you do it and you say, “You know, Lord, for the next three or four months, I don’t know where I’m going to get the time but I’m going to find an hour or so for this person every week, on their turf, in a way that matters to them.”
And that’s what he did to me. And that’s been my model and that’s what I do with people. I kind of change where I work out, and I change who I do it with, and it’s primarily a ministry vehicle because I’m trying to stay in shape and it’s hard and I just thought, “You know, I want to do it with people that need to grow in Christ.”
So, I just get together with different people and… and oh Gary, man, he’s a killer. And we talk, he teaches me how to lift weights, I die. And as you can see I’m not making tremendous progress. But yes, yes. Hold those applause. But we’re learning a lot about the Lord together.
What do you need to do in your mind? What do you need to do to reach out to that person in that boat? Or, by the way, if you’re the person in the boat, this is a two-way deal.
If you leave here thinking, “Oh, I now know the problem. Everyone is supposed to come and love me, and care for me, and I don’t think enough people are doing it. I hope they’re listening!” No, no, no, no, no!
You are morally, spiritually responsible for your own spiritual health and don’t you blame anybody else for anything. There are enough opportunities for you to take steps to get plugged in, get loved, to come to dinner, to come to a class, to get in a small group, to get involved in a community group.
You take those steps and we’ll go out and reach all those other people as well. And if you feel disconnected, you think of someone who is more disconnected than you and you start helping them, and you’ll find yourself deeply loved. Do you hear it?
The fourth step, the apostle Paul goes beyond sending then he gets a report back. And when he gets the report back he is the master motivator. I’m always interested when I hear all these motivational speakers with these secret principles of the universe. And then they give one of them and I say, “Yeah, well, great. Boy, that, well, that’s excellent.” And then I think to myself, “Mm-hm, let’s see, that’s 1 Thessalonians 3:6 through 13.” It’s amazing how they discover the truth.
But people in motivational circles, you know what they know? You need to rejoice over people’s success; you need to rejoice, you need to explode with joy when people make a little progress. The problem with most of us is with our kids, with our mate, with people that we know – they make a little progress and we say, “Oh, that’s not bad but you still have a long way to go.” I mean, that just motivates you, doesn’t it? It just makes you want to get up and make the bed tomorrow. Just makes you want to be more affectionate and kind with your mate. Just makes you want to jump for joy and say… quit raising the bar and start patting people on the back for the bars that, by the grace of God, they’re getting over.
Notice what the apostle Paul does. Look at it. Paul explodes with joy and he breaks out into prayer over Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians’ positive, spiritual progress. Verse 6, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love,” notice what he praises. Not their activities. Their faith and their love. Sure, it comes out in activities but he praises the values.
“And that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you.” Verse 7, “For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith.” He said, “You know, we’re going through a lot of hard times and life is really hard,” in fact, literally, the word “distress” means a choking type situation. He said, “We were encouraged and comforted knowing that you’re doing well.”
Verse 8, “For now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” One commentator said, “Basically the translation, Paul says, ‘The moment we heard that you’re pressing on with the Lord,’ He said, ‘I got a new lease on life. I’m sleeping better. I’m sleeping better! My heart is lifted up! I’m encouraged because I live, I bleed, I dream, I think about your spiritual progress because you’re so important to God and because you’re so important to God, you’re so important to me.’”
So he says, “Now we really live, if you stand firm for the Lord.” Verse 9, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as night and day we keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete,” means “to bring to full maturity, to adjust, to give input, to bring help,” “that we might complete what is lacking in your faith?” He’s exploding with joy. And now he breaks out into prayer, verse 11, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct,” or “make straight,” “our way to you.” He said, “Man, we want to see you. We want to see you. And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for each other, and for all men, just as we do for you.” Wow. “So that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
You see the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is that God wants to take that person, even if it’s you, or a friend, or a relative, or a mate, and they’re drifting out to the spiritual sea, and He wants you to express gratitude for when they were on the shore. Then He wants to say, “I care!” Get on the megaphone! “Hey! On that boat out there! You may think no one cares. I do! I do for real!” And then you take your boat and you make a relational connection. You go out, get right up next to it, and you throw a line over it, and you hook it in. And then you pull them in and as you’re pulling them in they start taking some steps back to shore on their own. And every time they take a little, tiny step you go, “Yipee! Yipee! I’m so proud of you. Way to go! Way to go!” That’s what He does.
So our step four: Rejoice with them and over them. I like that phrase. Rejoicing over a person at any, and every, step of positive, spiritual progress.
We don’t have to see people that we know and feel uncomfortable and say, “Hm, what should I do?” We can express our gratitude for their faith; we can communicate our deep concern; we can, this week, determine how to get relationally connected; and then when they take a tiny step we can rejoice.
If you turn to the back page, the first question is on a scale of one to ten: What manner of spiritual drifting is occurring in your life right now? It would be a shame to talk about how to help others until we kind of looked in the mirror, wouldn’t it? A one is: You’re anchored in Christ; a five is: There’s a subtle drifting; and number ten is: You’re out to sea. And if you had to put a star right on there, where would you put it?
Secondly: Quickly list those who come to your mind whom you sense are spiritually drifting. It might be three or four or five people. Just quickly do it; jot them down. And then here’s your assignment: Which one of these people do you care enough about to attempt a rescue intervention this week, empowered by the Spirit, in the grace of God?