May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV
Living life on this planet can be difficult at times. As followers of Christ, it can be especially so, because we have been called to live lives worthy of God in the midst of a culture that is diametrically opposed to us. It can be easy to lose our focus, grow impatient, feel scared, or become angry. Paul knew that. That is why he prayed this short little prayer on behalf of the believers in Thessalonica. For the most part, they were former pagans who had come to know Christ and were now struggling with everything from persecution to the influence of false teaching. Paul referred to these false teachers as “perverse and evil people” (2 Thessalonians 3:2 NET). The believers to whom Paul wrote and for whom he prayed were struggling with trying to love the Christian life while constantly having to deal with the attacks of the enemy and the daily reality of their own sin natures. So what was Paul’s prayer for them? That God would direct their hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. Notice that he does not pray that God would remove them from their difficulties. He doesn’t ask God to remove the false teachers or stop the persecution. His request of God isn’t that He give them joy. No, he asks God to direct their hearts. He wants God to gently, kindly guide their hearts into a better understanding of just how much they are loved by God. Not only that, Paul’s request includes that they fully comprehend the degree to which Jesus suffered in order that they might have a right relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the suffering of Jesus and our need to fully comprehend what He endured in order that we might have eternal life – “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” ( Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT). Those two things – the love of God and the endurance of Christ – should provide us with the motivation we need to keep on keeping on. But our natural tendency will be to take them both for granted. It is so easy for us to forget just how amazing it is that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place. And that He expressed that love “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). When we deserved the worst, He gave us His best. And we also tend to overlook the incredible reality that Jesus willingly and humbly took on human flesh, lived life as a man, was tortured and hung on a cross, and died so that we might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. Paul puts it this way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).
When we find ourselves suffering and struggling in this life, we need to be reminded of the love of God as expressed in the suffering and death of His Son. God’s love for us is directly tied to the gift of His Son for us. God sent His Son because He loved us. Jesus came and died because He loved us. Jesus was willing to suffer humiliation, persecution, rejection, false accusations, and a death He didn’t deserve – all out of love for us. With all that that in mind, Peter tells us, “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). We need to keep life in perspective. Along with Paul, we need to constantly remember that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT). We are loved by God. He gave us His greatest gift – His own Son – as proof of that love. And His Son suffered in ways that we will never be able to comprehend, as proof of His love for us. We must never lose sight of those two realities. But because Paul knew that the tendency of all believers would be to do just that, he prayed that God would guide their hearts back to those two incredible truths: the love of God and the faithful, loving endurance of Jesus. I can’t think of a better way to wrap this up than with the words of Paul found in his letter to the believers in Rome.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 ESV