Waiting. It’s not something we’re used to with Amazon Prime, Instacart and other such services that bring us what we want so quickly. With Siri, Alexa, Google Home and the like, you can also instantaneously get the latest weather report or piece of knowledge that you want. (Though you’ll never find one of those home assistant devices in my house!). Yet, it’s something we’re facing a lot of in recent weeks. You might have found yourself feeling frustrated and impatient on more than one occasion.

First Thessalonians was written by the apostle Paul when he faced a very different world to the one we’re facing, but the one thing it had in common with ours was: humans. We are full of the same foibles, hang-ups, pre-occupations and impatience that we find in the early church. A different context, yes, different issues, of course, but still people. With the same God then as now. The same Savior then as now. In addition, Thessalonians addresses issues about waiting (and what we can hope for) that might be helpful for us today.

Read Thessalonians 1
If you followed along with the study of Philippians, you will noticed Paul starts both letters (as he does with others) with a note of thanks and encouragement. He called out the good of what he saw in different fellowships and the same was true for the church in Thessalonica. We read of Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonian church for their “work of faith” their “labor of love” and “steadfastness of hope” (v.3). They knew about endurance. They knew about the important of leaning into the promises of God, about perseverance and holding on to what God has promised.

Staying the course is not easy–developing stamina takes practice, so Paul also reminds them of their chosenness by God. Paul knows that because not only did they respond to the gospel in faith, but they also saw God’s power at work. This church was one full of Gentile believers (and not so many Jews: for more on the tensions between Jews and Gentile converts see Acts 17) and Paul describes them as turning to God, the living God, from serving pagan idols (v.9). Remembering their testimony, their story of faith and God’s work in their lives is fuel in the tank when we have grown weary. Having faith in God can look like taking ‘big’ risks where we trust God and do something that is illogical by human reason, but it can also look like the smaller risk of daily trudging, taking one step after another, even when the heat is on (Isaiah 40:28-31). Yet either way, calling to mind what we have seen God do–in Scripture, in the lives of others and most especially in our own lives, can encourage us onward.

So how does all of this connect to waiting? Paul talks about “waiting for God’s Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead” (v.10). How does it relate? As we journey through Thessalonians, we will dig in more to this, but let me leave you with this: waiting is not like waiting for an Amazon package or Instacart order. Faithful waiting is active . It presses ahead, in small and larger ways, it holds the course, continues to labor in love, because it believes something better is to come, even if the now seems unduly hard. It says Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again . This is not the end. Hang in there!
Questions for Reflection
  1. Do you find it easy to wait? Why/why not?
  2. Are there places in your life right now that you need to “labor in love” and remain “steadfast”? What are they? Pray and invite God’s Spirit to come and help you in these areas.
  3. Paul was a great encourager. He shares what he sees of what God is doing in other people’s lives. How could you encourage someone this week, maybe someone who is trudging ahead despite difficult circumstances?
  4. What stories are you able to tell of God’s power in your life? What prayers has he answered? How can they encourage you today of God’s care and concern for you?
  5. A number of those in the Thessalonian church were pagan converts who used to worship idols (v.9). We might not have ever had a life without knowing Jesus in one way or another, but we sure do idolize things we shouldn’t. Are there any idols getting in the way of your relationship with Jesus right now that you need to confess?
  6. How does the future hope of Jesus returning (v.10) give you hope today?
A prayer for this week:

We thank you that in you we have the hope of resurrection. We thank you for the faith you have given us and the stories we can tell of your goodness in our lives. Help us to remember your faithfulness when things are challenging. Help us to trust in you, and not in human things, and to remember the hope we have in you, who has forgiven us our sin and made a way for us to be rescued. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries