My faith gaps are often a result of leaning on people instead of God, being misinformed, having a false perception, or just plain being sinful.
Reading 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 3, has caught my attention in regard to faith gaps. This term “gaps” comes from reading the New Living Translation of the Bible. Other words used from different translations include falter (The Message); and, lacking (NIV, NKJ, NRSV). So, when it comes to my faith journey, I ask God a few questions:
- God, could you please reveal my faith gaps?
- God, could you show me what is faltered in my faith?
- God, what information or knowledge am I lacking that causes me to stumble into sin?
When Paul is writing to the Thessalonian church, he expresses his love for them and also his concern for their faith during times of persecution. I respect that after having to leave a church (people) he cared for so deeply, Paul informs those he loves, although he can’t visit as often as he would like to, just how passionately concerned he still is for them. He makes a point to be clear in his writing to assure them his work in Thessalonica was not for his own personal gain (he mentions greed – 1 Thess. 2:5) or praise from man (1 Thess. 2:6), but to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact he compares his love for them to that as a mother and a father “… just as a nursing mother cares for her children (1 Thess. 2:7)” and “… as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:11-12).” Once he reminds them of his own character, he addresses a few issues so they are not misinformed as they live out their faith.
I can relate. As a former Women’s Pastor, having to leave a people group I love (nearly 500 women) was very difficult and heart-wrenching. I wrestled for 15 months with the decision. There is a tension within me that still exists because of my love for them and my desire to see them continue to mature in their faith. I find myself wanting to write a letter to these women and of course am thrilled whenever I receive a good report. Paul was encouraged when he received a good report from Timothy as well.
“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith 1 Thess. 3:6-10).”
I am reminded of a few things through my study and reflection:
1) Paul didn’t stop loving or being concerned about those he ministered to though he had to leave them. We can notice in Chapter 2 that the language used is “he was torn away from them.” He checked in with them, challenged them, and encouraged them through the only form of communication he could use at the time while away from them. He also assured them he looked forward to being with them again. Who would dare suggest Paul is unethical in his love? Like Paul, I need to be praying earnestly that I can see others again I have previously ministered to. With love such as a mother and a father, it is natural to want to be with those I love unless my purpose in wanting to see them is deceitful. I might add that a mother and a father who truly love their children should never want to deceive them. I’m reminded to check my motives as a pastor.
2) Paul and his team were greatly encouraged by hearing the good news that those he had led were standing firm in the Lord. Scripture tells us “for now we really live.” This is such a reminder of how our faith can affect and encourage others. Imagine if Timothy had come with the opposite news. It grieves my spirit and is discouraging when I receive negative reports about any believers; but when I receive positive reports, I am greatly encouraged. Like Paul, we should want to thank God for how He is at work in others. It should catapult our faith! Am I encouraged by the progress others are making on their faith journey even after I’m gone? Absolutely!
3) Be wise in truthful reporting and accountability. Make sure my source is reliable to tell the truth. First of all Paul sent a trusted partner in ministry to check on the church, Timothy, who had actually served with him in Thessalonica. It was no secret Paul was checking on the church. He didn’t send in a spy, he sent Timothy, someone the Thessalonians recognized as someone who deeply cared for the church as well. I am assuming Paul, perhaps without intending to, confirmed what Timothy had told him by writing back to the church restating what had been reported. If there had been any discrepancy in the reporting system or the source, no doubt, issues would have been brought to Paul’s attention by members of the congregation since the letter was read to the church. There is lot more accountability in a letter being written to or read to an entire church than it just being addressed to a few individuals.
I’m reminded through this study of how my faith gaps can be corrected if I’m willing to be vulnerable enough to admit I have them or are susceptible to them.