"And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus is really just teaching the kids at church, or if he is talking to me too. I don't know why I still wonder that. I know the answer. Every single lesson is an opportunity for everyone to learn.
I mention the kids at church because this weekend's message was directly related to the verses above. It just took seeing these verses to realize (again) that Jesus was also talking to me on Sunday when he was talking about obeying our leaders.
In verse 12 above, Paul actually says to "honor those leaders." Dictionary.com actually defines honor this way: "to hold in high respect; revere; to show a courteous regard for." And thesaurus.com offered these synonyms for the word: "admire, appreciate, commend, observe, praise, prize, revere, lionize (I like that one though I don't fully know what it means, haha), value."
Being a leader is hard. There have been a handful of times in my life where I have been the leader and it really makes me appreciate all that those in leadership above me do day in and day out. It's not an easy job. It truly is something you do because Jesus is calling you to it. Can you imagine what the world would be like without our leaders? There would be no teachers in school or even principals for that matter. There would be no rules at home for children to obey. No government telling us what we can and cannot do. No president making the tough (often seemingly impossible) choices.
Paul goes on in the verses above to describe the responsibilities of a leader. He says that it is their job to guide and direct us, to show us the right way. So while some people may be reading this thinking, "no government? Sign me up!" It would really be a major problem. We need people to assume the role of "boss" to lead us well. Do all of our leaders do a fantastic job? Maybe not, but that's exactly what makes us all human! No one is perfect at this thing called life.
So instead of picking apart our leaders and saying how we would do it differently, Paul is saying here that we should appreciate them! We should appreciate them so much that we overwhelm them with that love and appreciation. Rather than complaining about those who lead us, why not praise them for the things they are doing well? Rather than pointing out all of their flaws, why not pray for them to follow Jesus and lead us well through Him?
Let's keep reading:
"Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out." (1 Thessalonians 5:13-15)
From here, Paul moves into describing how to get along with those around us. We should be encouraging one another into action, helping those who are too tired to keep going, exercising patience with each and every person we encounter (mental note: that means road rage isn't acceptable then...), and practicing appropriate responses to stressful situations.
And here's the verse that screams to me in this set: "Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out."
Each and every one of us has our own filters through which we run life. We fill in all of the gaps in our knowledge with our own stories in our own heads. And too often those stories paint others in a bad light.
For example, you're at church and the sermon is just finishing up. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a woman stand up and walk out leaving early. She does it every week. In your head, you think she is just being selfish, skipping out early so she doesn't have to wait in traffic or avoiding someone in the congregation because you heard she doesn't get along with the pastor's wife at all. You heard they had a fight. So you keep telling yourself these stories over and over again each week. You're sure that your right about why she is leaving early. And then you hear a prayer request for her. Her only child is in the hospital and isn't doing well. She leaves early because there is a treatment that he receives every Sunday morning at the same time that the service would be ending. You realize that this woman you've been judging for so long has a really good reason to be skipping out of church early.
We do this all the time. Other people are speeding because they think they're more important than me. Suzy didn't talk to me after church today because I obviously offended her when I was just being honest. Dan is late for our meeting because he is terrible at time management and just can't get himself together; he obviously doesn't care about his job at all. My son didn't respond to my questions because he was ignoring me and doesn't value our relationship.
I could go on and on. It's a daily event. I'm challenging us to put an end to it. Let's all stop assuming the worst and filling in the gaps of our knowledge with negative stories. Maybe others are speeding because they are late or they need to get to the hospital. Perhaps Suzy just didn't see you and that's why she didn't say anything to you. I wonder if Dan was late because his wife just had a baby and she really needed his help? Maybe if I'd given my son enough time to consider my questions, he would have answered. Maybe he was trying to come up with the right and honest answer rather than just answering to get the conversation over with.
So what can we do to change this? How can we truly stop the negative dialogue that is constantly in motion in our heads? Paul answers these questions too:
"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
We can choose our attitudes and we can pray when our attitudes are doing their best to slip back into the negative nelly area. Choose joy. Over and over. It isn't easy. It is honestly challenging to do and we can't actually do this one all by ourselves. That's why Paul follows it up so closely with "pray all the time." Because when life gets challenging, it's really easy to slip back into anger, impatience, stress, and just plain negative attitudes. When joy isn't easy, that's when we need to lean into Jesus the most.
My father-in-law had a phrase that goes with this. He used to constantly say, "Praise the Lord!" Something good would happen- a new baby was born into the family, a diagnosis was eliminated, a new job was gotten- "Praise the Lord!" But he also said it every time something bad happened. He hit his thumb with a hammer? "Praise the Lord!" They think it might be cancer? "Praise the Lord!" The car broke down again? "Praise the Lord!" And why did he have this attitude? Because he knew these verses! 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says it very clearly that we are to "thank God no matter what happens." Good or bad, thank God. Because he will use it for his glory one day.
Let's review the challenges for today with some questions:
1. What's your attitude like on a daily basis? Are you mostly joyful or are you negative?
2. How are you at choosing joy despite your circumstances?
3. Do you think Paul is onto something here, suggesting that we can choose joy despite our circumstances and that praying will help us do just that?
4. Where is one area in your life that you feel like God is urging you to change your attitude?
5. What are some tangible steps you plan to take to make that happen? (Ex: a friend to hold you accountable, journaling, more Bible studies, writing a thankfulness list, etc)
Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing to someone else!