"Do you have any idea how very homesick we became for you, dear friends? Even though it hadn’t been that long and it was only our bodies that were separated from you, not our hearts, we tried our very best to get back to see you. You can’t imagine how much we missed you! I, Paul, tried over and over to get back, but Satan stymied us each time. Who do you think we’re going to be proud of when our Master Jesus appears if it’s not you? You’re our pride and joy!" (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)
I prayed over these verses this morning as I do most every morning before sitting down to write anything. Without those prayers, I never have any idea what to say. And in the interest of knocking some of my emotional walls down, I am sharing this information with you here.
Look at how Paul starts things off: "Do you have any idea how very homesick we became for you, dear friends? Even though it hadn’t been that long and it was only our bodies that were separated from you, not our hearts, we tried our very best to get back to see you. You can’t imagine how much we missed you!" (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18a) He misses them! His heart is aching to see them in person and he wants so much to go back and be among them. Remember that Paul's visit to Thessalonica was cut short pretty quickly. They left in a rush when things went awry. That means there was likely no proper goodbye amongst them. It was a rush to get out of there with their lives still intact.
The thing that stands out to me, though, in this set of verses is the presence of Satan right in the middle of them. It's funny, isn't it, that we try our best to ignore him and pretend he isn't really a real being but in reality, he's always right there in the middle of all we do. It's his goal to trip us up and screw up our plans for God's glory so that he can win that small battle. And sadly, because we try to ignore him so often, he sometimes wins the little battles in our lives.
Let's look at a few verses that show us that Satan really is out there, trying to steal our joy and destroy our relationship with God. Here's one from 1 Peter 5:8:
"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."
Satan is the devil. He is our great enemy. He's on the prowl, ready to destroy whatever believer comes along. He isn't anywhere near as strong as God. He can't win up against God. But us? He can beat us and we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. What better way to try to win the war than to take out members of God's earthly army?
In Job 1:6, we see that Satan is the accuser: "One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them." Those little whispers that you aren't good enough, don't know enough, will never BE enough? Those are Satan accusing you of his lies. If you believe them often enough, he could win. That's what he wants you to believe. Let's see what God goes on to say in verse 7 and Satan's response:
"'Where have you come from?' the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, 'I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.'"
Satan is patrolling the world. He's watching everything that we do. He is interfering in our lives and whispering fear into them. He is offering just enough truth to make us wonder, "is he right?" Every time you think that God can't use you because you don't have enough life experience, a good enough degree, a good enough job, a good enough speaking presence, good enough vocabulary- you know, all the "enoughs" that we all go through? That's Satan. He's tripping you up. Let me tell you a not-so-secret: God isn't going to use you because you are enough all by yourself. He uses us because He makes us enough. Remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9- "Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me."
Let's circle back to Paul in 1 Thessalonians. Here are the next verses:
"So when we couldn’t stand being separated from you any longer and could find no way to visit you ourselves, we stayed in Athens and sent Timothy to get you up and about, cheering you on so you wouldn’t be discouraged by these hard times. He’s a brother and companion in the faith, God’s man in spreading the Message, preaching Christ." (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
If this were some sort of game or match, the score would be God-1 and Satan-0. I love this. Paul and Silas were worried about the Thessalonians. They were listening to the whispers from Satan and longing to be by their sides again. But at the same time, Satan was making it impossible for them to go on their own. So what did they do instead? They sent a dear friend of theirs, a fellow believer named Timothy to check on the Thessalonians in their place. They took their fears and transformed them back into faith by placing them at God's feet.
Let's see what happens next:
"Not that the troubles should come as any surprise to you. You’ve always known that we’re in for this kind of thing. It’s part of our calling. When we were with you, we made it quite clear that there was trouble ahead. And now that it’s happened, you know what it’s like. That’s why I couldn’t quit worrying; I had to know for myself how you were doing in the faith. I didn’t want the Tempter getting to you and tearing down everything we had built up together." (1 Thessalonians 3:3-5)
I almost didn't see that point coming! It's God-2, Satan-0 now. Paul warned the Thessalonians that Satan would do this. They set them up for success by pointing him out and telling them to watch for his tricks. He calls Satan "the tempter" in this verse and that's a good name for him. Satan is constantly tempting us. For the Thessalonians, they would have been tempted to give up, to cast aside Paul's messages from God, and to go back to their old ways when times got hard.
This is a good place to pause in the verses and ask some questions for you to consider. What is Satan tempting you with right now? Where is he whispering lies and trying to steer you in the wrong direction? What fears and worries are you clinging to rather than giving them over to God who can handle them and would exchange them for his perfect peace?
Let's finish up this part of 1 Thessalonians for today so that you can see how things worked out for Paul and Silas after Timothy arrived in Thessalonica:
"But now that Timothy is back, bringing this terrific report on your faith and love, we feel a lot better. It’s especially gratifying to know that you continue to think well of us, and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you! In the middle of our trouble and hard times here, just knowing how you’re doing keeps us going. Knowing that your faith is alive keeps us alive." (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8)
And there you have it. That's a total knock out win for God this time. Timothy returned to Paul and Silas with great news. They didn't need to be worried at all. The Thessalonians were still full of faith and love. They were sticking close to God and practicing all that Paul had taught them. And even better? Those whispers from Satan to Paul and Silas were shown for what they were: lies. The Thessalonians weren't straying. They longed to see them again. Their faith was strong.
Let's see what Paul says he does to keep his faith strong rather than believing Satan's lies:
"What would be an adequate thanksgiving to offer God for all the joy we experience before him because of you? We do what we can, praying away, night and day, asking for the bonus of seeing your faces again and doing what we can to help when your faith falters.
May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers." (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
When Paul starts to worry, he leans into God. He stays in the shadow of the Most High just as it is suggested in Psalm 91:1. He prays constantly. Look at what it says in verse 9 above. It says that Paul prays "night and day." And what is praying for? He is thanking God! He is asking for support for others for their faith; he is asking God to clear the road for them. He is asking God to pour out His love on the Thessalonians. He is putting others before himself. By putting all of his faith in God's abilities and allowing Him to fight this battle, he is leaving the room for Him to win it without any help from Paul.
I think that is our take-away from this portion of 1 Thessalonians. I want to end with this little reminder from our time together in Philippians (also written by Paul):
"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
Remember, God's got this. No matter what your "this" is, He's got it. Hand it over and then step back into His shadow and watch Him work it all together for His good.
Be blessed today and remember to also be a blessing!