Let us declare the greatness of God through Psalm 99 v 1-3:
The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
2 Great is the Lord in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name –
he is holy.
Let us come before God with our prayers of adoration and confession:
Lord God, you are mighty and holy, loving and just, gentle and powerful. You are so loving that you accept us not by any works we have done ourselves but by the amazing work of Jesus on the cross. You freely give us your mercy and forgiveness even though we don’t deserve it. When we think about your love and all that you have done for us, we can be filled with joy. But sometimes we find it hard to understand or appreciate your love. Our minds are clouded by the concerns and pleasures of this world. Our love for you can be so weak that we do things that are wrong, we say thing that are wrong and we think things that are wrong. We are truly sorry for our sins, so please forgive us all our wrongs. Change our hearts to help us appreciate your love and goodness to us. Give us strength to turn away from our sins and love doing good so that we can live lives which are pleasing to you.
We will now say the Lords prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed by they name;
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever.
Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1 v 1-10
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.
2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
We’ve been through an awful lot this year with Covid 19 and there seems to be no end in sight at the moment.There are so many worries and concerns connected with the disease: the dangers of catching it or passing it on, the financial pressures, the loneliness and missing friends and family, even coming out of lockdown and worrying about socialising again. We have our stresses but do we keep our strength and joy in the Lord? The church in Thessalonica had their worries and sufferings, centred around persecutions (Acts 17), but they remained a thriving church full of joy and on fire for God. We would love that joy in the midst of our sufferings in Channelkirk and Lauder. So how do we get it?
Paul had taught the Thessalonians the importance of living for today in the light of tomorrow and to look forward to the second coming of Christ. Their endurance under persecution was inspired by their hope in salvation and Jesus’s return. They had an expectant hope and this hope gave them the joy and strength through which they could view their worries, persecutions and sufferings. It was the motivation they needed to live lives on fire for God, on fire for Jesus.
More often than not, our motivations are more earthly. We can be motivated by the prospect of a holiday, earning an end of year bonus, looking forward to retirement or even meeting other people and enjoying Christian fellowship. These motivations are all normal in our lives but God has a far bigger motivation for us: our hope in Jesus Christ and his return.
If we are honest, we can struggle with this. We can struggle with being motivated by something that feels so distant and we struggle to want it. So we need the hope of Jesus and his return to be more real in our lives so that we have a sense of anticipation, a sense of urgency and a desire to see God at work around us today. We want our hearts to be on fire for Jesus.
How do we get our hearts on fire for Jesus? If we look at 1 Thessalonians 1 v 5 we see that the church received the gospel with words, the power of the Holy Spirit, conviction and with actions. It was through the combination of these that the church in Thessalonica grew in joy, strength and endurance and we will look at each of these briefly now.
The gospel message came with words. When we study the word of God, we grow closer to Jesus. When we read the scriptures and dwell on them they can set our hearts on fire just like the two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.
We also need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us unlock what the Bible says, to speak to us and to change our hearts and minds. We can sometimes forget to invite the Holy Spirit to guide and change us and we can miss out on drawing closer to God and receiving His joy.
The Thessalonians also had conviction. I remember when I worked in a mission organisation called Youth With A Mission (YWAM), we used to joke with people who were seen reading the BIble, “Be careful, if you keep reading it you’ll believe it!” I find that so true and the more and deeper I study the Bible, the more wonders I see in it. I can see truth and integrity flowing throughout it and this touches my heart and strengthens my conviction.
The Thessalonians lived out the gospel. Lockdown may have made many of us more introverted than we would want to be. Paul, however, not only taught the gospel but shared his whole life with the people of Thessalonica. He constantly made himself available to people and gave his time to nurture them in Christ. He did it so well that the Thessalonian church became imitators of his practice. By copying Paul’s practice, they were also imitators of Christ’s practice and had the joy of seeing God at work.
A fifth and final point is that for Christians to have joy and strength, we need to thank and praise God. Paul was always giving thanks and praise to God as we see in verse 2 and in Philippians 4 v 6 – 7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Max Lucado, in his book ‘Anxious for Nothing’ says that people who show gratitude demonstrate less envy, materialism and self-centredness and have improved self-esteem and enhanced relationships. Being thankful moves us away from the anxieties we have when we long for new or different things but helps us be happy with what we already have.
We can start being thankful to God for what he has done on the cross and for saving us; we can thank God for all the blessings of families and friends, food and shelter, for every act of goodness and kindness we see in other people and for touching our lives. As we thank God more we will recognise his work more. Our anxieties about the world will diminish and our joy and strength in the Lord will grow. We will love God more for what he has given us and done for us already.
For hearts which are on fire for Jesus we need to read God’s word, seek the guidance and nurturing of the Holy Spirit and dwell on it so that it fills our hearts and minds. Then we put it into practice by sharing our lives and the gospel with other people. In all these, we must thank God for working in our lives and other people’s and, consequently, our strength and joy in the Lord will grow.
Heavenly Father, give us hearts which are on fire for you. Fill our hearts and minds when we turn to your word and help us to live out your gospel. Help us to see you at work in our lives and in the lives of others so that we may continually thank you and grow in strength and joy.
Hymn: Count your Blessings
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly
And you will keep singing as the days go by
So, amid the conflict, whether great or small
Do not be disheartened, God is over all
Count your many blessings, angels will attend
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession:
Father God, we thank you for all our families and friends and for those around us who care. Help us to look out for our neighbours as we go through further lockdown restrictions. Help us to share our lives in whatever ways we can within the guidelines of keeping safe from Covid 19. Help us to share and live out your gospel with those around us and open our eyes to see you at work so that we may thank and praise you.
We pray for those who are lonely and isolated at this time. Help us to recognise people’s needs and bring your comfort to them.
We thank you for all the work our NHS and research teams are doing at this time. Grant them all the wisdom and strength through hard times to save lives.
We pray that governments and medical researchers will work closer together to ensure that treatments for Covid 19 are accessible to all people, rich and poor across the world.
We pray for those people who are hit with financial problems due to the virus. Give them hope, wisdom and comfort during these troubled times.
Father God, we pray that through all these difficult times, people will turn to you for help and thanksgiving and that they may receive your love and mercy.
We ask all these prayers in Jesus’s name.
May grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, rest and remain on each one of us, now and always. Amen.