I need goals and deadlines. Whether it’s a work project, exercise habits, or writing these devotions, I do my best when I have a goal that stretches me and a plan to get there. That’s one reason I love the new year, with its emphasis on new goals.
Yet psychologists report that in order for someone to reach a goal, it has to be explicit, achievable, and, best of all, be taken on with others. If the goal is simply to lose weight, you’ll forget about it soon; if it’s to lose one hundred pounds, you’ll probably give up; but if you and your running partner set out to add one mile each week to your route, you’re likely to succeed.
Paul offers explicit instructions to the Thessalonians about how to practice their faith, and he spells out essential disciplines to cultivate: prayer, discernment, thanksgiving, and listening both to the Spirit and to prophets.
I’m grateful for these tangible instructions for growth. But the best part comes in the final lines of this passage. It is not our efforts alone that will achieve our sanctification, Paul reminds us. God works with us and ultimately will accomplish this work in us. Throughout our moments of strength and of greatest weakness, God remains faithful to God’s promises.
We are called to work, to pray, and to join the movement of the Spirit. We attend to the needs of the world and our own souls. But in the end, our confidence lies not in our own abilities but in God’s. And for that, we rejoice always.
God, draw me nearer to you. Help me to pray, to rejoice, to discern, and to cling to what is good, that my soul and life may be shaped by you. But most of all, help me place my full confidence in your work in my life and in the world. Amen.
In Isaiah 61, the Anointed One declares a message of liberation. Justice, righteousness, and praise will blossom as new shoots of growth in the garden of the Lord. Psalm 126 remembers a time in the past when God’s mercy broke forth in an unparalleled manner. The character of the community and of the individual members will be transformed. The First Thessalonians text voices a yearning for the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” yet the promise of the Second Advent has kindled great hope and gladness in the heart of the Christian community. The reading from the Gospel of John also raises the issue of the mood of expectancy that characterizes the period of time between promise and fulfillment.
• Read Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. If “the spirit of the Lord GOD is upon” you, what does that mean for the way you live day by day?
• Read Psalm 126. Have you experienced joy in a time of brokenness? How do you understand the seeming contradictions?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Which of the disciplines Paul speaks of in verses 16-22 do you faithfully practice? Which might you cultivate further?
• Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. John not only knows his role; he knows who he is not: the Messiah. In this time of Advent waiting, consider who you are not. How does that consideration simplify your life? What may you release?
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