If you don't think the Word of God is living and active, try using a vverse to say something you want it to say, and then realize the passage actually says something you completely did not expect. That's what happened to me recently.
I regularly send prayer emails to Fishhook's board members, asking them to pray for various aspects of our ministry in India. I always include a Scripture reference that ties into the prayer request, but I was really amazed when the Holy Spirit used the one I sent a few days ago to draw me into a new revelation about our connection to our brothers and sisters in India.
Since we were praying for a team visiting India that was being led by Fishhook board member Tim Hamilton, I thought I was being really clever to use a verse where Paul talked about his protégé Timothy. The verse is 1 Thessalonians 3:2 which reads: "We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,..." Clever, right? We were sending Timothy to strengthen and encourage our family in India, so how convenient this verse was for me!
To my credit I actually did read all of ! Thessalonians to make sure I understood the context of what Paul was saying to the church at Thessalonica. That's when I was surprised to discover the rich meaning of what the Holy Spirit revealed through Paul.
The whole flavor of the passage gives us a taste of Paul's deep affection for the Thessalonians. He had not been able to spend much time with these new believers because of the persecution that broke out (see Acts 17). Thus he was concerned the harassment they experienced because of their confession of Jesus would cause them to fall away from faith.
As Paul pours out his heart for them, I found parallels with my concerns for our brothers and sisters in India:
- Paul has a deep longing to see them. He and Silas and Timothy had imparted to these believers not only the Gospel, but also their very lives. They had invested deeply in the Thessalonians., and as a result, these people had become very dear to Paul and his companions. (2:8) In a similar way we at Fishhook are always longing to see our Indian family as we have invested our lives in them and their ministries. We long simply to be with them and be encouraged by our mutual love and affection for each other.
- Paul wants to provide strength and encouragement to the Thessalonians in their faith. (3:2) I experience the flip side of this because I always come away from being with our brothers and sisters in India as the recipient of much strength and encouragement that I get from being with them. But my heart's desire is to be an encouragement to them by conveying to them the assurance that we love them; we care about what is happening in their lives; and we are praying for them.
- Their faith and steadfastness in the Lord gives Paul great comfort and joy. (3:7-9) I alluded to this point already, but I am profoundly strengthened and encouraged by the faith and steadfastness of our family in India. The purity of their devotion to Christ blows me away and leaves me longing for more of that in my own heart and life. Truly I can identify with the comfort and joy Paul had when Timothy told him how the Thessalonians were standing firm in the Lord.
- Paul prayed not only that he would get to come see them again, but also that their love for each other and for all people would abound and that God would establish them in holiness. (3:11-13) These verses spoke to me because I know my prayers need to be aligned with the kind of petitions we find believers offering for each other in the New Testament. I find that I tend to pray for protection and ease for those I care about, but in fact Jesus never promised us protection and ease. He said, "In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33) So we find Paul and others praying for believers to be bold, to have courage, to stand strong, etc. I need to be praying for victory and steadfastness in the midst of the trials. May we all learn to pray for each other like that!
I'll admit I used to skim over those passages where Paul seemed to be sending a personal message to his friends. It seemed to me those verses were sort of "extra," and probably didn't have anything to say to me personally. But I am learning that everything the Holy Spirit called forth in the Scriptures has purpose and meaning for my life.
We can learn from passages like this one that Paul's personal message to his friends is a reflection of the heart of God for His people. They also can become our heart cry for our friends and our families as we intercede for them. As we lift up our brothers and sisters in India in prayer, we are thankful for Paul's messages that lead us to a deeper level of caring and of praying that reflects the heart of our Lord.