I was invited to write a week of devotionals for the 2011 edition of the Upper Room Disciplines. They are based on the lectionary scriptures for a week in October. Here is one.
Sunday, October 16, 2011 – Read 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10
It seems a bit vain that Paul affirms the way people “became imitators of us and of the Lord”. I am generally turned off by the idea of following along like a copycat and calling it faithful. And who am I to say to my congregation, “Imitate me”?
Maybe I am reading through eyes overly sensitive to our culture’s worship of what I call the “new Trinity” (me, myself, and I). Perhaps Paul’s point was not that they “looked at me” but that they “looked at God by looking beyond what they saw in me.”
We have noted Paul's remembrance of others before God in gratitude. Here we read more about why he was so appreciative of his friends, "Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit." The Thessalonians absorb the word in more than pure intellectual assent; they become imitators of those who lived and preached among them. And their genuine enthusiasm generates interest so that the imitators have imitators!
Paul evidences joy, and he affirms the joy in them. In spite of their suffering, they "received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit." Paul surely considered it a great compliment to know that friends who follow his lead do so with joy, despite the struggles of discipleship. Joy is of God.
Our culture's “prosperity spirituality” takes root in dissatisfaction and the idea that if I do more for God, God will do more for me. Yet God's greatest desire is to instill gratitude in us rather tha reinforce our chronic anxiety for more. Perhaps contentment is a form of liberation.
Take some time to list your blessings. Try to focus less on what you have, including relationships and opportunities, and more on what God has brought you through and the joy it brings. Give praise.