|Vol. 16 No. 5 May 2014||
Gary C. Hampton
Hurting Christians are often heard to say, “I just do not know what people do who do not have church family.” They say this because they are experiencing the wonderful comfort of having brothers and sisters come to offer whatever help they may be able to give in a time of need. The hugs, expressions of concern and prayers at such a time sustain in ways beyond the imagination.
Paul’s first letter to the struggling church at Thessalonica is filled with reminders of the relationships we have in God’s family. They were being tormented, but Paul wanted them to focus on family. He thought of them as his brothers in Christ and wrote, “Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (1:4; 2:1). He pictured his own approach to them as being with the gentleness of a mother nursing her child (2:7).
He also approached them as a caring father urging his child on to better living. “You are our witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (2:10-11).
His concern for the Thessalonians reached such an intensity that he “sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith” (3:2). The entire statement overflows with affection, especially his description of Timothy as “our brother.”
Let us resolve to strengthen one another in the same way loving families do. Let no opportunity to be with the brethren in Bible study, worship or prayer pass without taking full advantage of it. Lean on your brothers and sisters in time of need. Ask for their prayers. Be ready to offer them a listening ear and fervent prayers when life tumbles in on them. In Christ, we know the ultimate power of family.
My wife grew up near the Mississippi River. She never understood why anyone would want to see that big, muddy river that she had always known. She saw nothing special about it. I believe that her father had worked around the river at some point in time. I know that her sister’s husband lost a brother-in-law who was killed in a Mississippi River accident.
On the other hand, I have often looked down toward this mighty river and seen its powerful currents, and I have watched the barges being pushed down river. I have also thought about the fact that each time I see the river, it is not the same water I saw before. It is always flowing and moving and changing. Apparently, many years ago, a major earthquake struck in northwest Tennessee. Reports say that the river flowed backwards for several days, the result of which is Reelfoot Lake. The course of the river changes from time to time. It is a mighty flowing river.
Almost 40 years ago I stepped behind a pulpit in Belleville, IL and presented everything I knew about “The Church in Prophecy.” It took me fifteen minutes. I was 12. I had lived in Texas, Alabama, Germany and Illinois in my first twelve years. In the first nine years of school I attended 13 different schools, including two years in Japan. Life was full of changes. The river kept on flowing.
The mighty Mississippi rolls its way on down until it empties yesterday’s waters into the Gulf of Mexico. Those waters will never return exactly as they were.
What makes life interesting is that the moment in which we find ourselves will never come again, just like stepping into a river. It is the same river, but it is not the same water. We age, we fall in love and, if blessed, we give our love to one person through the years. We have children and watch them grow until, Lord willing, we have grandchildren, too. Life in every stage is different. Like with a river, sometimes the waters of life are calm and serene. Sometimes they are turbulent and rolling, seemingly out of control. We must learn to enjoy each stage that life brings our way and each new moment. We must endure the bad times, realizing that they, too, will roll on by. We should experience each moment, for it will never return.
Paul had learned this. He had learned to be content, in whatever state he was (Philippians 4:11-12). He could face death with a certainty (2 Timothy 4:6-8), through all the uncertainty and change that was brought to his life. He could write confidently, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). He had been through many things (2 Corinthians 11), and the current of life had blown him in many directions. Yet, he learned to make the most of whatever came his way.
When time for us has ended and our life has followed its course, it will empty itself into eternity, like the mighty Mississippi empties its waters into the Gulf of Mexico. Let us make the most of the flowing river of life, above all preparing to leave it behind to become partakers of eternity with the saved of all the ages in the very presence of God. Till then, the river will flow on.