One of my favorite stress relievers is running.
It started because I didn’t want my parents to out-do me in their athleticism (although the very quickly did) and now is just something I love to do to release endorphins and forget the worries of the world.
I often do my running on a treadmill, but let me tell you. There is nothing like running in a race. It is often unpredictable. It is sometimes windy, sometiems cold. I never win, but I love trying to keep up with those around me.
I love looking ahead at someone who is better at this than I am and running to keep up with them. They are ahead because they have trained and eaten well and taken care of their bodies. They have disciplined themselves. It is also very likely that they have imitated someone else in doing so. Whether they knew someone to imitate or read an autobiography. They may even follow someone on instagram who can be imitated. Whatever way, humans love to do as others do and walk as others walk. In sport, in habit, in life.
I am reminded of that metaphor as I read the following passage from 1 Thessalonians:
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For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, , so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
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As I run this spirtiual race I am living our here, I find it easy to become an imitator here too. Sometimes I imitate Jesus and sometimes I imitate those who are on the side of the road taking a break. Sometimes I see someone who is doing it right and through their witness fall back into the race He has set before me. I know this for certain: He has made it possible for me to finish strong by giving me himself and others. So. Let’s do this four things together.
- Let’s not take the credit
- Let’s imitate the one who can take the credit.
- Let’s become the imitated.
- Let’s embrace afliction.
We will face wind and rain on this journey, but He is the one who beckons us further. He knows that those storms make us stronger runners and better witnesses for His Kingdom.
Let’s not take the credit.
I love how Paul makes it very clear who deserves the credit for salvation. We so often like to gloss over this when we speak of salvific experiences we encounter to make ourselves seem more “holy”. Whether we are telling a story about how we shared the Gospel and forget to mention how the Holy Spirit moved or even tell someone about how hard we have worked to avoid sin and sanctify ourselves, no part of salvation is possible without the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
Paul could have begun this passage by praising himself for the Thessalonians’ salvation to ensure them that he knows what he is talking about. Yet he immediately reminds all of us that the gospel comes by spirit–with the help of human word–but not by human word.
Did Paul play a part in the gospel getting to the Thessalonians? Absolutely. His obedience was used by Jesus as a vehicle for his word. But that is only made possible by the Holy Spirit.
So what does this mean for us? It means that as we tell stories of our own obedience–which we should–we remember that every amount of obedience we bestow is not by our own power, but the power of the Holy Spirit. We remember that He is the beginning and end of our decisions, our obedience, our strength. The Holy Spirit is the one God has given us to convict our hearts and steer our lives toward His being.
Let’s imitate the one who can take the credit.
Paul then makes a statement that, if read without context, might come across as arrogant. He explains, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” When we are taught humility, we sometimes conceptualize it as never speaking a positive word about ourselves.
But does that ideology not belittle God’s ability to transform our lives for the good of His Kingdom?
We are not perfect by any means. We are broken and afflicted and dirty. Yet if we have indeed been bought by the blood of Jesus, we have also been made into children and our sins have been washed white.
Paul is demonstrating this beautiful ripple effect that was created by the coming of Jesus. You see, he was an imitator of Christ. He was not a perfect picture of Christ, but he did what he could to exemplify Jesus’s being while he witnessed here on earth. Because of His witness, people were then able to imitate him in order to imitate Jesus. And we can do the same.
Let’s become the imitated.
Finally, friends, We are given the ability to imitate Jesus through the Holy Spirit. When we do that, God can use us to be examples to others. That means, although he does not need us to fulfill his plans, we get to be a part of it. We get to chase after him in the race we are running on this earth. Although we are hundreds of generations behind His foot steps on earth’s dirt, we still get to linger in Him and love on people in His name. We get to live a life that enhances His Kingdom.
Will we fall? Yes. Will be be perfect imitators? Not even close. But He is in control of that. He has the ability and the power to erase our wrongs and build a solid witness out of the brokenness in which we approach Him. All we can do is fall on our faces before Him and give Him our lives to do what He pleases.
Let’s embrace affliction.
This one is hard for me to write today, but easier than it would have been last week. My month has been filled with watching a man I love so much suffer, holding his hand as he breathed his last breath, remembering the hardships he endured his last years on this earth, standing with my family as they mourned their own loss, and putting one foot in front of another from day-to-day.
It would be easy for me to be mad at God. In fact, I am sometimes. It would be almost comforting to blame Him for the fact that my Grandfather was basically at the mercy of those around him for the last three years of his life due to blindness. It would seemingly give my lack of understanding some kind of value.
It would also fail to provide me the peace that I know my Papa had in his time of suffering.
Paul affirms the Thessalonians in their affliction because that is part of being a follower of Christ. If you have ever been told that everything is going to be sunshine and daisies if you accept Jesus as your Savior, put that thought out! We are not promised continual bliss. We are promised hardship. We are promised that the world will look down upon us. We are promised that we will endure suffering and pain for the furthering of His Kingdom. And when we are dealt that hand, praise Him for it. Praise him that my Grandfather got to build His kingdom in the last three years of his life even if he could not see what that kingdom looked like. Praise Him that He uses believers who are will ing to risk their lives to bring the Gospel to places ridden with persecution and suffering. Praise Him that we are given a taste of eternity through our endurances.
I do not like enduring things that hurt. But I do know that there is hope within and beyond those hardships. Let us give Him the credit for the glory that will come. Let us imitate Him in His perfect sacrifice. Let us become a follower of Jesus that can be imitated for HIS glory. Let us embrace the race set before us though it may include toils and snares for we know that in His perfect power, He has already written the end of the story.
Let us join. Let us be part of it.