Our Bible study group has been going through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day, and 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me raw. Paul has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? (Not to mention the Holy Spirit.) Last week, I learned something from a woman I greatly admire, a woman who has taught me much not just by her words but by her life. Karin wrote an amazing blog about open and closed doors. I fall into the same trap she describes of thinking that if something is a part of God’s plan for my life then it should come easily. The doors should all swing wide open, and God should lay out a red carpet for me to saunter down.
And that’s where 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me. Paul certainly didn’t have it easy. If anything, he had every door slammed shut, bolted down, barricaded, and reinforced. But he never wavered in his faith to what God had called him to do.
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-4, NIV
Paul had warned the believers they would meet closed doors, that hardship and trials would come, that persecution was inevitable. The ESV translates persecution as affliction, that feeling when it just isn’t working out, it seems like it isn’t worth it anymore, the fight is too hard, and you start wondering if maybe you just heard God wrong.
There is this history timeline song Lydia has to learn for school, and right after Jesus the Messiah are the words, “Persecution spreads the gospel.” The disciples and the early believers must have known a thing or two about closed doors. Finally, their long-awaited Messiah arrives only to die a gruesome death on a cross. He is resurrected only to leave them and return to the Father. He tells them the Holy Spirit will come upon them, and then they are hunted, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and killed. But it wasn’t a rose-petal covered path that spread the gospel. It was persecution–affliction.
This past weekend in Chattanooga, I was telling Matt about this passage and how God was working on my heart. At the first sign of affliction, I am tempted to run the opposite direction, but I think one of the reasons God has us on this adoption journey is so that I will learn to trust Him, to hold fast to Him in the midst of affliction. I want the easy road, the one where cross-country airplane tickets fall from the sky and housing values suddenly sky-rocket back to pre-bubble numbers. It’s completely in God’s power to do that just like it was completely in God’s power to make it easier for Paul and Silas and Timothy. But he didn’t. He chose to grow their faith in their affliction. While my struggles certainly don’t compare to those of Paul and to many of the people I know and love, I wonder if God is teaching me that not every closed door is a no and an excuse to drop that calling. Maybe instead He is working to strengthen and encourage my faith in the midst of my waiting and wondering.
Paul always asked God for direction, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you” (1 Thess 3:11). But he expected affliction, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:4). Paul knew a closed door is sometimes an invitation to bust right on through and show the enemy the strength of an Almighty God.
“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24. ESV).