We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,
because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,
for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 NIV.

What struck me about this introductory passage to the church in Thessalonica is that it is the only church where Paul states, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord,” (v. 6a). In his letters to the other churches that we have recorded in the New Testament he is always pleading with them to become imitators of himself in his dedication to Jesus.

He claims that since the coming of the gospel to them, they are now noted for their, “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). What is interesting about his stating their faith, love and hope is that each is prefaced with a reference to the effort required to exercise them: work, labor and steadfastness.

I think Paul is telling us that the qualities of faith, love and hope in the life of a Christian don’t just happen but develops by our putting effort into our relationship with God. It takes work to build a relationship with people and it takes work to build a relationship with God.

We somehow get the impression that knowing God is simply being hit on the head one day by an angel and suddenly we are mature followers of God with a deep relationship towards Him. But if we look back through Scripture we see those who truly walked closely with God were people who made that the priority in their lives. The second half of verse six reads, “For you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

It is through suffering that we often draw the closest to God and learn the deepest and most important lessons concerning our relationship with Him. When we hurt the most it is only faith, love and hope that often help us through the crises.

To know God is to experience God and that comes through commitment to the relationship.  “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake,” 1 Thessalonians 1:5. The Gospel came to the people not simply as a bunch of theory and empty words, but with power driven by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts that led them to a deep conviction about their faith.

What would happen to our communities if we lived under strong conviction that God was the answer to their needs and hopes? I read about the underground church in Iran, Pakistan, China and a host of other countries and the impact those dedicated believers are having on their communities and nation and I wonder why not here? I read about the persecution of Christian’s in North Korea and how they stay steadfast regardless of their long prison sentences and harsh treatment.

Let’s be honest, we find time for the things that interest us and for many Christians in North America that doesn’t include Bible study, prayer, study groups and fellowship. We are lackadaisical in our relationship with God and it is seen in our lack of commitment to developing a deep relationship with God and our fellow believers.

I believe, in my heart, that the world is moving towards serious problems that are going to redefine our whole understanding of what it means to be a Christian in a hostile world (1:10). If we don’t have a strong faith we will be blown in every direction and by every silly and potentially harmful spiritual teaching that blows down the pike. It is imperative that we, like the Thessalonians, have a “deep conviction” that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit in our life.

That only comes through study, prayer and fellowship. I know my own spiritual growth, and it is a long ways from where I would wish, has come by studying the Bible with friends a couple of evenings a week. We read and study Scripture, pray for each other as well as our neighbors, family and friends, and we fellowship together.

I’ve developed friendships that strengthen me and encourage me on my journey and these people have come to mean a great deal to Ruth and myself. I’ve been able to open up about some of my own spiritual struggles, pain and shortfalls as a Christian and have received encouragement, understanding and hope in return. And I believe that is true for each of us in our groups as well.

It is exciting to see people become involved in their faith and take serious their need of growth. I have a friend who told me that he was tired of going to church each week where almost everyone is a believer so he takes Sunday mornings and goes to the local hospital and shares Christ with the ill. Eight people in the last little while have become followers of Jesus from his simple visits. Faith leads to action on behalf of others while asking God what would you have me do?

Find fellow Christians who long for a deeper experience with Jesus just as you do and allow the Holy Spirit to guide your path in what He would have you do. Open the Bible and take it seriously, take your prayer life to the next level and then let God take ahold of you and hang on because you will be in for the ride of your life!

* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world.  Some of their stories can be found at  http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/