We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 [ESV]
One of my favorite illustrations about peaceful congregations comes from the pen of Max Lucado, When Fishermen Don’t Fish (Click here for a website where this story may be found, or better yet, buy the book here). In the book, The Eye of the Storm, Lucado tells the story of a fishing trip ruined by bad weather. Max, his dad, and his friend Mark spend three days trapped in his father’s camper with no time for fishing, Max begins to see personality flaws in his friend and his father. Max begins seeing Mark as more irritating every hour. He sees his dad as incompetent and unsupportive when he offers his supposed constructive criticism of Mark. He wonders how his dad could have raised such an even-tempered son. He questions his own judgment which prompted him to think Mark would be a good camping buddy. Tiring of Reader’s Digest articles, stale jokes, soggy food, and endless games of Monopoly, the three begin to bicker and fight. Max’s moral: When fishermen don’t fish, they fight.
A truly peaceful congregation, united in the Holy Spirit, is a joy to serve. I’ve had that privilege in two very specific situations. In both cases, it was because the people, pastor, and leaders were united in pursuit of the Mission of God in that place. It is a rich and rewarding experience.
There are adornments of ministry that serve to keep us united in God’s mission. Paul mentions them here: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19). Of these, I see prayer as central, and involving all the others in this short list of imperatives.
Prayer includes rejoicing, giving thanks, and seeking God’s will. The Holy Spirit ought always shape our prayers. Prayer properly places us all on the level ground at the foot of the cross. When we pray we are acknowledging that we need God, and by that acknowledgment putting ourselves in a posture of humility. When I pray, I am seeking help from God, and doing so according to his will. The Holy Spirit sometimes must even intercede for me in groans and sighs that only God can understand. It’s very difficult to be angry at someone for whom you are praying.
When a congregation is committed to God’s mission, to prayer, seeking God’s help, looking for his will to be done, and rejoicing in his grace and goodness, there is very little opportunity to quarrel and bicker. Peace flows like a river through such a congregation. If I’m a part of that, then my heart is at peace as well.
Focus on the mission. Be constant in prayer. Seek the Holy Spirit’s influence. This is the pathway to peace. And to think, this is God’s will for us all: for me, for you, for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. For God’s glory and for our good.