I don’t believe that God has given mountains the ability to think, act, or voluntarily make life difficult for hikers, but if He has, then there’s a mountain just outside of Cosby, Tenn., that has bested me several times. Some close friends and I have tried to backpack a beautiful loop that includes Maddron Bald, and more than once we’ve had to go home cold, wet, and embarrassed.
Fed up with lugging packs along the 20-mile trek, a good friend and I decided several years ago to do the whole loop in a day. We went in June to have the maximum amount of daylight, and the trip was unforgettable: stunning scenery, a couple of (thankfully) timid bears, and wonderful conversation. The last third of the trip was a steep descent. While my friend — who was (and still is) in much better shape than I — kept the conversation going as if nothing had changed, something was different for me. I was wearing out. My mind was consumed with the thought of finishing the trail, which, by God’s grace, we did.
Perseverance is difficult. Starting well and ending well are not the same. Many hikers, joggers, students and makers of New Year’s resolutions have lost the will to continue. Fatigue, boredom, opposition and trials set in to keep the most well-intentioned individuals from continuing what they started.
The same is true spiritually. Probably every Christian that I know wants to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” But the worries of this age and the pleasures of this life erode our fervor for God. How can we keep on keeping on? How can we not become spiritual casualties or let our faith fade into a lukewarm routine?
In 1 Thessalonians 3, we see both that the Thessalonian believers persevered in their faith and love and how they persevered. We saw in Chapter 1 how the gospel came to them, and in Chapter 2 we were able to gain some insight into Paul’s mindset in being a mentor/evangelist. Chapter 3 picks up the narrative of Paul’s encounter with them. As we saw in Acts 17, persecution drove Paul away from Thessalonica. After being away from them for some time — wondering, praying, fretting — he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. He was genuinely fearful that the Thessalonians would leave the faith because of persecution (3:5). Paul was ecstatic when Timothy brought back the news he’d been praying for: They had stood firm in the Lord (3:8). They persevered. But how? The text gives us some hints.
First, Paul let them know that they would face tribulation and distress. We are “appointed” or “destined” for tribulation, he said (3:3). Paul told them the truth about Christianity. It doesn’t help anyone if we sugarcoat our faith and make it out to be something it’s not. Following Christ isn’t easy; to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Second, Paul and Timothy supported the church through their actions. They didn’t merely love them with feelings in their hearts; they acted. Timothy’s departure was a sacrifice for both (3:2). We must demonstrate our love for others through our deeds, knowing that God may use these deeds to be the encouragement someone needs not to give up.
Third, Paul diligently prayed for the church (3:11-13). Just as certain demons flee through prayer, through prayer we and our spiritual siblings persevere in the faith (Mark 9:29).