How would you describe the times that we are currently living in? Is 2022 a time of great progress and prosperity, where we are both wealthier than any other time in history but also more secure? Perhaps this is the case for some in Sydney, but we know it’s not the case for everyone. For instance, I take it those currently under the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan would have a different view of how 2022 is going.
Would you describe our time as one of great discovery, of learning about ourselves and what is truly most important? Perhaps for some, but for many this is an anxiety-inducing time with depression rates high, suicide on the rise amongst many minority groups, broken relationships rife, domestic violence occurring everywhere, a lack of satisfaction obvious, and racism still seen so clearly in crevices all around our society.
Our perception of our context is so important, because it informs the way in which we establish priorities, make decisions, and outwardly express the reality of our faith in Jesus. To truly understand the Christian gospel is to have clarity about the times in which we live as God has told us in his word. We ought to understand that we live in the period between the two biggest events in the history of the world. Behind us we have the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in front of us at some point soon, we have his second coming where he will return to judge the living and the dead.
These truths are articulated throughout Holy Scripture, but are helpfully shown in 2 Thessalonians, as the apostle Paul speaks forthrightly about the times we live in. He says that we live as those loved by the Lord, who chose us for salvation and sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thess 2:13).
However it is not just that Jesus has brought salvation, sanctification and belief, but that he is coming again to judge. Those who believe will be glorified at his return. Those who refuse to love the truth and be saved will perish in a blazing fire when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his holy angels (2 Thess 1:6-10; 2:10).
Therefore, we are called to respond urgently in the way in which we conduct ourselves. One such response worth reflecting on is the way in which we pray. At the end of the letter, Paul calls the church to pray (2 Thess 3:1-5), and leaves nothing to the imagination in explaining what we should pray, why we ought to pray, and how we will continue to pray in this way.
If we know the times in which we live, we surely pray for the progress of the gospel – that it would spread like wildfire and be honoured (2 Thess 3:1). And notice the subtleties of Paul’s explanation – he doesn’t just say to pray for the spread of the gospel, but to “pray for us.” In other words, make your prayers about the spread of the gospel concrete. Pray for those who proclaim the gospel, that they would bear fruit in their proclamation.
We ought also to pray against opposition to the spread of the gospel. Paul is very helpful in reinforcing the significance of praying for the gospel to go out, by highlighting two sides of the same coin. We should pray both that the gospel spreads and that opposition to the gospel spreading would be quashed. This seems obvious, but it is perceptive because Paul understands the times: not everyone is a believer (2 Thess 3:2). Things will be difficult because those who do not have a softened heart to receive the word of the Lord will oppose it strongly. So, pray that the opposition would not succeed, but even more, pray that the word of the Lord would spread and be honoured so that opposition would depart!
If we are realistic about the times in which we live, we will understand that it will not be easy to strive and serve the Lord as Paul is exhorting us to do. God’s truth does not magically shield us from the emotional and often physical angst that ensues. In these times, when doubts run rife and we wonder if the cause of Christ might be just a step too far, we ought to remember that the Lord is faithful to his promises, and faithful to honour us in our obedience to his commands (2 Thess 3:3-4). Paul also prays that the Lord himself would direct us to the ultimate example of God’s love in the perseverance of Christ even to death on a cross (2 Thess 3:5). God himself will help us.
Are you a Christian? Are you listening to God as he tells you of the truth of the times in which we find ourselves? Here is a litmus test – how are you praying? What shapes your prayers? I don’t want to overstate the point by saying it is inherently bad to pray for our immediate needs, our desires, and those troubling things around us. However, I gather there is a problem if those become the only prayers we pray, or even if those become the central thing we pray for. If we were to listen to the word of the Lord, then we ought to pray for the gospel to spread and therefore for those who will spread it. For if we truly understand the times in which we live, there is surely nothing more important given the imminent, glorious return of the preeminent Christ.