The love of the apostle Paul for the church in Thessalonica is clear.
“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, again and again – but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
Paul’s writing drips with affection for his “brothers and sisters.” He was torn away from the church, and he longed to return. What a joyous reunion it would be!
One of the long-standing practices of the church, which dates back to ancient times, is the practice of praying together. It is one thing to pray alone. But it is entirely another thing to pray together.
When we pray together as a church and when we share the results of those prayers with each other, something powerful begins to happen. Sometimes we don’t realize the shared history we have as a church. Sometimes we forget the way in which God has moved in the past within our congregation. And sometimes we fail to see the way in which God is moving among us today.
But in praying together and sharing the results of those prayers with each other, we bring that history and those movements of God to light. We begin better to see who we are as a church. Our communal identity becomes clear. In fact, we become aware again that we are, indeed, a community.
And if we do this long enough, we might be able to put into words something concrete about our communal identity. We might be able to say meaningful things about who we are right now and where God is leading us.
The apostle Paul, so adept at prayer and at sharing the results of his prayers, was able to find those words for his beloved Thessalonians – “glory and joy.” The church was the glory and joy of the apostles. More fully, it was the glory and joy of the gospel.
Paul could see, and he wanted the church to see, the events of its communal past – with all its moments of desolation and consolation. Paul also wanted the church to get a glimpse of its future. This, too, was communal. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
Perhaps as we continue to pray together, and to freely share the results of those prayers with each other, we’ll also find ourselves more tightly bound together as a community, as the family of God. And perhaps we’ll be able to find the words for how God also is moving among us right now and what God has in store for us in the future.