A little over a year ago I would never have thought that Jen and I would be in Liberia serving as full-time missionaries. We had good jobs in the United States and were happy and comfortable. But God had a plan for us. Do you believe that God has a plan for you? Do you believe that God’s plan for you is perfect?
I knew that God was asking us to leave the life we had created in the United States and move to Liberia… but right before we left to fly over here I got anxious that God’s plan might have some holes in it. I thought that God chose the wrong person for the job. Why would God send me? I didn’t go to seminary and I wasn’t a pastor. I didn’t go to school to become a missionary. I knew God was calling us to start a clinic but I’m an engineer and although my wife is a nurse I don’t know much about healthcare. Why God did you chose me??? I’m not skilled or knowledgeable enough to succeed. I was nervous because I didn’t know how to be the person that God was calling me to become… then I felt God tugging at my heart. It was a couple of days before we left and I felt the Spirit prompting me to read 1 Thessalonians.
I didn’t have to get far before I put my Bible down and thanked God for making His presence clear to me. I had been focusing on all the wrong things… my power, my skills, my training, and my abilities… somewhere I lost the focus on God and God’s power and God’s perfect plan. The verse that struck me was 1 Thessalonians 1:3…
We continually 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
It struck me that Paul was writing to a church that he started and his happiness and joy was not that they were great speakers, or greatly skilled, or greatly trained… but that they had something else that I would like to look at in more detail today. They are what define a follower of Jesus… which more important than being a husband, more important than being an engineer and more important than being a missionary… I want to be known as a follower of Jesus. So today we are going to look at 3 keys to being a follower of Jesus.
The first thing that we see after Paul points out that God is both an all powerful God as well as an all loving Father is that he is proud of the church in Thessalonica for their works produced by faith. It is important that faith come first and that works are produced by faith and not the other way around. I firmly believe what the Bible says that we are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our loving savior and that by His death our sins have been forgiven. As it says works produced by faith it is clear that because of our faith we will not be inactive but will produce work… or fruit. James 2:14-17…
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Just as leaves are proof that a tree is alive, so are works produced by faith proof of that faith.
1 Corinthians 13:2 tells us, if I have the faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. The second point that Paul remembers to thank God for in his prayers is the church’s labor prompted by love. Again it is important to note that this labor is prompted by love meaning that the love comes first and then there is labor that flows out of this love. Jesus taught in Matthew 23:37 that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind… and also to love your neighbor as yourself. I love my wife, Jen, and so I want the best for her. I am willing to labor for her because I love her and it is not a burden. I enjoy laboring to make her happy… because when you love someone, you become happy when they are happy. So if we truly love Jesus, won’t we similarly labor without burden to make Him happy? We are not laboring out of a desire to run away from hell but instead prompted by love we are running toward Jesus.
Ezekiel 36:26 states that God, “…will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you: I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Before we truly love God all of our labor is to gain something for us. To strive after money, comfort and happiness in all the wrong places. Even many Christians strive to gain Heaven and the Blessing of God by acting religious and righteous. It is only after we love God that he will give us a new heart, one that is in tune with God’s will and wants to, above everything else, glorify God. Then our labor will be in line with the perfect plan God has for us while we are here on this earth.
The third point that Paul highlights is the church’s endurance inspired by hope. The fact that Jesus is who He says He is gives us hope. We have hope that because our sins our forgiven we are born again and live as righteous, not because of anything that we did, but because of the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the great exchange He bore all of our sin on the cross so that we might be gifted with all of His righteousness. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” When we realize that God’s plan for me and His plan for you is perfect we will have Hope… and in that hope we will be inspired to endure to the end of our life as a follower of Jesus. This hope is what allowed his disciples to endure to the end… and for Paul to say to Timothy at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
We here today are still running the race. The question is to where are you running. I was worried about my abilities but found peace in the fact Jesus simply wants me to “follow Him.” He wants me to have faith in Him as my savior, to have love for Him and those around me, and He wants me to have a hope for His plan in my life to be seen to completion. So I don’t have to worry about my training or my skill or my abilities… I just have to trust in God enough to have faith, love and hope… and all my works, labors and endurance will be given to me with the full power of the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus has this invitation to you today… “Follow Me.” Are you going to accept it and follow wherever Jesus leads? I encourage you to not focus on yourself and your weakness, but on God and his Greatness. Let’s today decide to… Follow Jesus.