At my ordination service (a time when fellow Pastors gather to examine you and determine whether you seem to be called to pastoral ministry) one of the best questions I was asked was this one: “Do you have a Pastor’s heart?”
My answer to the question was honest. I said, “I hope so.” A Pastor’s heart is to be that of a Shepherd who cares for the sheep and is willing to sacrifice himself to care for and protect those sheep. There is perhaps no better picture of a Pastor’s heart than this text in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10.
Lest you tune me out and determine that this is not a text for you, I want you to know that I think the text has much broader application. What we see in this passage is a picture not just of a Pastor . . . but also of Jesus. It is the heart of any person who wants to reach another person in the name of the gospel. I’m hoping that this is the heart you want in your own relationship with others.
Unfortunately, today people have some negative stereotypes of Christians.
- The church is only concerned about my money
- The church is only concerned about numbers. They want to be bigger . . . they don’t really care about me as a person. They will love me if I go to their church but if I should go somewhere else, I will be treated like a leper.
- The church is judgmental and only seems to notice the things I am doing wrong. They want me to conform to their standards of behavior
- The church turns away from (or shuns) people who fall into sin (e.g. they shoot their own wounded).
There are two sad things about these stereotypes. First it is sad that Jesus gets such a bad rap because of these perceptions of God’s people. Sadder still is that too much of the time these stereotypes are correct.
Every team in every sport knows that basic skills need to be practiced again and again because these are the things that win (or lose) games. This morning we are going to look at three basic tenets of Christian living. These are things we should know but we need to be reminded of often.
The Heart Of Christ Is The Heart That Loves People
17 But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. [1 Thessalonians 2:17-18]
Paul ached for the Thessalonians. He wanted to see them because he cared about them. He loved them. Paul was concerned that all the persecution that resulted from his visit might be adversely affecting the people of the church. If you will, Paul “was worried” about these people.
Paul sounds very parental here. He told us earlier that in some ways he feels like a mother to the church and in other ways he feels like their father. We see evidence of this parental heart here.
I’ve learned that just because your children move away from home doesn’t mean you stop being concerned about their lives. You still long to see your children. You are still eager to spend time with them and hear what is happening in their lives. When you know they are traveling, you are still concerned about them. When they are sick, your prayers become more intense. A good parent is always concerned.
In the same way, a person with the heart of Christ
- Sees beyond himself and notices the many hurting people around him
- Observes those who are discarded and rejected by others and seeks to impart value and worth to them.
- Recognizes people who struggle and look beyond the sin, failures and complaints of the person and try to help them get back on their feet.
- Respond to those who have rejected God by seeking to show them the love of Jesus by our actions.
John Wesley wrote, “Do all the good you can, by all the means that you can, in all the ways that you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can.” This is the heart of a pastor, the heart of Jesus, and the heart that every follower of Christ needs. If we want people to hear the message of the gospel, we must show it to them first.
The Heart of Jesus Follows Through (3:1-5)
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
Paul could have left Thessalonica and rejoiced at all the people he “led to Christ” and never worried about them again. He could have concluded that he had done his job and been quite content and satisfied. However, Paul understood that his job was not simply to “get conversions,” his job was to make disciples. Making disciples takes time.
We need to rethink what we call evangelism. There is certainly a place for a quick sharing of our faith and an explanation of the gospel message. However, we need to remember that salvation is not simply a matter of understanding the truth or finding Jesus acceptable. Being a child of God is about more than saying a prayer while the soft music plays. Jesus didn’t call people to merely “accept” or “receive” Him. He called people to follow Him. He told them to count the cost; to take up their cross; to not turn back. We have not finished the job of evangelism until we have helped someone become a follower of Christ.
Jesus told us the parable of the seeds. The seed was scattered on the ground. On the hard ground the seed did nothing. In the fertile soil it grew greatly. However, there are two other scenarios: the seed that was scorched by the sun because it lacked roots, and the seed that was choked by the cares of the world. In these later two cases, there was initial growth but it did not last. Jesus said this is a picture of how people respond to the gospel. The initial introduction to faith in Christ is not all that is necessary. We must have roots.
A person who responds to the gospel message will face certain battles. The first battle is with the Devil. We have so caricatured the devil that he seems more like a figure of fantasy (like Donald Duck, Wiley Coyote, or the Big Bad Wolf) than a skilled and relentless opponent. The Devil rejoices.
Satan’s goal is simple: dig up new professors of faith before they really get rooted in their relationship with God. The Devil will attack us with outright lies, subtle distortions of truth, and immediate enticements. He will try to convince us that following Christ is too hard, too costly, and not near as much fun as diving into the ways of the world. The Devil is smart, resourceful, and doesn’t quit.
Martin Luther is quoted as saying: “If you don’t believe in the Devil, it’s because you’ve never tried to resist him.”
We need to help new believers (and old) to recognize the work of the Devil. We need to help people who stumble to get back up and claim the grace of God anew.
Second, there will be hard times. When we first come to Christ we often have the mistaken impression that life is going to suddenly be “happy all the day”. We begin our walk with Christ feeling the weight of sin being lifted. We have a new perspective and it is wonderful. It is like having someone “turn the lights on” in our lives.
However, after a period of time, trials come. Life gets difficult. The light of Christ seems hidden behind the clouds of adversity. The believer starts to wonder if God has turned away. They (we) question whether our earlier experience was valid.
The Christian life is a lot like marital love. When you are first married most people are floating on air. They don’t see any irritating traits in their mate. They believe they have the perfect relationship. Within days they emerge from the fog and reality starts to hit. They discover the fact that the other person is sometimes annoying. This person doesn’t do things right (the way you think they should do or think about things). What is even more aggravating is that your mate seems to feel the problem is YOU!
Often young couples immediately start wondering, “Have I made the biggest mistake of my life?” No! You are just facing the reality of married life. True love is not the fairy tale feelings we feel at first. True love comes from learning to love and cherish a person who has flaws. It is learning to love the person rather than their performance.
Most older married couples aren’t “hanging on each other” all the time. They don’t have that star-struck look as they talk about their mate. However, what you do see is a depth of connection that is uncommon. They seem to beat with one heart. They finish each other’s sentences, and they have learned to cherish the strengths of their mate and overlook the flaws. That’s true love.
Paul did warn the Thessalonians. He warned the new believers that following Christ wouldn’t be easy. There would be trials. They could expect persecution. We must likewise warn people that the road to Heaven is not an easy road. We must abandon this idea that the successful Christian is the one who can stand alone and has no need for help. That’s foolishness. God created us to need each other. There are days when I need your strength and days when you will need mine.
The Heart of Jesus Sees Relationships as the Greatest Blessing
At the end of chapter two Paul wrote,
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
Do you understand what Paul is saying? He is reminding us that the greatest accomplishment of our lives will be the people that we have helped to find the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ. He looks ahead to that day when Christ will appear and the world will recognize that He is indeed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. On that day, says Paul, as he stands before the Lord, the thing he will be “proudest of” (if I can use that term) will be the people God has brought to faith through his testimony. He will glory in those people who have turned to Christ because of his example, his instruction, and his ministry.
The same will be true for you and me. When we stand before the Lord the Righteous Judge, our greatest treasures will not be our fancy cars, our nice homes, our trophies, our business accomplishments, our attractive appearance, our degrees or our bank accounts. The greatest treasure will be what we have deposited in the lives of others.
Jesus certainly hints at this in Matthew 25. When he separates the sheep from the goats he does so not on the basis of worldly accomplishments. He separates them on the basis of what they were willing to invest in the lives of others. Those who cared, who loved, who had time to be involved; those are the ones he recognizes as his own.
In light of these things there are some implications for the way we live our lives. First, we need to make time in our lives to care. We are often so busy running from obligation to obligation that we don’t “have time” to really connect with people. We are pleasant to each other but we aren’t able to enter into each other’s lives and truly connect. We are so task oriented that we can’t be people oriented. We are so busy doing good things we have no time for the best things. As Jesus made time for others, so should we.
I encourage you to allow a little more time than you need when you run errands. Give yourself time to connect, to listen, and to care for the people you come into contact with. Allow extra time. Give God a chance to open a door. Be prepared to talk to the waitress, the cashier, the clerk, and the Doctor. Dare to go beyond “business conversation”. Dare to connect with someone else.
A while back I was in a Doctor’s office. I didn’t really “know” this Doctor but I knew this person had been through some difficult times. So I asked, “How are you doing? It seems like things have been pretty rough.” For the next ten minutes the Doctor sat down and shared the hurt and frustration of his life. I know the waiting patients might have been upset but I bet they had a better Doctor taking care of them after our visit. I never shared the gospel that day but I think I did extend the love of Jesus. We can’t do this if we are in too much of hurry.
Second, we need to change the way we view the work of the church. We seem to think that our job is to get more people into our building. That’s not our job. Our job is to help get more of Christ and His Kingdom into the people! We must see beyond ourselves as a church. We must have a Kingdom perspective. Our job is to impact others in the name of Christ regardless of where they end up going to church. We do this only as Christ lives in and through us.
Third, we need to allow ourselves to need others. The road of life is sometimes difficult. In those times we need someone to help us.
You will often see teammates in a NASCAR race helping each other during the race. One team member serves as a buffer or a barrier that keeps other cars from catching the leader. They communicate with each other about potential problems. People who run for exercise (ick!) find it much easier to run with a partner. When one is tired and wants to give up, the other pumps you up and cheers you on. I’m told it is easier to diet with a group because you hold each other accountable.
In the same way, life is better, richer, and easier if we face hard times with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It helps to get through cancer treatments if you don’t have to do it alone. It is easier to get through times of grief if there are people around you that will give you time to grieve. It is easier to overcome temptation if you can draw strength from someone else. We need to learn to be vulnerable.
We need to develop a heart like Paul, a heart like Jesus and yes, a Pastor’s heart. We must care for others like a Shepherd cares for his sheep. We must get involved with those around us. If we could all learn to love and care for others as Christ does, who knows? We might just turn the world upside down.