April 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion I began a series I’m calling “Life in Lockdown.” On the basis of the creation account in Genesis, I noted that our longing for relationship in this unique time of history is a reflection of our fundamental humanity. We were created in relationship and for relationship. We reflect God’s own nature when we live and work in community with others. Thus, as you long to be with people even though you have to stay in your home, you are experiencing an essential part of your humanity.
Recognizing your inborn need for relationships may be part of what God wants to teach you through the COVID-19 crisis. Now, I realize that you may already know this about yourself in a profound way. But if you’re at all like me, you can sometimes get so wrapped up in the work of life, in the tasks you have to do and in the mission to which you have been called, that you can underestimate the importance of relationships in your life. These days, that kind of underestimation is harder to do. The lack of community you are experiencing can heighten your appreciation of the relationships you usually experience but can easily take for granted. On Easter Sunday morning, for example, as I worshiped virtually with my home church, I felt such strong love for those leading and joining me in worship. Being away from them increased my gratitude for them and awareness of how much I need them in my life.
Though I believe it’s important for us to learn the value of community in this time, learning is not the only way for us to receive God’s grace. This is also a time, I think, to receive the grace of innovation. In particular, I am convinced that God wants to teach us how to be creative in the ways we connect with each other. As it turns out, Scripture has much to say about this, even though the biblical writings were not composed in the era of email, smartphones, Facebook, and Zoom.
Consider the example of the Apostle Paul and his relationship with the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul had come to this city in Macedonia in order to preach the gospel. The Thessalonians responded favorably to Paul’s message, joining together to form a new church. But Paul’s stay in Thessalonica was cut short by persecution. He left town abruptly, eventually ending up in Athens.
In order to stay connected to the Thessalonian Christians, Paul wrote a letter we know as 1 Thessalonians. In this letter he shared his affection for his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, talking about how much he missed them: “We longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But when he couldn’t come to visit them, he chose another way to connect: “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). Notice Paul’s language here. When he talks about bearing it no longer, you can feel the intensity of his desire to be with the Thessalonians.
Rather than merely feeling longing and sadness, however, Paul chose a creative way to stay connected. He sent his close partner to Thessalonica, both to share news of how Paul was doing and to get news about the church so he might bring it back to Paul in Athens. And that’s exactly what happened. When Timothy returned, he brought reassuring news about the wellbeing of the Thessalonians and their longing for Paul. This gladdened Paul’s heart (1 Thessalonians 3:9).
From our point of view, sending Timothy to Thessalonica might seem like an obvious thing for Paul to have done. But his relationship with the Thessalonians came early in Paul’s ministry. He had to be creative in figuring out how to maintain his relationships with his churches because there were few precedents for him to follow. Sending a co-worker was Paul’s experiment in relationship nurturance. It worked out so well that it became a common feature of his church planting mission.
How can you connect creatively with people you’re not able to be physically close to? Well, sending an emissary like Timothy isn’t a good idea. But you can surely come up with others. For example, my wife has for years had a tradition of making chocolate covered strawberries as Easter gifts for family and friends. In the past, she’d bring these to our Sunday afternoon Easter gathering. Not this year, of course. But that didn’t stop Linda. She made her special strawberries on the Saturday morning before Easter, and then spent the afternoon delivering them all over Southern California. When she made a delivery, she stayed far away from the recipients, but they talked for several minutes before she went on to her next stop.
Tomorrow, I’ll consider another way in which Paul’s example can encourage you to be creative in connecting with others. For now, you may want to work through the following questions.
Something to Think About:
Since living under the “stay-at-home” order, have you been creative in connecting with others? If so, what have you done? How did it go?
If not, what might you do today to connect with someone you’re not living with?
Something to Do:
Is there someone in your life who may be feeling exceptionally lonely during the lockdown, perhaps someone who lives alone? For example, this experience can be especially painful for a person who has recently lost a spouse. Ask the Lord to bring to mind someone you can reach out to by phone or video conference. Then, contact this person. (Note: I just took some of my own medicine. I thought of a friend who recently lost his wife and who is having a hard time with the isolation of the lockdown. So I called him up and we had a good chat. I’m glad I did this and I think he is too.)
Gracious God, thank you for the example of Paul, who creatively reached out to the Thessalonians when he was separated from them. Help me, Lord, to do similarly in this time of physical separation from others. Bring to mind someone with whom I can connect today. Then, may I reach out to this person in love. To you be all the glory, Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Working Faith, Finishing Up, and Keeping the Faith (1 Thess. 1:1–4:8; 4:13–5:28; 2 Thess. 1:1-2:17)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.