September 6, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 (NRSV)
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!
Sometimes in life, we get so focused on the moment that we overlook the “long view.” We fail to see how what we’re doing today matters for the future. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul and his colleague take the long view of their work. They see what they’re doing in the moment as related to what will happen when Christ returns. Their example encourages us to see our lives in light of the future—our future, to be sure, but also God’s future.
If you’ve been reading my Life for Leaders devotions for a while, you know that I love being in nature. I especially enjoy hiking, which allows me to see both up close and from a distance the glory of God’s creation. When I hike, I often go up mountains, sometimes even getting to the top of them. I love being able to drink in the expansive panoramas from the top of a mountain. I feel both calmed and excited by the chance to drink in the literal long view. (Recently, my son, Nathan, outdid me when it comes to seeing the long view. He hiked to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States. See the photo for proof. Now that’s a long view!)
We use the expression “taking the long view” to describe times when we look not at what lies right in front of us, but rather at the distant future. This often involves using our imaginations to consider what that future might look like. Ultimately by taking the long view we are better able to live in the moment with purpose and impact. We can focus on what matters rather than getting caught in trivialities that beg for our attention but aren’t nearly as important as they seem at the time.
The Apostle Paul and his apostolic colleagues took the long view of their ministry with the Thessalonians. They had preached the gospel in that Macedonian city, leading a small group of people to faith in Christ and forming them into a community we call a church. We can tell from 1 Thessalonians that Paul and Co. were concerned with many things having to do with the Thessalonian believers. They wanted them to be solid in the faith, to live holy lives, and to hope with confidence in God’s future.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy surely wanted individual believers to grow in spiritual maturity (1 Thessalonians 4:1, for example). They were also deeply concerned about the well-being of the church as an organic body. This concern reflected, among other things, their long-view perspective on their ministry. As they envisioned the future coming of the Lord, they pictured themselves receiving from him the kind of award that was given to victorious athletes. The “crown of boasting” would be rather like an Olympic gold medal in today’s world (2:19). Someday, when Jesus returns, Paul and his colleagues will stand before the Lord wearing the proof of their ministerial success. And what will be this proof? What will be their crown of victory? The letter writers answer in this way: “Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!” (2:19-20). The proof of their success as church planting missionaries was not the number of individual conversions they produced, but rather the existence of a healthy, holy, and abiding Christian community.
As I reflect upon this striking truth, I’m impressed by how important the church is not only to Paul and his team but also to the Lord. It’s terribly easy these days to point out the ample faults of the church. It’s tempting to regard the church as inessential or even something we should leave behind altogether. But, in fact, when Christ returns, the Lord and those who serve him will be glorified by the existence of thriving, God-honoring, faithful churches. Churches really do matter to God.
The example of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy also reminds me of the importance of taking the long view of my own life. I need to reflect on questions like: What do I want to accomplish in my life? What matters most to me and to God? What difference should I be making in the world? To what purpose is God calling me in this season of my life?
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a dear friend who has been working hard on a major project. Along the way, he realized that this project needs to be part of the larger mission of his life. He feels the need to clarify his greater purpose in the next decade and beyond. It was a joy to converse with my friend. I appreciate the questions he is asking about his own life. I also appreciate the questions he has stirred up in me. Like the Apostle Paul and his church-planting colleagues, I want to think and live not only in the moment, but also for the future, and not just my future, but God’s future. That would be taking the long view.
Are you someone who tends to live in the moment most of the time? Or do you often see your life in light of the future? Why do you think you are the way you are?
In ten years, what would you like to have accomplished in your life?
In ten years, what sort of person would you like to be?
Set aside some time for prayerful reflection. Think about where your life is going and where you would like it to be in ten years.
Gracious God, once again we thank you for the example of Paul and his colleagues. Thank you for their future orientation and for their ability to take a long view of their work.
Though I am not an apostle, I want my work to matter. I want to consider what I’m doing today in light of the future. Help me, Lord, to take the long view of my work, my leadership, and my whole life. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Are You Emotionally Present?
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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.