Revisiting a concept I first wrote about in November of 2009. Here is that thought, and I hope to add more thoughts soon, as the Lord since then has been deepening my understanding.
I was doing a Biblical word study, because I wanted to understand the concept of perfection, often translated “maturity.” After all, with two children young adults, it seemed about time.
Mature, perfect, complete, sanctified, holy, whole-hearted. The study got bigger and bigger, but I kept doggedly moving through it. Learning a lot. Being deepened and blessed. Convicted again and again.
Then I came to I Thessalonians 3:9-10. How can we properly give thanks to God for all the joy that you give us in Him? Night and day we keep praying earnestly for you, longing to see your face and complete that which is lacking in your faith.
Maybe at first glance it doesn’t look like anything outstanding. But in reading the earlier part of the chapter I saw that Paul had been experiencing some discouragement in his persecution, and he had wanted to hear how the Thessalonians were doing in hope of being encouraged. Timothy had brought back such an outstanding report of how these believers were growing in faith and love that Paul was filled with joy and hope.
So then, he said that this joy motivated him to pray for them even more.
Paul didn’t say, “What a relief that they’re doing well. I can forget about them for a while. I’ll focus my prayer attention on those people over there who aren’t doing well.” No, actually it was just the opposite. In fact, his continued prayer for them was a way of showing his thankfulness to God for what He had already done in their lives.
“Augh!” I thought. “I don’t pray like that!” When I hear that people are doing well spiritually, I tend to think, “Oh, wonderful. Thank you, Lord. Now I’ll pray for these other people who aren’t doing so well.”
And I realized that sometimes my prayers are motivated more by fear than by faith. I grew up hearing and giving prayer requests for people in trouble. Health trouble, financial trouble, spiritual trouble. I don’t mean to say that these requests are wrong. But I don’t remember hearing or saying, “Pray for so and so, because he’s really growing strong in the Lord.”
The mindset Paul shows here, and as well in Colossians 1:3-4 (“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you ever since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints”), is one of the confidence of victory, rather than the fear of defeat. It’s centered around the assurance that God is doing a great work. “You’ve made great progress! Praise God! Now I’m eagerly longing to personally see that you make even greater progress!”
One thing I’ve learned about maturity is that the maturity that can “complete” (perfect, bring to maturity) the faith of another is the same maturity that rejoices in, revels in, the beautiful growth that is already evident, the faith and love already blossoming. This kind of maturity will focus less on what I think God still needs to do and more on what God is already doing. In great joy I’ll be motivated by it to pray even more.