Look back over your life for a moment. Has it turned out like you planned it? If you say that it has, you are in a rare situation. Most of us look back and see all the twist and turns and think, very few things in our life really worked out like we thought it would. We made great plans all the way back to childhood, but very seldom do those plans come to pass like we expected. Probably, if we are honest with ourselves we would say that many of the best things that have happened to us, came as a surprise. God blesses us with a tremendous ability to forget. So, we tend to not remember how we thought things would be or even what our visions were of our future life when we were young.
I was reading this morning from I Thessalonians 3 when I noticed something in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica that I hadn’t given any thought to before, at least, I don’t remember thinking much about it before. It is in verses 11-13. Timothy had returned from an assigned trip to visit the Thessalonian church and brought wonderful news of how well they were doing. Paul had been deeply worried about their state since he had to leave them in a hurry and they were going through lots of persecution. So, he is thrilled to get the news of how they are doing great and long to see him. But look closely at what he said, “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
Focus on the point of Paul praying to God to direct His way to the church in Thessalonica. He wanted with everything in him to be with them and complete what was lacking in their faith and understanding. Along with the message of how well they were doing, it is obvious that Timothy also brought word of the challenges they were facing both in their moral behavior and in their lack of understanding about the second coming of Jesus. They were struggling with things like the purpose of their life of faith in Christ and how they were to treat both the leaders in the church and even one another. Some had decided that Jesus was coming again soon, so there was no need for them to continue working for a living. They quit their jobs and were depending on the church to provide for them while they sat and waited for Jesus to return. All these matters were so important that Paul felt the strong need to go back and be with them to correct the errors in these areas.
Imagine Him pouring out his heart to God to give him the opportunity to go back to be with them now and deal with all these concerns. But a question arises. How did God respond to Paul’s strong pleading? The answer is that Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to go back any time soon to be with them and help them grow in these areas. He would be given the chance to send Timothy back again and to write the two letters we know of to them to deal with those issues he knew about. But God didn’t open that door for him to return to them. His strong letters and the mission given Timothy would have to suffice to meet their needs.
I wonder how many times in life we feel so strongly that what we see as the best answer to a problem moves us to pray earnestly that God will open the door for us to go and meet that need, turns out for God to open the door and allow us to go and meet the need just as we ask. I suspect that many times God sees a deeper reason to guide us in another direction. God had very different plans for Paul and what he would do in the future. I don’t know how he dealt with the refusal of God to send him back to work with these people he loved. But it shouts to message to us that how we see the needs and what we see as the answer may not be what God sees at all. Paul allowed God to guide him and for him to work where God opened the doors. Was he always happy about God’s plans? Probably not. But, like Paul we need to have the heart to let God lead and us follow even when it doesn’t feel right to us.