In 1st Thessalonians 5:6, Paul writes, “Let us be alert and self-controlled.”
I always used to read those words only as a warning, but now I am beginning to see them as both a warning and an invitation.
Warning: A few years ago my car was totaled when I was rear-ended by a pickup truck. I was waiting to turn left at an intersection, with my attention focused only on the oncoming traffic, waiting for space to make my turn. I did not keep an eye on my rearview mirror and the danger that was approaching me from behind. Since that accident I have been much more alert to the dangers that may come at me from any direction. That’s a part of what Paul has in mind. Every day we face the dangers of temptation from every conceivable direction. We need to be alert at all times, watching out for these dangers.
More and more, though, I am recognizing that I especially need to be alert to the weaknesses within my soul even more so than to the dangers from without. Yes, temptations come at me from various directions, but I am discovering that the greatest dangers come from the weaknesses of my own soul. When I feel insecure, I am more susceptible to temptation. When I am worn out I am more susceptible. When I feel hurt or lonely I am more likely to give in to sin. When I am anxious I am more likely to stumble. When I am not aware of my own sinful tendencies I am in greater danger of being ensnared by them. I find that I easily slip back into unhealthy default tendencies. I find that I get caught in ruts that aren’t good. I find that I often act out of blindness over what is good or what is best. I am finding that I especially need to be alert to the weaknesses in my soul.
Invitation: I am also beginning to discover that the call to be alert is an invitation as well as a warning. Temptations are not the only things that come at us from various directions; God continually fills our days with opportunities.
If we are alert—if we pay attention to what is going on around us—we will find opportunities to be an instrument of Christ’s love, to extend His goodness, to stand up for what is right, to grow spiritually from the various things that come into our lives, to offer hope or comfort or encouragement to another, to tell someone the good news about Jesus Christ. If we are alert, we will find many opportunities to “shine like stars in the universe” (as Paul says in Philippians 2:15).
Moreover, if we are alert, we might find many opportunities to enjoy God’s presence in our lives throughout the day. God is much closer to us than we generally realize, and He is far more interested in enriching our lives than we can comprehend. If we are alert, we may become aware of His presence, and we may taste of His love and goodness, and we may take in more deeply the peace and joy and hope God intends for His beloved children.
So, as Paul advises, let us be alert and self-controlled.