Partnership at a Distance (a thought from Colossians)
How do we stay connected to sisters and brothers in Christ at a distance? As I look back over the past sixty years of having good companions in many other places of the world there are several things that have emerged as important to me and to others. The most important way of maintaining these partnerships is when we can travel to be with each other – that has been a great privilege for Kay and me over many years. There is no substitute to sit with each other in one’s natural habitat as we do life together –even if some of the time these are only brief visits.
In 2010 it seemed that the Lord was indicating to me that my travels to Africa were no longer going to happen. When I spoke of this to the group of twenty or so people who meet quarterly in Portland out of our love and concern for Africans one of the friends said, “Oh you will still be going to Africa. You will just be going through us.” And it reminded me of what Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi: “I am sending Timothy to you for I have no one else like him who will show genuine concern for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:19-20) There are lots of good things that come out of networking but it does not maintain and deepen partnerships – only when we send a like-minded friend to be with our other friend does this happen.
But if we can’t go in person or we don’t have a friend who can bring our love to these friends we still have great opportunities to communicate. In the early days I spent hours every week hand writing or typing letters to people who were important in my life. Much of the New Testament is composed of letters written by Paul, John, Peter and Mark. Today, a phone call, an e-mail or a blog posting makes the process simple – but we still have to keep initiating communication with those who are important to us.
Some thoughts from Paul’s letter to believers in Colosse highlight another way. The Apostle Paul had never been to Colosse. But Epaphras was sent by that local fellowship to serve Paul in prison in Rome. Because of their deep love for Jesus they were bound together in a partnership – a partnership between an insider from Colosse and an outsider in Rome to care for and support the local fellowships in Colosse and Laodicea. Many of us in the United States have a God-given love for friends in Africa. We are the “outsiders” to Africa but we are connected to each other and we are connected in partnerships with many “insiders” in various countries of Africa. What does this partnership look like?
It begins because each and every one of us is clear that Jesus is the supreme creator and sustainer of the world and of each of our lives. We know he is the beginning and the end and the reconciler of all things in heaven and earth. And he holds first place in our lives. (Colossians 1:15-20)
This vision of Jesus compels us to work to the point of exhaustion (kopian in 1:29) as we are motivated by a strong inner concern to help everyone we know come to maturity in Christ. In this letter Paul uses the word agonizomai three times. It is a word describing the life and death struggle in the area. In this struggle nothing is held back. Paul uses the word to describe how he and Epaphras were giving everything in them to pray for those in Colosse.
It has always intrigued me that even though Paul and Epaphras would have known many of the circumstances in the lives of the believers in Colosse and Laodicea because Epaphras was one of them they chose to pray about underlying issues in the lives of his friends rather than their circumstances. So many of the prayers I hear in this country are all about changing our circumstances. But they prayed that these friends at a distance would:
- Have spiritual wisdom and understanding to know God’s will.
- They would live a life worthy and pleasing to the Lord.
- They would be fruitful in good work.
- They would grow in their knowledge of God.
- They would have God’s inner strength to endure patiently with joy and thankfulness.
So it seems that we outside partners have our assignment as we love and care for our African friends. We are to be women and men who struggle on their behalf as we give constant attention to perseverance in prayer.
And by God’s grace we shall do this. . . and more than likely our African friends are already doing this for us.