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It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

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I sat at the stoplight watching cars pass through the busy intersection. That’s when I noticed the vacant church sitting at the corner with a large “For Sale” sign in front of it. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this congregation? What would cause people to vacate a church and leave it empty for another purpose? I wondered if their faith was real,  not only inside the church but inside the people.

It struck me how this empty church could easily be a symbol of our lives in Christ. Are we just going through the motions with a works-based faith or are we a sincere follower of Christ? As Matthew 6:22 says in The Message: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Like that church, do we let the light of Christ light up our interior or are we more prone to board up the windows and not let Jesus Christ into our life?

If we are not careful, we will be so focused on leading a clean life and doing good that we miss the power of the Spirit to transform our life for Christ. In essence, our works create a vacant church that looks good on the outside, but is empty on the inside. Christ warned us about this condition in Matt 12:43-45: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (NIV)

Like the vacant church on the corner, an empty life has a For Sale sign on it. If every square foot is not filled with the Spirit of Christ, it becomes available for anyone or anything to fill it. The advice of Proverbs 4:23 is worth noting: “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.” (The Message)

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