My cousin lives in Boston. His wife was two blocks away from the finish line last Monday, running late on her way to cheer on a marathoner-friend. Then the bombs exploded, sending out the shrapnel of a thousand slow-motion moments into the hearts of those who waited for news of her safety.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.

Paul writes the opening line of his letter to the Colossians from his house-prison in Rome, hundreds of miles from many of the churches under his watch and care. He often went months between letters or reports on these outposts of the Christian faith, longing desperately to hear if the fledgling followers stood strong or had strayed away.

When I was younger, I read Paul’s expressions of gratitude as something like “we’re just so thankful to God for your precious hearts,” a sweet sentiment destined for Christian bookstore coffee cups.

But this should actually be read more like the cries of ten thousand Boston mothers this week — much more like OH THANK GOD, I heard the news and I’ve been trying to reach you for hours and now I know you are safe. Paul is always desperate to hear that the people who claim Christ remain true to the gospel he has given his life to preach. This simple statement of thanks, one that begins so many of his letters, is his spiritual sigh of relief.

I know this to be true. For years, I pored through the New Testament letters as part of the church, as a letter-reader. I still study them this way.

But now I also read them as a Paul, a letter-writer, as one who is planting and teaching and praying for the church. I feel the anguish, the urgency, the longing that those for whom he poured out his life would not fall away from the truth.

Paul wanted the churches to know Christ. But he also wanted the ends of his ministry to be worth all the costly means.

It’s devastating to listen to someone you’ve walked with for years defend his unfaithfulness to his wife, or to watch a mother who sat in five of your Bible studies walk away from her family to “find herself,” or to read posts on Facebook that reveal how people you love and pray for live lives of addiction or pettiness or selfish gain.

Some days, to be honest, the Pastor and I falter. We wonder, like Paul, if our labor is in vain (Philippians 2:15-16; I Thessalonians 3:5, Galatians 2:2).

Perhaps you feel this way, too, praying for a friend or child or family member who is far from God. Paul exhales this prayer of faith on your behalf, with all the ache of the parent, the lover, the friend, the child, the teacher, the pastor, the boss or the co-worker who longs for someone to know and stay faithful to Christ.

I thank God for you, he breathes.

Oh, how I long to thank God for you.

For part of sharing in the suffering of Jesus and becoming like Him in His death is joining Him in those final moments on the cross. Christ reached out his arm to the right and found someone who believed. He reached out His arm to the left and found someone who denied His love, even in His supreme moment of sacrifice.

Not all will come. The way is narrow.

But I’ll be praying for you and for me today, that — for those we love and long for — we can keep the faith.

Read the next post in The Colossians Project.