The Apostle Paul commands us, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)
But how do we do that? How can we rejoice when our hearts hurt so deeply we want to crawl under the covers and never get out of bed? When harsh words and misunderstandings cause deep seemingly unfathomable rifts?
What can we be thankful about when we know the end of the money will fall well short of the end of the month, and Christmas is right around the corner?
And prayers? Does God hear? Why doesn’t anything change? How can we be thankful when our prayers appear unable to penetrate the ceiling?
Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances. This is not about just pulling up our bootstraps and putting on a happy face behind which we hide our pain; it is about choosing to live in the truth of who God is and who we are as his children.
So how do we do this without looking, or feeling, like hypocrites hiding our pain behind the façade of a put-together-Christian? The key, I think is in the final phrase: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus – if it is God’s will for us, then will he not help us accomplish it? I think he will. I think he equips us to do everything he calls us to. Every. Single. Thing.
The writer to the Hebrews prayed for us, “may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV)
I believe God has answered that prayer for us. The power and the ability that we need in order to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all things resides in our status: we are in Christ.
We are no longer citizens of the world we are citizens of heaven. We are no longer living in darkness; we are living in the kingdom of light. Disobedience and sin no longer bind us; we are free to live powerfully. We live in Jesus Christ.
Rejoice always – living in Christ should be more than enough reason to live continually rejoicing. Think about it, we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, our sins have been forgiven, our lives have been changed, we are not who we were, and we will live forever with him in glory.
We are promised that our suffering is temporary; that there is a greater eternal joy awaiting us. And, God is at work in our suffering. Is that not reason enough to rejoice? God has not abandoned us to our suffering. He is at work for good in our suffering.
It is not that God is turning our suffering into something good – he is at work in it, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV). If God is here with us, if he is working in us, if the outcome will be good for us, we can rejoice.
Pray continually – this doesn’t mean we must be speaking prayers every moment, but it does mean that because we dwell in Christ Jesus, our hearts must be submitted to him in all things. It’s like a program that runs in the background, sometimes we are aware of it, and sometimes we are not, but we know there is an unbroken communication between God and us because we are in Christ Jesus.
When we maintain oneness with God through an attitude of ongoing communication, it keeps things in balance. We trust that he is at work and that enables us to cultivate joy.
Give thanks in all circumstances – this is the hard one. Sometimes circumstances are really, really bleak. They are insurmountable. They are overwhelming. Seriously, how do we get to that place of personality development where we can give thanks in all circumstances?
We must remember that we are in Christ. Nothing that happens to us happens apart from God’s superintendence. There is a bigger plan than we can imagine and God has called us into it. We must focus on the truth: God is bigger than we are, he is bigger than our circumstances, he is sovereign over all things and nothing can thwart his good plans.
Taking our eyes off our circumstances, praying to God, and thanking God for our circumstances because we know he is at work in them restores our joy.
This is a beautiful trio of faith: rejoice in all things, pray in all things, and Give thanks in all things. It is accomplished only as we understand the truth that this is God’s will for us. It is God’s will for us because we are in Christ Jesus.
There is no lack of joy in Christ. There is no lack of communication in Christ. There is no lack of gratitude in Christ.
Will you choose to rejoice, pray continually, and give thanks in all things this thanksgiving? Especially in the hard things?