One of the most meaningful and enjoyable parts of my day is time spent in Scripture. Before opening God’s word in the morning I generally ask him to show me something he wants me to know. I pray that God will lead me to something in the reading for that morning that will bring me closer to him and help me to live in ways that are more pleasing to him.
Some days God answers this pre-reading prayer in subtle, yet meaningful ways. At other times something jumps off the page at me and I end up thinking about it for a long time and seeking to make it a part of my life. This week the Lord used a passage to really get my attention. I’d read it many times before, and yet this time the words were fresh, new, and deeply meaningful.
The passage is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. In the ESV it reads as follows:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
It’s important to understand the context in which these words were shared. The people to whom this letter was addressed lived in Thessalonica, a major seaport in ancient Macedonia. The Apostle Paul and others had previously visited this city, and a young church was developing.
When in 50 AD or so Paul sent the message we now know as 1 Thessalonians to the believers there, they were facing persecution for following Jesus. They were also seeking to stand firm against false teachings that some were attempting to introduce into the Church. In other words, they were experiencing significant afflictions and challenges as a result of seeking to faithfully follow Jesus in a city where all manner of vice and sin were a normal part of the culture.
We also have to recall that Paul was speaking to Christ followers. Then and now the passage quoted above is intended only for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus, and thus have been reconciled to God and have received the Holy Spirit. Without such a relationship these words are meaningless. For Christ followers, however, these words can be transformative.
Christ followers can live with a deep sense of joy not only because their sins have been forgiven and thus a peace that passes understanding can take deep root within our hearts, but our lives can be characterized by rejoicing based on what is to come.
Just like the Thessalonians, we live within a culture were seeking to follow and please God is like swimming upstream in the waters of a mighty, raging river. All manner of sin, vice, and other things that displease God are not only normal today, much of it is celebrated. In fact, those who live in this way seemingly want to push their way of life onto others. Moreover, teachings that go directly against biblical faith are widely accepted in society, and are increasingly being adopted by various churches.
As Christ followers, we can rejoice because we know that our time on this earth is limited. The persecution and affliction caused by seeking to stand firm for Jesus in today’s world is only temporary. The years we spend on earth are nothing compared to the eternity those who trust Jesus for salvation will know in the very presence of God. This reality, when it becomes a part of our daily mindset, can bring great joy to any Christ follower no matter how difficult life becomes.
Pray Without Ceasing
Not only do Christ followers have an eternity with God to rejoice about, but even here and now, even in the midst of suffering, we have access to an open channel to God through prayer. Think about it. God almighty is the one who created every living thing. He also created the universe that scientists are just now beginning to discover. He knows all, sees all, and has ultimate sovereignty over all things. This God almighty longs for you and for me to live moment-by-moment in his presence through prayer.
What could be more powerful than knowing that God hears our spoken prayers as well as the unspoken longings of our heart. Not only so, but his eyes carefully watch over us and he works out all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Cultivating a lifestyle in which we joyfully and continually communicate with our God in spoken and unspoken ways is a privilege only available to those who trust in and walk with Jesus, and who seek the intimacy Jesus offers to us. See Matthew 11:25-30 and John 15:1-11 for more on the intimacy that Jesus longs to have with us.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances
As noted above, the Thessalonians were suffering. And yet, Paul encourages them to give thanks in all circumstances. This is absolutely counter-intuitive for anyone but a Christ follower. These words would have been strange to a non-believer then, and they would be to non-believers now. And yet for those who walk with Jesus, they can make perfect sense.
As we already mentioned above, God watches over his children. In Romans 8:28 and elsewhere we have the promise that God knows our circumstances and works all things for good. We may not understand this, especially in times of intense suffering, yet this is the essence of what it means to have faith in God. We trust that even when we cannot see him or understand what is happening, he is actively caring for us and he knows what is best for us.
One day we will understand. One day we will look back and thank God for the suffering that brought us closer to him and increased our faith. One day everything we’ve experienced will make sense. On that day those who stand firm in faith will thank God for all things.
The passage quoted above contains just 22 words in the ESV translation, yet when strung together and applied they can serve to dramatically transform life for every Christ follower. May it be so for you, me, and for those we most dearly love. And may we seek to share this reality with those who have yet to receive Jesus. Amen!