Paul finished his first letter to the church at Thessalonica with a series of short thoughts: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
Let’s start with that last line. Do you ever wonder what God’s will is? The future is always unclear. At times we are more acutely aware of that uncertainty. Part of God’s will for you is to rejoice, pray and give thanks. Perhaps these three commands encompass ALL of God’s will for you. Everything else is just details. Work hard, mow your lawn, serve your family and community – do it all with rejoicing, praying and being grateful.
Prayer – communication with the Almighty. This includes a cry for help, joyful celebration, worship, petitions, gratitude, asking for direction. The foundation of prayer is looking outside self. I am not the source of joy and fulfillment in my life. I am not capable of solving anybody’s problems. Looking outside of myself, I am grateful for the many good gifts that God has given and cry out to the one who sees the future for help and direction.
Rejoice Always. This is not because Jesus followers have the easiest lives. Paul planted churches in communities that wrestled with poverty and active violent persecution. Paul was martyred for his faith.
There are at least two concepts which bring joy into the lives of the redeemed. In the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians, Paul makes a comparison between what we experience in the here and now and what we will experience on the other side. It’s a bit like comparing the buying power of a penny and one-hundred billion dollars. Do I look at my challenging relationships as though they have the weight of a penny? Paul describes our current struggles as “light and momentary” - brief in both degree and duration. If I really grasp this, I’m well on my way to rejoicing always.
James, the brother of Jesus, explains a second concept which powers our ability to rejoice. Right at the top of his letter, he states that we are to consider every trial that we face with joy, because those trials will produce steadfastness, that we might be mature and perfect! Constant rejoicing, even during bleak moments, is linked to an awareness that the sovereign God uses those moments to develop maturity.
This is God’s will for us. We look outside ourselves, reaching beyond what we can see toward the One we cannot see. We Pray. We compare the size and duration of current suffering with the size and duration of future rewards. We submit to the sovereignty of God and permit Him to use trials to perfect us. We rejoice. We obey both of those commands and never stop reaching out to God with hearts full of joy. In everything we give thanks!