Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NET)
A common refrain in the year of the pandemic has been: “I can’t wait for this year to be over.” People everywhere have been thrown off stride and hit hard. Without denying that this year for many has been filled with difficulties including illness and even death of loved ones, employment and education challenges, and for many a sense of isolation and helplessness, it is difficult for me to comprehend a desire to speed time along, believing that every moment is precious.
This is not a shallow attempt to be a cheerleader, presuming to tell others to “suck it up” or “grin and bear it.” Paul, in giving these 3 short admonitions to always be joyful, to pray continually, and to be thankful in everything, knows that they do not always come easily or naturally. We can presume that we do not need to be reminded to be joyful when everything is going our way, so we might come to the conclusion that this is a reminder to be joyful even in the midst of difficult times and circumstances.
The call to be joyful is not conditional upon the situation. In fact, Paul began his letter to the Thessalonians by reminding them: So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you… 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NLT). I am reminded of a children’s song from many years ago: “Joy is the flag flown from the castle of my heart… Let the whole world know, that the king is in residence there.” The basis of our joy and the reason that we can rejoice has nothing to do with external events. It signals that the king resides in us.
It is sometimes difficult to comprehend how we can “pray without ceasing” or “constantly pray.” Paul must have been aware that a literal interpretation seems implausible. We must sleep, eat, along with all the other things that distract us and consume our time. As I pondered this again, I was struck by this translation: Make your life a prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (TPT). In this way, prayer is more than something we do, it is who we become.
If we get to this point and we have been able to receive the command to “always be joyful” and to “pray continually”, we still might find cause to hesitate to “give thanks in everything.” There certainly must be an exception for what we are going through right now. Right? First, it does not say “give thanks for everything,” but “give thanks in everything.” One little word makes all the difference. The expression of thankfulness has nothing to do with what is happening to us or around us. Instead, it is all about God.
Verse 18 concludes with this explanation: “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The difficulties and obstacles that we confront can knock us off our stride and even cause disorientation. Those things that we counted on, may no longer be reliable. Things that are familiar may have been taken away from us. Our ministries, businesses, along with our hopes and dreams appear to be in tatters and we are not quite sure where to go. We desperately need guidance and direction, but where do we begin?
We need to hear from heaven, but we cannot seem to break through, so what can we do? Here is our text once again from the Passion Translation: Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (TPT)
Our lives may be full of turmoil and confusion and the accompanying noise and static seem to make it impossible to hear God’s voice. These short and simple directives will function as a “reset” that will once again bring us in tune with God’s spirit.
Before we can be in a position to receive vision and direction, we must through rejoicing, prayer, and thankfulness, reestablish the connection by coming into unity with the spirit of God and then do not be surprised as the light and life returns and you hear more clearly than ever before. It almost seems too simple, but then again it is mankind that makes things difficult, not God. We just sometimes need a reset to hear “the still small voice.”