Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
1 Thessalonians 5 does not mince words. We are instructed to do three things:
1) be joyful- always
2) pray continually
3) give thanks in all circumstances
Really God? Always? Continually? In everything? So many thoughts flood to mind when I read this passage, which is pretty straightforward yet so seemingly impossible! I can respond a few different ways to this instruction.
I can ignore it. [word of advice: not a good idea.]
I can try my hardest to follow it. [enter: possibility of striving, best intentions, guilt for “not quite living up to expectations”]
I can submit myself to trust Jesus and lean on verse 24 which says, “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it“. [I’m pretty certain this is the route I want to take!]
This joy, this prayer, this thankfulness is not about me. It’s not in my own strength that I could be joyful in the midst of pain and heartache. It is not of my own ability that I could utter a prayer every second of every day when perhaps I’m cursing under my breath; exasperated by any number of situations that occur on a daily basis. And thankfulness in all circumstances? By my standards or the world’s standards this is just impossible.
It’s not about my abilities or giftedness or spiritual up-right-ness. This instruction is not given to make you and I feel bad, fake a prayer, falsely put on a joyful facade, or lie about feeling thankful. As we seek a genuine, authentic and real relationships with our creator- there is room. Room for tears. Room for sadness and grief and feeling overwhelmed. There is space to doubt and question and yell at God (yes, God is big enough to handle my temper tantrums!). Space to search and wander and wonder and to feel frustration and confusion and experience mystery.
In this passage Paul was speaking to a young church in Thessalonica which was in need of some encouragement and comfort and hope. Paul did not say these things so they could pretend to have it all together. Paul did not say these things to give them a “to-do list” for spiritual formation. He was speaking courage over the people. He was giving hope to the people. He was challenging their doubts that God is able. He was calling them to reach out to the One who rescues and redeems and restore and reconciles and makes right the world unto God’s being.
Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all things.
Paul was not calling them to perfection. He was calling them to a posture of trust and love and encouraging the Spirit at work within them to come alive. Let the Holy Spirit live and breathe through you. You don’t feel like being joyful? That’s okay- take a posture of joy and let God fill that space you might think is empty. Don’t feel like praying? Take a posture of openness to listen to God or honestly share what you are thinking and feeling. Let God in to that space. Let the Holy Spirit do her work of taking your thoughts and prayers and rants and tears to the feet of your Maker. Don’t feel like being thankful? That is okay too. Allow God to fill that space of gratitude for you. Take a posture of thankfulness and watch the Holy Spirit move and stir. Faith does not need to be based on your emotions, I have struggled to learn that my whole life.
Have hope that Jesus will return. Hope that the resurrection is real and life after death is possible. Hope that Christ is faithful in the midst of everyday life. Hope that the Holy Spirit really is alive and at work.
The instruction to be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all things is only possible when we surrender our own ability to Jesus, acknowledge that we certainly can’t do it alone, and invite Jesus to lead the way.
The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it- 1 Thessalonians 5:24
This is my prayer; one I hope transforms my way of being; to that of gratitude and humility and shalom.