Today’s reading: I Thessalonians 1-5.
“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” – Tecumseh
Do you want something fresh and practical? First Thessalonians is all that. Paul wrote it to a baby church during the whirlwind of his second missionary journey. There are many exhortations in it, but this one stands out:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thess. 5:16-18
The New Testament is full of grace, putting to rest the old covenant with its law, but it is also full of commands. Fulfilling those commands is a huge part of knowing and doing God’s will. There are three parts to this command, but they complement and strengthen one another. They form an upward spiral that keeps us moving in the right direction. We pray because of our joy in the Lord, giving thanks as we pray, and our gratitude leads to greater joy. Personally, I struggle with remaining joyful and with praying consistently, so it’s interesting to see the connection Paul makes between prayer, gratitude, and joy.
Joy. If we are commanded to be joyful always, then it’s clear that our joy should be independent of circumstances. Happiness depends on what happens, but joy comes from the understanding of our right relationship with God. The writer of Ecclesiastes said we should be joyful because of God’s approval (Ecc. 9:7). The Psalms are full of exhortations to be joyful as we praise God and love him because of his character and actions: his protection of us, how he helps us and blesses us, his greatness, and his provision for us. Paul found reason to be joyful in the lives of other Christians who blessed him. Finally, we are joyful because of the hope we hold, through faith, for all that is yet to come because of God’s grace.
“The out-and-out Christian is a joyful Christian. The half-and-half Christian is the kind of Christian that a great many of you are – little acquainted with the Lord. Why should we live halfway up the hill and swathed in the mists, when we might have an unclouded sky and a radiant sun over our heads if we would climb higher and walk in the light of His face?” – Alexander Maclaren
Prayer. Paul admonishes us to pray without ceasing. Prayer shouldn’t be limited to the morning or bedtime, but as Brother Lawrence showed us, we should realize that God is with us no matter what we are doing. As our guest beside us we should be always talking with him about the things that are happening in our lives and in our thoughts. God has said that he is pleased when we pray. We can pray continually as we share our needs, praise him for his character, confess our sins, and give thanks for our many blessings.
“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still.” E.M. Bounds
Thanks-giving. Gratitude is the fuel that fires this upward spiral and enlarges our joy. As joy exists free of circumstances, so we are commanded to be thankful at all times knowing that our present and future are secure in God’s hands. No matter how difficult the moment, God will work all things out to our good, just as he did in the life of Joseph in Egypt. We praise God for his wonderful character, but we thank him for his mighty actions on our behalf. We can thank him for the past – how he saved us. We can thank him for the present – how he is working through events to make us more like Jesus. We can thank him for the future – how we will soon be in his presence.
“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” ― H.A. Ironside
Image by John St John on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0