As we approach Thanksgiving it is good to be reminded that being grateful to God is a year-round mandate, not simply a Thursday in November when we stuff ourselves and watch football. The apostle Paul succinctly summarizes how believers are to behave near the end of his first letter to the Thessalonian congregation. Here we find three all-inclusive mandates supported by a final motivation.
I Thess. 5:16-18
"16 Rejoice ALWAYS, 17 pray WITHOUT CEASING, 18 in EVERYTHING give thanks; for THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD in Christ Jesus for you" (NKJV).
- Rejoice Always (v.16)
Constant joy comes when Jesus is Operating You.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit not a fruit of sin or self (Gal. 5:22). We cannot manufacture joy; it comes from God Himself. We can experience "happiness" when our "happenstance" is good. When things go right in our lives we can be happy, happy, happy (Duck Dynasty reference); but as soon as things turn (and they will) our happiness dissipates faster than a bucket of hot wings at a weight watchers convention.
Joy, on the other hand, is constant. It is not dependent on our changing circumstances (like who inhabits the white house) but rests instead on our unchanging Savior; the One who is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). The only way JOY can come TO THE WORLD is when they acknowledge that THE LORD HAS COME. So, LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING, and experience genuine joy (by the way, Christmas is now just 5 weeks away).
Psalm 34:1 says, "I will praise the Lord AT ALL TIMES I will constantly speak His praises" (NLT). This statement comes from a man (King David) who fled for his life and hid in caves for seven years. He experienced scorn from his wife, the death of his newborn son, the rebellion and death of his grown son, and scandals that would make you blush and STILL could praise the Lord. How? He looked FORWARD to Jesus. We are to be people of praise no matter our problems. Jesus is the reason for our joy! In Him we are saved, by Him we are sanctified, and from Him we receive every good and perfect gift!
The apostle Paul found JOY by looking BACK to Jesus who was the author and finisher of His faith (Heb. 12:1&2). Paul suffered through circumstances that would make most of us give up. In 2 Cor. 11:24-29, Paul summarized these experiences, "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (NKJV).
How many of you have been beaten, even once, with a whip or with rods? Most of you've never been stoned (with rocks not weed). My point is that if David can praise God in the midst of his problems, and Paul can praise God in the midst of his perils, we too can praise God and rejoice in the midst of any possible circumstance. The command is to rejoice ALWAYS: in our prosperity, our poverty, our pleasure, and our pain – ALWAYS. How? Jesus. Rejoice in Jesus. Not only are we to have constant joy in Jesus, but we are also admonished to…
- Pray Without Ceasing (v.17)
Paul does not intend for us to be walking around with our eyes closed praying aloud. He's simply saying that we should always have an open line to God. We should always have that wireless connection open to Christ. A few weeks back we called prayer that remarkable conversation between God and man, through Jesus our intercessor.
In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul invites us to, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (NKJV). When we fail to pray we essentially let our guard down; that's when Satan will tempt and deceive to take us out of the spiritual battle. We must consistently and constantly cast our cares on Jesus though prayer and we will receive His peace that will guard our hearts, and His perspective that will guard our minds.
Paul saves the best command for last. It's one things to rejoice ALWAYS and pray CONSTANTLY about our problems, but it's quite another to give thanks for them!
- In Everything Give Thanks (v.18a)
What does "everything" mean? Webster defines "everything" as: all that exists, all that relates to the subject, all that is important, all sorts of other things – events, facts, or conditions. So, we are to give thanks for EVERYTHING in our life: the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad.
Surely this is a typo! Maybe Paul was just caught up in an idealistic frame of mind when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica! No, because he said it again to the church at Ephesus. Eph. 5:20 says, "And give thanks for EVERYTHING to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (NLT). Don't forget, Paul had been through the ringer of personal pain and persecution and yet he was a grateful/thankful person.
I mentioned King David's commitment to praise in the midst of his many problems earlier, and he too was incredibly thankful to God. In fact, his Old Testament book of Psalms is a grateFULL book in that 30 of its chapters are Psalms of thanksgiving (8; 18; 19; 29; 30; 32-34; 36; 40; 41; 66; 103-106; 111; 113; 116; 117; 124; 129; 135; 136; 138; 139; 146-148; &150).
A brief survey of David's life reveals that he was thankful in:
- Victory (The Pinnacle of His Life)
Psalm 188:21 "I thank you for answering my prayer and giving me victory" (NLT)! David consistently thanked God for the victories in His life. He recognized that any good that he achieved and any glory he received rightly belonged to God alone. It was God who helped him defeat the bear, the lion, and the giant from Gath. It was God who granted him victory in battle, and gave him money in the bank.
What keeps us from thanking God in our victory is pride.
- Tragedy (The Pit of His Life)
While David certainly questioned God during the low points of his life, he eventually thanked God for seeing Him through it.
In Psalm 56 David wrote, "Whenever I'm afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His Word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?"
You might be thinking, "How can I thank God for the tragic death of my loved one? How can I thank God for a terminal diagnosis? How can I thank God for a financially devastating event?" The answer to those difficult questions lies in knowing that you don't know everything. When we land in the pit we must remember that, "we walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7 NKJV). Faith is defined for us in Hebrews 11:6, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (NKJV). We may not see what God is doing by allowing tragedy in our lives, but we confidently hope that it will work out for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. Romans 8:28 reminds us, "And we KNOW that ALL THINGS work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (NKJV). There's a purpose to the pit you're in. We must realize, like David, that God has a plan and a purpose that we will not totally understand this side of heaven. When we don't understand, when we can't see His plan, when we can't trace His hand, we must trust His heart.
(The story of Joseph found in Genesis 37 is also a compelling illustration of thanking God for even the darkest moments of our lives. He went from being in the position of the preferred son, to the pit, to a slave Potiphar's house, to being falsely accused and imprisoned, to ruling in the king's authority. All the while God had a plan.
What keeps us from thanking God in our tragedy is limited perspective.
- Monotony (The High Plain of His Life)
There were times in David's life when things were good. I call it "the high plain" because a plain is a flat surface free from obstacles (like Kansas), but it also means something is monotonous, and predictable (like vanilla ice-cream, or Kansas). His Kingdom was established, His house was awesome, His health was great, His wife was hot (that's in the Bible – 2 Sam. 11:2c), His bank account was full, and His popularity was high. When things are clipping along swimmingly for us, day in and day out, the monotony of prosperity lulls us into a type of God amnesia. We begin to forget where all these blessings came from.
Success can often be the enemy of our spiritual growth. We begin to think that we're the reason things are going so well and good things become god things in our lives. We need to wake up, count our blessings, and give honor to whom honor is due – God alone!
What keeps us from thanking God in our monotony is prosperity.
- Malady (The Pain of His Life)
David didn't spend all of his time on the high peaceful plain of success; his family was a mess. Regardless of his political and military victories, David was losing at home. His family was full of betrayal, bitterness, hatred, and revenge. The king's kids were in chaos. This had to be David's greatest regret in life. It was the problem that continually preoccupied his mind and the pain that perpetually drained his strength. Yet, he thanked God.
The apostle Paul also lived with a "thorn in his flesh". We don't even know what the "thorn" was, but we know that he prayed fervently for it to be removed and God didn't (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Paul's responded with thanksgiving. In fact, he probably sang, "Your grace is enough!" He accepted the constant pain in his life as God's will and embraced it by God's grace.
What keeps us from thanking God in our malady is our perpetual problem.
After giving us these three all-inclusive mandates, Paul concludes with the motivation for our obedience...
- This is God's Will (v.18b)
The will of God is found in the Word of God. Once you receive John 3:16 ("whosoever believes in Him") and apply Romans 12:1&2 ("present your bodies a living sacrifice"), God wants you to live like 1 Thess. 5:16-18 ("rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks for everything"). Spiritual maturity is a direct result of doing simple things over time. Do you want to please God with your life? Do what He says. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (NKJV). This passage of Scripture is not a suggestion it is a command: "Rejoice ALWAYS, pray WITHOUT CEASING, and FOR EVERYTHING give thanks!"
Questions to consider:
- Are you allowing a present circumstance to hijack your joy?
- How's your prayer life? When is the last time cast ALL your cares upon Christ?
- What do a thankful heart and a grateful attitude demonstrate to the watching world?