It’s November! We are officially in the season of giving thanks. The days are cooler, the leaves are falling off the trees faster than we can rake them, the nights get darker sooner, and pumpkin spice has invaded everything on the menu.
And, it feels like providence that Thanksgiving comes in November, at the end of a year. Twelve months of day-to-day living can be exhausting. Life has a way of wearing us down.
When we get tired, our emotional restraint usually lowers, and we become edgy. Our irritation levels rise as our patience drops, and frustration tends to abound as we lose our joy and peace.
But God has a better way for us to live that enables us to remain joyful and maintain peace no matter what our current state is like. I wish I could say that I have mastered the discipline of giving thanks, but I need to be reminded of this as much as anyone.
The practice of giving thanks has a myriad of effects on our well-being. And in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul provides a spiritual health check-up grounded on the critical characteristic of giving thanks.
As Christians, our lives are to be distinguished by the fruit of the Spirit. If you have ever planted a garden, you know that it takes hard work to reap the fruit of your labor.
A seed doesn’t grow simply because it was placed in the ground. So likewise, joy and peace result from us putting in the work to be transformed by renewing our minds.
Here we have a list of spiritual qualities that should be a part of our faith living. The three commands given are in the present tense, which suggests that they are without end.
I. Rejoice always.
I’ll be honest it’s hard to rejoice when life is hard. But one reason we struggle with rejoicing always is because we seek joy from the wrong things. Paul’s instructions do not infer that we are to ignore that life can be harsh and unbearable at times but that our joy isn’t circumstantial.
Circumstantial joy is essentially happiness based on a positive bank balance, or the absence of trials and conflict, all external things that fluctuate by the hour. Instead, as Christians, our joy must be based solely on the gospel message, which declares that;
- Your sin is fully forgiven.
- You’re no longer an enemy of God! You’re a friend of Jesus!
- You have an eternal inheritance that is guaranteed!
II. Pray continually.
An inaccurate interpretation of this would be that we are to spend every waking moment praying. Not even Jesus did that! Paul’s statement uncovers two key points on prayer.
#1 We are to have a routine of prayer.
Prayer is not for “emergency use only,” but a regular discipline. When it comes to prayer, don’t get hung up on how others pray or for how long to pray, but pray regularly.
#2 Prayer is not limited to specific times or days.
Rabbis in Jesus’ and Paul’s day prayed three times a day. But to pray continually means that when the need arises, we pray. If you have a need, stop, drop and pray! God neither sleeps nor slumbers, Psalm 122:4.
III. Give thanks in all circumstances.
I can think of a few circumstances that would be challenging to give thanks in, but again that’s because I’m basing my motivation on circumstantial matters.
Having a disposition of giving thanks affects our joy and our prayer life.
Being thankful does three things in our life.
- It keeps us humble.
- Silences covetousness.
- It takes my focus off of what I don’t have or what is not going right at the moment and puts it on what I have.
The command to give thanks in all circumstances indicates that we have to dig deep and search out reasons to be thankful. This requires that we push past our pain, push past regret, look beyond disappointment, and even look past our grief.
It means we have to recalibrate our value system and ensure that our thanks-giving is rooted in the One who blesses us and not the blessing itself.
Giving thanks increases the longevity of our joy and the practice of prayer. And so, Paul sums up his instructions by saying, “this is God’s will for you!”
This is how we are to live.
- Rejoice always.
- Pray continually.
- Give thanks in all circumstances!