Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Dear friends, These are not easy times. Bad economic news, political turmoil, and a growing disregard for common decency are rapidly eroding our general sense of well-being. Some Christian alarmists would even have us believe that we are on the brink of Armageddon. The sky is falling and we are all doomed!
Even if all that were true, we would still need to endure in this world until the Kingdom of God has fully come. We hope and pray for the best, even while we wisely plan for the possible worst. In the transition from this world to the world to come, believers must cope in a positive and creative manner. Overcoming the constant surrounding negativity with the peace of God is vital if we are to fulfill our destiny as Christ’s witnesses and disciples.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 produces three simple instructions which can help us position our attitudes so that we can overcome the difficulties that will continue to confront us in “this present evil age.”
Firstly, be joyful always. It’s not that easy to be joyful in every situation. Life is difficult. Jesus said that it would be, especially for His disciples who must live in this world, but not of it. We are strangers and aliens among those to whom we bear the message and ministry of reconciliation. We are like ambassadors (not judges or enemies), representing a government and a King that are not a part of this world.
Being misunderstood and resisted by those to whom we bring the gospel message can be disheartening. We would hope that everyone would receive Christ in their heart, repent, and enter into the joy of salvation. Sometimes, however, we the messengers don’t seem to be joyful ourselves. The troubles of this world, that everyone must face, become compounded with an accumulated layer of resentment and discouragement when we don’t see things going the way we envisioned. All too often we take the rejection of the gospel message as personal condemnation.
Even if that were the case, what business is it of ours? As obedient servants, our job is to deliver the message from our King with a righteous spirit of love. Being always joyful makes us better bearers of the “good news.” By making every effort to live what we are preaching, we will be authentic witnesses that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
May the Lord help us all put our life “in this world” into perspective so that we do not let our present personal circumstances dictate our mood. Joy is a condition and state that we choose for ourselves despite adversity. We don’t have to submit ourselves to the gloom and disappointment that this world would put on us.
Our joy is the hope we have in Christ, the certainty of everlasting life in His presence. Living in constant awareness of that truth enables us to overcome any and every difficulty. Be joyful always.
The next command in this short passage is for us to pray continually. Who can do that? It is true that there are some individuals who have a special prayer anointing, always in the constant presence of God and interceding on behalf of the saints. But I’m certain that this passage is meant for all believers.
Prayer forms the foundation of a right relationship with the Lord. He wants to talk to us. Prayer is an ongoing conversation with the living God. He is personally interested in us and the details of our lives. That’s not to say that He is there to serve us by providing everything we think we need. Prayer has much more to do with us understanding His will than with our need to express ours.
Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us to present our requests to God about everything. But the resulting promise is not that God will serve our personal agenda. Rather, the end effect will be the peace of God that surpasses our comprehension, guarding our hearts (feelings) and our minds (thoughts) in Christ Jesus.
All prayer ends with an understood condition, “not my will, but yours.” Peace is coming under subjection to God’s perfect plan for us and for the world. He is sovereign; He is all-wise, and His will is always working for our best interest whether we comprehend it or not.
He sees the world’s problems and is dealing with them in His own sovereign way, and with His own timetable. A lot of things are just simply, “not for us to know.” We don’t always know how to pray, and we ask that the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf to guide us into the Father’s perfect will for us. Yes, prayer changes things; and that should always include our own hearts and minds. Pray continually.
Lastly, we are told to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s a radical concept, but one that is supremely scriptural. This world lacks an attitude of gratitude. But sadly, so do too many Christians.
A self-referential world view dictates that “good” is what suits our own immediate interests and personal comfort, without regard to ultimate consequences. The problem, generally speaking, is that people have no clue what “good” is all about. The understanding of “good” can only be grasped to the degree that we are willing to repent of our own selfish motivations and mistaken certainties and turn our hearts to God’s perfect will.
A submitted mind and heart are much better positioned to see and comprehend what God might be doing in each and every situation. If we honestly believe that His sovereign will is ultimately our best-case scenario, then we are free to always give thanks. Otherwise, we risk doubting God’s very nature and Word.
Thanksgiving is exactly where our faith meets our circumstances. Giving thanks confirms our belief that God is good … all the time. He uses every situation to lead us into a deeper and more powerful life in Him.
Furthermore, the more we recognize and confess our many blessings, the more likely they will be increased. God likes gratefulness. It is the part of worship that opens the heavens and frees up the power of our prayers.
Whatever situation we might be facing, our perspective will be improved greatly if only we give thanks to the Lord in the midst of it. Give thanks in all circumstances.
May God richly bless you, as you celebrate His grace and mercy in your life.
P.S. Thank you for your faithful prayers and support. When the current issues concerning Covid-19 and world travel restrictions are resolved, my planned 2022 travel and ministry schedule will come into clearer focus. There are always opportunities that come with challenging circumstances for us to overcome by faith and wise strategy. More on that later.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]