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
When reading a Bible scripture that is plain and clear concerning God’s will for me, I tend to pay attention. I’m aware that I have referenced this text repeatedly over the years and will continue to do so until I get it right myself. Knowing and even understanding scriptures doesn’t make them a reality in your life until you actualize them on a regular basis. This particular passage seems to be an ongoing challenge for me, and I don’t think I’m alone.
We live in an increasingly complex world that seems to be sinking under the weight of much that is so wrong. We can hardly listen to the “news” without being reminded that the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. If we take that to heart, it is easy to become overwhelmed with discouragement and despair. But take courage; we have options that may have escaped us in our lament over present and often very troubling circumstances.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 contains three short and simple admonishments that have forever challenged my outlook on life. Be joyful always; pray continually; in everything give thanks. I have no problem being joyful, praying, or offering thanks. That’s solid practical doctrine with which no one can disagree. It’s the modifying words that usually trip us up.
“Always,” “continually,” and “all circumstances” can easily discourage anyone who has made half an effort to be a good Christian. I don’t know a single person who can boast that they follow these commands perfectly.
Life is difficult sometimes, even in the most ideal environment. To be “consistently consistent” under every circumstance is nothing less than impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. In times of trouble we are prone to become distracted by our anxiety and find ourselves scrambling just to hold on to our faith. Joy tends to fade into despair, our prayers regress into feeble pleas for immediate deliverance, and it seems nearly impossible to be thankful for anything.
Judy and I learned in the foreign mission field that the pressures of everyday living are even greater than those at “home,” where so many things may safely be taken for granted. Contrary to what many believers assume, there isn’t a special waiver for missionaries that will excuse them from trouble. Living by faith does not guarantee anything, except God’s approval, which awaits those who finish their race and enter into their ultimate rest. That is the prize for which we are all striving, regardless of where we live or what we do.
Jesus promises problems for all of us, especially those who would venture to proclaim the Gospel message to an unbelieving world. He overcame the world and calls us to do the same. His ultimate deliverance does not include an escape hatch out of our suffering; instead, he provides us with the grace we need to overcome all circumstances while we are in the middle of them.
In fact, our current troubles are part of his grace. They refine our faith and make us grow. When we stand strong in the face of our suffering, not shrinking back from our faith, there is a promise of great reward.
We, sometimes by the hard way of experience, learned to be intentional about being joyful, praying with faith, and expressing thanksgiving for everything we could think of. That attitude didn’t always seem to have an immediate reward, but we were, nevertheless, well aware that our situations could have been a lot worse.
Several of our missionary friends suffered far more troubles than we. Some brought a lot of those on themselves by unwise decisions, an arrogant attitude, or simply just not paying close attention to vital details concerning their environment. We, too, were sometimes victims of the same sort of self-inflicted wounds.
However, there were others who would be considered by the world as having just plain old bad luck. There was no apparent explanation for their many woes. It seemed, as with Job, one awful thing after another afflicted them. I didn’t have any good theological answers for their problems and had a tough time swallowing that either the devil was obstructing them, or the Lord was disciplining them. Both of those things happen to all of us, but sometimes we can only conclude that bad things can, and often do, happen to good people. We were thankful that we experienced only a few of those.
Here I am many years later, once again reconsidering my situation and circumstances, and consequently being humbled by God’s faithful loving-kindness, poured out upon me and those whom I love. Always, continually, and in every circumstance, Jesus is Lord and is worthy of my thanksgiving and worship. That will forever be true. While I am limited in those things that I can change, my attitude is a whole different matter. I do have the final say on that.
So, I willfully choose to be joyful, to believe God, regardless of what I see, and to be thankful, in spite of whatever suffering I might face. Light displaces the darkness…it won’t go away all by itself. Likewise, joy, faith, and thankfulness displace the misery that we Christians all too often accept as normal living.
Let us live free, knowing that the Lord sees us, loves us, and is even now making a way for us. Let us not bog down in the darkness of difficult situations, but rather work through them, knowing that we face a bright tomorrow when we overcome whatever we must. We are not alone in our struggles. The Holy Spirit is ever with us, edifying and helping us work out our salvation as he guides us into all truth. Amen.
Thank you so much for your kind encouragement and generous support. My recent spinal surgery seems to have been successful and I am now cleared to resume international travel to teach in Africa, Latin America, and wherever the Lord sends me. Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to serve the Lord. We still have some unfinished Kingdom of God business to complete and are grateful for those who have teamed up with us to help us train pastors and church leaders toward a scriptural worldview.
God bless you.
[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.]