In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read a group of commands which I consider to be among the most difficult in all of Christianity:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (NKJV)
It’s quite likely that somebody reading this lost a loved one this year, whether from Covid or otherwise. It’s also likely that somebody reading this lost their job, or saw their business go under. Others have dealt with the pain of isolation from their families, friends, and church family or have watched their kids suffer the results of not being able to be around friends, classmates, grandparents, and everybody else. And, this week I’m sure there are plenty of readers who will miss out on having Thanksgiving (the greatest of all holidays, if you ask me) with family and friends.
Sometimes it’s hard to read these three commands in 1 Thessalonians 5 without asking… “How?” How am I supposed to rejoice when the money is running out? How am I supposed to rejoice when someone I love is in the hospital? How am I supposed to give thanks in all things, when some of those things include a global pandemic and a life-altering lockdown? How am I supposed to pray with so little time and so many stressful things demanding my time?
But, sometimes the answer is not to ask “How?” but to just do it. That’s what faith looks like.
When we act in faith, we see something really cool happen from these difficult commands. The beauty of the three of them is that they draw on past, present, and future to strengthen us each day.
Thankfulness points us to our past. Consider all the things God has done for you, all that you can thank Him for today. This is why Israel had so many feasts, and why we have a weekly memorial to Jesus. These things, along with every other blessing for which we can thank Him, point us back to the mountain of evidence we have that He loves us and cares about us. Difficult times might make it feel like God is distant, but a heart of thankfulness is a guard against those lies from Satan creeping into our minds.
Prayer solidifies us today. It gives us an action we can take instead of worrying, knowing that we can cast those anxieties on the One who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The answer to the stress of this world is not to close our eyes and pretend nothing is wrong, ignoring all the very real difficulty in front of us. The answer is instead to put it all in the hands of He who has power to do something about it.
Rejoicing keeps our eyes on the future. We can rejoice today because we know any suffering we go through now is being used by God to strengthen us and draw us nearer to Him (Romans 8:28-29, James 1:2-4). We can also rejoice because we know we have victory in Christ, and that no matter what happens here on earth, everything turns out alright in the end (John 16:33).
In every single case, when a commandment from God seems burdensome or impossible, putting our faith in Him and giving His way a try always ends up best for us. These commands that seem so difficult in uncertain, painful times are the perfect antidote to stress and worry.
Our God loves us and cares for us. Give thanks for that fact. Lean on Him in prayer. Rejoice in everything, knowing He has it all taken care of.