Happy day-after Thanksgiving. You likely heard a thanksgiving message on Sunday. Linda and I were at Grant Memorial in Winnipeg and Eric Derksen served us a wonderful challenge. Nevertheless, I thought I would add to the reflections on gratitude. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul fires off three quick commands in staccato fashion. Boom – boom – boom. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). There are three verbs here and they are all imperatives. Be joyful. Be prayerful. Be thankful. In the original text the imperative implies a beginning with continuous follow through. So the point is: start being joyful and keep it up; start being prayerful and keep it up; start being thankful and keep it up. Further, I want you to know that in the original text the imperative is preceded by a modifier. Always be joyful. Continuously be prayerful. In all circumstances be thankful. The final thing I want to point out about this triplet is that it is God’s will. God wants us to be full of joy. It is His will that we pray. It is His desire that we are grateful. However, if we are not full of joy or trust or gratitude, the issue lies with us and not with God. So how do we apply this?
Be Joyful – and beware of bitterness, cynicism and pessimism. Joy is something we choose, in good times and bad times. The Thessalonian believers were experiencing opposition from both the Jewish community as well as the pagan culture. Slander, alienation, and potential legal assaults resulting in imprisonments were likely all a part of what they were facing. And yet Paul says “choose to rejoice”. The is a mysterious paradox. Pain and joy can simultaneously exist in the mental framework and emotional disposition of a Christian.
Be Prayerful – Prayer here is to be viewed as a constant line of communication. In fact it is more like snacking than eating a main meal. As good and valuable as it is to set aside a predetermined, prescribed time in the day to focus on specific prayer, Paul is saying that it is no less valuable to be in a constant state of communication. So, are you in the car? Are you about to walk into a meeting? Are you about to confront a family member? Pray – continuously! And don’t stop! Don’t hang up. Keep the lines of communication open at all times.
Be Thankful – and notice that thankfulness can take place in all circumstances, not necessarily for all circumstances. The preposition “in” is desperately important. Paul is not saying that we should be thankful for troubling circumstances that enter our lives. But “in” troubling circumstances there are still matters for which we ought to offer thanks. This is not stoic resignation, but authentic gratitude amidst real struggles, pressures, and disappointments.
These are simple, but life changing truths for us all. Press on…