“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (First Thessalonians 5:16-18; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Praise God in all circumstances. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard these words of counsel. Maybe you have given this advice to others. It sounds like a few simple steps to become a spiritual giant.
That is not how Paul meant it. This was not advice for prosperous people with great health, social standing, high-paying jobs, and a comfortable lifestyle. This was written for people facing persecution. Some Thessalonians probably wondered if God had abandoned them. These were the people whom Paul urged to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance.
The Thessalonian church had a brief but colorful history before Paul wrote his two letters to it. It was formed when Paul visited the city, with his partner Silas, on his second missionary journey. Not long before, they had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). Their ministry in Thessalonica got off to a good start: Paul preached in the local synagogue, and several people received the good news. Soon thereafter, though, persecution broke out against the young church, and the new Christians persuaded Paul and Silas to flee for their lives to Berea (Acts 17:1-10).
The church continued to grow, but persecution continued. Furthermore, false teaching arose in the church as some preachers claimed that the second coming of Jesus had already occurred. Some scholars think they were teaching that Jesus was not literally coming back and that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was His “second coming.” It would be easy to lose heart.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Even when times are hard. Even when you are suffering. Even when tempted to think God has forgotten about you. Do not give up.
I recently published my wife’s healing testimony on this site. In that, she shared how she had developed a habit of “memorizing scripture about healing, spending time praising God, thanking Him, and praying.” While her church was having a prayer meeting devoted to her healing, she was at home “worshipping and praying while listening to praise music.”
We might be tempted to think that 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a message to act upon when life is going well. That is not correct. It is easy to be happy when life is going well; rejoicing takes effort when sickness controls your life. It is easy to pray regularly when God seems to be taking care of you; it is difficult when marital difficulties and financial problems linger for years. It is easy to give thanks when your refrigerator and bank account are overflowing; it takes a lot of effort when you do not know how you will get your next meal or feed your children.
Yet, this is when 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 becomes a power passage. This is when it becomes spiritual warfare. The real blessing and real spiritual power are when we follow these instructions when our circumstances and emotions tell us it is time to quit.
There are times when it is easy to get angry at God. Do not deny it. If you are angry, tell Him so. Feel free to yell at Him. Tell Him how furious you are. Tell Him how you really feel. Be honest. Be brutal. God knows how you feel. In fact, the Book of Psalms has several prayers/songs that are perfect for times like this. David and the other writers did not avoid expressing their anger, fear, or dismay in their songs and prayers. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). He probably recited the entire psalm, including its expression of faith at the end (Psalm 22:25-31). When we bring our burdens to God—even when we think He is the burden—He takes our cares from us and brings comfort, hope, and healing.
No matter what happens, do not avoid Him. No matter how angry you are, God is big enough to handle it. He is also merciful enough to forgive you.
When your life hits bottom, it may be at that point that you will realize that God is all you have to hold onto. No matter what you are going through, hold onto Him with all that is within you. He will hold onto you with all of His power.
Rejoice always, and soon your joy will not just be an act of the will; it will be genuine and unstoppable. Pray without ceasing, and eventually, it will flow as you see God turning your life around. In everything give thanks: Before you know it, you may realize that you have had reasons to be thankful all along.
Scripture often urges us to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 50:23). Sacrifices can hurt. True faith worships God not only when it is easy, but even more so when it is a sacrifice—when we choose to worship God when it would be easier to ignore Him.
I would like to hear from you. How do you worship God in hard times? What helps you to worship Him when it is not easy to do so? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.