Posts Tagged With: discouragement

Sacrifices of Praise

“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).

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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.

A statue of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not give in to despair or depression, but He prayed fervently during the hardest night of His life. Statue at the Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, PA. Photo by Michael E. Lynch.

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.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Modern-Day Elijahs VI: You’re Not Alone

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

[1 Kings 19:13–21. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.]

[This study continues a series that I stopped writing about a year ago, entitled “Modern-Day Elijahs.” To read other articles in the series, click on “Modern-Day Elijahs” in the “Categories” list on this page. For the first article in the series, click here. For the last article before this one, click here.]

Prophet-Elias-Grk-ikon

Elijah on Mount Horeb, from a Greek icon. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1489939

Elijah is meeting with God, and it is a visit that will change the course of his life and the fate of Israel. Elijah has been discouraged. He feels like his ministry is a failure and that he is the last person in Israel who still worships the God of his ancestors.

Discouragement will enslave us. It will make us believe we are alone, or that we are the only people who have ever encountered our problems. It will make us exaggerate how bad things are and will cause us to overlook what is going well. Take a look at Elijah’s grievances, item by item:

  • “The sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant”—True, but when they saw the fire from heaven igniting Elijah’s offering, they confessed that “The LORD, he is God.” They were at least partially ready to return to Him.
  • They have “torn down Your altars”—But God has already shown that this is not a big deal. He had honored the makeshift altar the prophet built on Mount Carmel. Once they are ready to confess that the Lord is God, they will have no problem restoring the altars and the worship.
  • They have “killed Your prophets with the sword”—As we saw in 1 Kings 18:4, Jezebel did not get all of them. One royal official, Obadiah, was courageous enough to put God first and protect as many prophets as he could. Also, after the duel on Mount Carmel, the people obeyed Elijah’s order to execute the prophets of Ba’al. The tide was turning!
  • “And I alone am left”—Here is the greatest falsehood. Satan is the father of lies, and he will find ways to get you to believe falsehoods. Although I am usually a fan of modern literal translations of Scripture, I think the NASB drops the ball in 1 Kings 19:18, where it quotes God saying, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” The King James Version seems to have it correct here: God had left 7,000 for Himself. (Hebrew does not have verb tenses like English does. Therefore, translators are usually forced to rely on context when determining if a verb is present, past, or future tense. This is one of the greatest challenges in Old Testament translation.)

Contrary to the voices of self-doubt and despair that were screaming inside Elijah’s head, he was not alone. He had acted like he was alone, but there were others around who worshipped his God.

The greatest mistake a man of God can make is to believe that God expects him to walk alone. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He did not slap Peter on the back and say, “Good luck, bro; it’s all on your shoulders now!” He left 11 disciples with the same set of instructions. They were supposed to wait together, and then fulfill the Great Commission together. Ministry is rarely a one-man show.

So, God gave Elijah an assignment: raise up other men to help complete the mission. He did not even have to choose them. God told Elijah whom He had chosen, and Elijah’s job was to anoint them for their ministries. He was to anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel, and a new prophet to continue his ministry.

We can learn a few key principles from God’ instructions. First, God’s authority extends over the rulers of the world. Elijah was running in fear from the wife of the current king. Now, God told Elijah, “Go replace that king!” The servant of God should not cower or cater to politicians. We are called to proclaim God’s authority to the politicians and demand their obedience.

Second, God’s authority extends over all the nations of the world, including those who do not know know Him. Phillippians 2 tells us that every knee shall bow to Jesus: That includes the knees of our President, Congressmen from both political parties, Islamic terrorists, deranged dictators of third-world  nations, etc. Our mission is to speak God’s word and advance His kingdom throughout the world.

Third, this is God’s ministry: Not yours. Ironically, the only one of the three men that Elijah personally anointed was Elisha, his successor as prophet. Elisha anointed Hazael as the new king of Aram and Jehu as the new king of Israel.

When Elijah was taken up to heaven, God was not done speaking to the people. He continued to speak through Elisha and performed even more miracles through him than He did through Elijah. In fact, even though Elijah is considered the greatest Old-Testament prophet, we do not have a book by him. God chose other men to write the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

God was not done with Elijah. In fact, it was through this time of discouragement that God could reveal a greater purpose to Elijah: He was not only called to minister to others, but also to minister with others.

There is a reason why Jesus chose to assemble a team of apostles. He knew that people will give in to defeat and discouragement if they try to do God’s work alone. We are not made to serve Him as soloists. If you are facing discouragement in your walk with God, make sure you have other people around you.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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