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Gratitude: Give Thanks in All Situations

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. -1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.

So our Scripture reading for this morning comes from the end of Paul's first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, one of the places that he had gone on one of his missionary journeys to establish and found a church. He'd experienced some difficulties and hardships there, but in these final verses, he's giving some exhortations, greetings, and blessings to the people that are there. He's telling them as followers of Jesus here are the things that you need to do. He begins giving them instructions about how they should relate to one another, treat one another, and why and how all of this is possible.

Particularly for the series that I'm working through as we focus on gratitude, it was those central verses in this reading, verses 16-18 which really three verses that compromise one sentence where Paul says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Now to hear all of those things together: rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances: any one of those seems rather daunting, doesn't it? How can you be joyful always? How can you pray without ceasing? Particularly for many people when our idea of prayer is that we're on bended knees, folded hands, head bowed, and eyes closed. If we pray without ceasing we would accomplish nothing else in the course of a day. Give thanks in all circumstances, how do you give thanks right now in 2020 when most people are just wishing and waiting for this year to end? And yet, Paul says here it is these three things: rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.

Now, what's more, he answers that question that so many people who come to faith want to know: what does God want me to do? What does God want me to do in my life? What does God want me to do in the church? How does God want me to serve and live my life? And yet, Paul has just told us, 'Well, God wants you to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.' And if you didn't hear it, that's what you should do. He is very explicit at this point and says, "For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." This is God's will for you that you would do these things. But boy, it's hard. But Paul goes on and explains that it is God who sanctifies us. It is God who makes us holy. It is God who fills us, equips us, prepares us. It makes it possible for us to do these things in and through Christ Jesus.

To rejoice always is to allow God to so fill us that we're able to give joy back to God and to rejoice. Because joy doesn't depend upon our circumstances. Joy is something that we can have and experience no matter how tough the road may be in this moment. Not so with happiness. Happiness depends upon this moment. Happiness is driven by external things, what's going on around me that make me feel happy. But joy comes from within.

To pray without ceasing, well again it depends on your understanding of prayer. But if we understand prayer as the essence of having a relationship with God. The interaction that takes place with God, it may change a little bit about how we think about prayer. There are definitely times when it is necessary to sit, to focus, to bow our heads, fold our hands, and close our eyes. But yet there are moments when we just need to smile and listen to the wind blowing through the trees or the rain pelting the side of the building. There are times when you may wit on the porch with your beloved or a good friend and watch the sunset and not have to say a word to one another and still find that moment beautiful and peaceful. Those are moments that we can engage in and practice in our prayer life as well. That as we're walking through the grocery store to be mindful of this. The fact that God is there with us. That when you're driving down the road and stuck at that stoplight, to be mindful of the fact that God is still working and moving around the world. That as that ambulance goes by to say, 'God get them where they're going safely or give them the skill they need to help whoever it is that's in that ambulance or waiting for them to arrive. Praying without ceasing is something that we are invited to do. To just simply be mindful and to know that God is with us.