I humbly enter this day, recognizing more than ever that I need my Lord, His strength, His wisdom, His Word, and His patience. There are times when I feel I can conquer just about anything, and then there are times where I find myself desperately clinging to my faith. One of the tools God encourages His children to use to help them through this chaotic life is prayer. Paul knew he could use this help, right along with the children of God, asking the church in Ephesus to offer “supplication for all the saints and me” (Ephesians 6:18-19). Prayer is something we can do to help others as well as ourselves. Today I thought we would revisit one of those Bible verses that speak about prayer and remind ourselves of its critical role in our spiritual walk.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1st Thessalonians 5:16-18
Consider for a moment how the ETRV translates this verse, “Always be full of joy. Never stop praying. Whatever happens, always be thankful. This guidance is how God wants you to live in Christ Jesus.” Let’s consider the three things spoken of here and their connection. First, this idea of rejoicing always. Always? As I write this article, I have a heavy heart for a variety of reasons. Tears have flowed, and anguished has rested on my soul. It is a natural part of this journey in this broken world where I am one of the broken pieces. Paul wept for those who were “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). He along with the elders at Ephesus, mourned as Paul was about to leave them (Acts 20:36), and of course, we know of two or three instances where Jesus Himself wept (John 11:35, Luke 19:41, Luke 22:44). There will be times that we find ourselves in such places emotionally. So how do we always rejoice, something Paul also taught the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:4)? May I suggest that the objective of rejoicing is the goal that we pursue with intent? When adversity strikes, whether self-inflicted or not, it can distract us from our true hope in Christ. We can become cynical, doubtful as to whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile. So, please do your best to rejoice always in what you have in Christ (Romans 5:3-5) to fight against those times that might cause you to question whether it is all worth it.
Intentionally, I skip the second (prayer) to go to the third, which is “in everything give thanks.” There is no need to define words here, only wrestle with the idea of “everything.” Do we know prayer should include thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6) but in everything? In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” It is difficult at times to “see the silver lining,” so to speak, in life. Adversity strikes, anguish finds a resting place in the mind, and in such situations, it is challenging to be thankful: not because there is nothing to be grateful about, but because it is hard at that moment to see why we should be thankful. Maybe there is in part the reason for this urging. When we seek to be grateful, to be thankful genuinely, we can find those things the Lord is doing amid adversity. When we do that, it loosens the grip of our perceived reality and allows God to reign in our minds as the benevolent God that He is.
So now we come to prayer; that is, to supplicate, worship. This exhortation is elevated by the words “without ceasing,” which means unceasingly, without remission, uninterruptedly. As unreasonable as the first may have seemed, this one is equally troublesome if viewed through the lens of religious duty. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:12 is that we are “continuing steadfastly in prayer.” The idea here, as one commentator writes, is that the disciple is to have prayer “be the accompaniment of our whole lives.” Why? It links us to peace which can help to guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-7), to God’s strength (2nd Corinthians 12:8-10), to personal growth (Ephesians 3:14-19), and so many other God-centered things. As someone said, the Christian who purposes himself or herself with a life of prayer and thanksgiving is better apt to rejoice always. Help me, Lord, to rejoice in You.