Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
This sentence has meant a lot to me in my spiritual walk. I try to be intentional and disciplined in strengthening my relationship with God, and this sentence along with Bible reading and study, and serving God by serving others allows that to happen. I believe this sentence with the 3 humanly impossible commands can help set our attitude and can help us build some good habits.
Pray Without Ceasing
I am going to start with continual prayer since I believe it is central because it focuses us on God. I have a whole blog post on “God Awareness” where I show the importance of prayer to remind ourselves of the presence of God. By praying as often as possible we can keep God in our thoughts and it makes us aware of God at work around us and in us. God is at work in us rewiring our brains so that we can be more like him. I believe this habit of praying is one of God’s ways he uses to change us.
So what does this continual prayer look like? For me it is made up of mostly short bullet prayers. When I think of a person I try to say a short prayer for them right then and there. Also many times I pray “Thank you, Jesus” when I recognize something to be thankful for or I am reminded of what Jesus has done for me by dying on the cross. Another short prayer I say many times a day is “I am yours”, in which I acknowledge God is my master and I surrender myself to him. In a day, there tends to be many periods of dead time. One significant dead time is when you are driving in a car somewhere. You can use that time to sing praise songs in the car along with the radio, or you can also use the time to pour out your concerns to God. I recently used the time waiting for a dentist to pray for people. The point is to use the dead time in the day to connect with God.
Continual praying allows us to further develop that intimate relationship with God by recognizing his continual presence in our lives. He is always there for you with his love and we can respond to his love in loving prayer.
When we recognize God’s continual presence, his goodness, and sovereign control, we can rejoice. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is dependent on what is happening around us. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and is not influenced by circumstances. The Apostle Paul describes himself “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10), so one does not have to be happy 24/7.
So what does it mean to rejoice always? One definition states ‘“rejoicing always” is a conscious attitude of contentment, hope, and happiness that comes from deliberately focusing on Christ and the eternal treasures that we have received freely from Him.’ And Kay Warren defines joy as: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”
Note the focus is on God, his work, his goodness, and his sovereign control. This means we can rejoice even in our trials and sufferings (James 1:2-4). Because of this attitude, Paul and Silas were able to rejoice and praise God even though they had been illegally beaten and thrown into jail (Acts 16:16-40). When we focus on God, what he has done, and what he is doing, we can rejoice.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances
Because knowing of God’s goodness and knowing that God is in control, that is he is working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28), we can give thanks in all circumstances. It is easy to be thankful for the good things that happen to you. When you are in a tough situation it is harder to be thankful. To be thankful in a tough situation, you are forced to trust God and to see his hand in directing you through the tough situation. Just making the effort to be thankful will help you to connect with God. 24 years ago, I came down with Gillian Barre. I missed 6 months of work. I was in the ICU for two weeks. It was a tough situation. Yet because of that illness, I have a greater awareness of God’s goodness and grace. It also helped Gail and I to bond. I can be thankful for that illness. I have had several blog posts on being thankful. The awareness of God’s goodness allows us to give God thanks.
For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you
God wants to be in that intimate relationship with you. This continual prayer with thanksgiving and rejoicing allows us to grow closer to God and recognize his goodness and love for us. He desires the best for us, and developing the habits of continual praying, rejoicing, and thanksgiving will bring us closer to him. It will rewire your brain to be more focused on God. It requires you to be intentional and disciplined. I fail daily in my attempts. However, I have learned to not think of the failure as a test that you have failed, but rather to remind yourself that you are in training while God is doing that brain rewiring. Remember God is at work, changing you to be more like him.