If you're like me, when you stop to consider the meaning of Thanksgiving Day, it can leave you feeling a little unsettled. The reason being is that it is not easy living in this world of busyness to live a life of thanksgiving. We simply do not slow down enough to be thankful.
Nestled in the closing remarks of the new testament letter of 1 Thessalonians, verses 16-18 of chapter 5 (1 Thess. 5:16-18), are three exhortations that can help us in being thankful on a daily basis. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Let’s briefly consider them.
Rejoice always. Paul is to the point. The key here is always. Experiencing joy, for the Christian, is not determined by circumstances as though our joy ebbs and flows like the tide. But rather joy, for the Christian, shapes the experience of our circumstances. In other words, difficulties are not to diminish the Christians’ joy but are to be endured with joy as the Holy Spirit creates a wellness of soul that cannot be dampened by adverse situations. Now we are not passive in possessing joy. It is a pursuit, a choice that we make to focus our hearts and minds on the grace and goodness of God in Christ Jesus. Just as the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb. 12:2-3)
Pray without ceasing. Don’t be afraid. Paul is not commanding that we walk around, or even worse, drive, with our eyes closed and our heads bowed. No, praying without ceasing reminds us to live every moment of the day aware that we are in the presence of God. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation, which celebrates 500 years this year (2017), called this living life Coram Deo (Latin), before the face of God. When we live Coram Deo and are being led by the Holy Spirit, we will be more prayerful. More prayerful for ourselves and our neighbor. And it’s hard to remain angry with or refuse to forgive someone when you are praying for them.
Give thanks in all circumstances. This command is only possible when we trust our sovereign Savior by recognizing God’s providence in all circumstances. A thankful spirit is not natural to humans. Because of sin, we are naturally unthankful and untrusting. But God, in His wisdom, gives us a command like this that pushes us beyond our human capacity into the heavenly realm of God’s grace that empowers faith to believe that He does work all things together for good to those who love him and are committed to obedience (Rom. 8:28). He will create thankfulness that flows out of trusting Him.
Verse 18 has a second part that is beautiful in that the gospel of hope is proclaimed to us since we do not possess the ability, in ourselves, to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. Paul says, “…this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When coupled with Philippians 2:13 which says, “…it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” we are reminded that God is creating joy, awareness of Him, and thankfulness in His people every day.
May God help us live a life of thanksgiving as we learn to stop frequently and rejoice, pray, and give thanks for what He has done and is doing in our lives.
Chaplain James Chavis