Summary: Giving thanks to GOd even when the events in our life don’t seem to warrent it.
Over the last couple weeks we have looked at two things which have caused some people concern and possibly even worry. First, we talked about the election, some people are really excited while others are concerned over the changes in leadership in our government. The Bible reminds us we are to support our leaders and pray for them. Pray that God would give them wisdom and discernment, and then we trust God to direct their paths. Last week we talked about the economy, the news has been bleak, the stock market continues to decline, jobs lost, it is impacting so many people, and it is so easy to worry over income and job security when it is staring you in the face. Yet Jesus tells us we are not to worry but to, "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Mt. 6:33) and he says, "all these things shall be given to you.” We trust God to provide for all our needs, because our heavenly Father cares for us. We have begun to get the idea that our response to the situations around us are meant to be different than others. Rather than falling into worry, God says, “trust me." Rather than becoming upset, falling into complaining, bitterness, or cynicism the Apostle Paul reminds us that as Christians we are to "be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances."
I think the Apostle Paul realized our attitudes seem to be more of a response to our circumstances and feelings, than it is a state we are in. When something good happens to me, and it makes me feel good, I rejoice and give thanks to God. When I see Elizabeth smiling and giggling I am joyful. It is easy for me to rejoice when Michigan State beats Michigan in football. But what happens when Michigan State loses to Penn State by a landslide, or Michigan loses by a landslide to Ohio State? Or more seriously what happens when things go wrong in my life, when the wheels come off, I lose my job, or my income is cut significantly, or my expenses keep going up, or my health declines, do I go into a funk and get depressed, mope around, and complain? How do I respond to God? Do I find prayer more difficult? Am I able to give thanks to God?
But for Christians Paul is saying our ability to rejoice, to pray, to give thanks should not be dependent upon our circumstances and feelings. It is actually a choice we make (otherwise why would he be telling them to do it). We can still rejoice, pray, and give thanks at all times, good or bad, because of our relationship with God, when we trust in God, he helps us see our situation from a different perspective.
Before you say, yeah right! Whatever! That’s impossible! Remember who’s writing these words. Think of Paul’s own situation. Was his life a piece of cake? No, he experienced many hardships in his life. As he went from city to city telling people the good news about Jesus, he was imprisoned on countless occasions, received forty lashes with a whip on five different occasions, beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked at least three times (2 Cor. 11:23-26). Yet while writing to another church in Philippi from a prison cell he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil. 4:6)"
Remember also who Paul is writing to. The people of Thessalonica were being persecuted, harassed by the Jews who did not choose to believe Jesus was the Messiah or Christ. We know this from the story of Paul’s visit in Acts (17:1-13), but also because Paul begins the letter by writing, "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6). Yet in spite of their suffering Paul says be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks.
1. Be Joyful Always
Let’s start with joy…be joyful always he says. The reason we can have joy, and can be joyful always is because it is a gift God gives us through the Holy Spirit when we receive Jesus, it is a fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Joy and the ability to rejoice is a direct result of our relationship with God. Jesus said, John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
Jesus wants our joy to be "complete," "to be full" in the NAU, or "your joy will overflow" as it says it in the NLT.