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Summary: God’s desire is for us to be joyful always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. We must avoid every kind of evil and make sure that we allow the Spirit’s flame to burn brightly in our lives as we await His glorious appearing.

Keepers of the Flame

A guy from Wisconsin and a man from Illinois are sitting next to each other on a long flight to L.A. The Illini leans over to the Badger and asks if he’d like to play a game to pass the time. The cheesehead just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines.

The flatlander persists and explains that the game is real easy and a lot of fun, “I’ll ask you a question and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll pay you $5.” The Packer backer politely declines and tries to go to sleep. The Bears fan is now agitated and decides to raise the stakes: “Okay, if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5, and if I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll pay you $50!”

This catches the attention of the man from the Promised Land, and so he agrees to the challenge. The Illini asks the first question, “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The Wisconsonian doesn’t say a word, but reaches into his wallet, pulls out a five-dollar bill and hands it to the man from Illinois. He then asks his question, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down on four?”

The man from the land of Lincoln is puzzled. He takes out his laptop and searches the Internet. He calls a bunch of people and finally gives up after about an hour. He wakes up the man from Wisconsin and hands him $50. The Badger politely takes the money and tries to go back to sleep. The guy from Illinois is upset so he shakes the other guy and says, “Well, what’s the answer? What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down on four?” Without a word, the wise man from the north woods shrugs his shoulders, reaches into his wallet, hands the Illini $5 and goes back to sleep.

Disciplines For the Disciple

Many of us feel like God’s will is an unanswerable question, like a punch line that we just don’t get. Maybe you’ve tried to figure it out and have decided either to take a nap because it’s too difficult to unravel, or you just plain don’t care anymore. As we come to the closing verses of 1 Thessalonians, we’re going to discover that God’s will is very clear…and easy to understand. Last week we looked at practical principles for leadership, followership, and fellowship. Our focus today is on discipleship. In bite-sized chunks we’ll discover 8 disciplines for the disciple who wants to stay on fire for God.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ends with this statement, “…For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is the second time in 1 Thessalonians that the phrase “God’s will” is used. The first time was in 4:3 where we read: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.” I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. God is much more interested in who we are than in where we live, or what we do. We get wrapped up in questions about our vocation or location, when God is concerned more about our transformation.

Before we move to the specifics of God’s will as found in these closing verses, let me address a few misunderstandings.

Some of us secretly believe something like this: “What I want for myself will make me happy, but if I do what God wants me to do, I’ll be miserable.” Nothing could be further from the truth. He wants us to live an abundant life, overflowing with joy and meaning.

The purpose of this list is not to make us feel guilty or overwhelmed, but to realize that whatever God desires for us to have, He also provides.

At the same time, this list is not optional for the growing disciple. We must take it seriously. These are imperatives, not options.

These eight disciplines are intertwined, not isolated. As we focus on developing one, it will help us in the others.

We don’t have to conjure up these disciplines on our own. The key is to receive what is already ours. It’s a cooperative effort with the Holy Spirit. He gives us what we need, but we must apply it to our lives.

Let’s walk through verses 16-22, where we’ll discover some practical punch lines that will help us live out God’s will for our lives.

1. Be joyful always (16). In the Greek, this short phrase is turned around: “Always rejoice.” The emphasis is on the adverb: at all times rejoicing. All of us desire to have more joy but life often throws up roadblocks on the highway to happiness. We might experience brief encounters with joy but they seem to be the exception, rather than the rule. And yet, the Bible is clear that joy is to be a way of life for the believer. Psalm 5:11: “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.” Psalm 32:11: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” In Philippians 4:4, Paul had to say it twice because we don’t automatically default to a spirit of joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

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