No Matter What

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Joy is effortless when things are going well in your life. Joy just happens when your health is reasonably well, your family is happy, your work situation is conflict-free, and your car is flowing smoothly through the traffic. But what happens when the doctor orders testing, your children are miserable, your boss is unreasonable, or your car is just inching down the road?

Be joyful always.

The prayers go up effortlessly when the blessings are pouring down. The praise comes easy when your portfolio is out-performing the averages, your children are making good grades, friends, and the team, your job review resulted in an unexpected raise, and your struggle with sin seems to be a distant memory. Or maybe the prayers start surging when the blessings seem to dry up. The petitions surge when financial reversal limits you, when your children’s struggles burden you, when your job termination stuns you, or when your heart is grappling with temptation and sin. Some find it easy to pray when things are going well but feel like any life difficulty erects a barrier from God. Others forget God during the good times and turn to Him only when suffering.

Pray continually.

Thanksgiving naturally gushes forth in time of plenty; when at the table spread with turkey and all the trimmings and surrounded by those who are most dear to you. But what when you are enduring one of those end of the month fried bologna meals? What about when you find yourself alone, isolated from all those you love?

Give thanks in all circumstances.

In this passage God reveals His will for our lives. God teaches us the need for consistency in our walk with Him. Wonderful are the days when the joy, the prayer, and the thanksgiving just come naturally. But as you grow in Christ you find just as wonderful the days when the joy, the prayers, and the thanksgiving are experienced and offered right in the face of circumstances that could be used as an excuse for a joyless, prayerless, and thankless life.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message).

Why Me?

Have you ever talked to someone sitting on their pity-pot?

“Why me?” they ask over and over.

“Poor me!” they moan to anyone who will listen.

Sometimes you feel like you need a nap after you have spent 15 minutes in conversation with someone like that. It drains the life out of you. It just wears you out.

So the recent ESPN interview with Rodney Harrison of the NFL champion New England Patriots is refreshing. Harrison, who plays safety, suffered a season-ending knee injury in week three of the NFL season.

Andrea Kramer asked Harrison, “When you were on the field laying there what went through your mind?”

Listen to his response: “Not once did I ask, ‘Why me, God?’ Cause a lot of times as human beings we tend to ask, ‘Why me?’ Cause not once did I ask, when I received those rings, ‘Why me?’ or anything like that. When I signed the contract, I never asked, ‘Why me?’ then.”

We need to give consideration to what Harrison is saying. Maybe we need to ask, “Why me?” when pondering our greatest blessings.

I am redeemed, forgiven, and adopted by God. Why me, Lord?

I am justified, reconciled, and sanctified by God. Why me, Lord?

I am accepted and embraced by God. Why me, Lord?

“My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?”

Thank God for the mystery of His mercy, the greatness of his grace.

Knowing Keeps Us Going

“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7).

Satan stopped Paul from visiting with the Thessalonians to monitor their development. But God opened the door for Timothy to spend some time with them. Timothy returned from his faith-finding mission with a positive report of their growth and steadfastness. He witnessed their faith and experienced their love. As a result he couldn’t wait to convey to Paul the good news of what he had witnessed.

Not that they were perfect, nobody is, but they were faithful and loving. That is what Timothy detailed upon his return. And that is what drove Paul to his knees in thanksgiving to God. Both Timothy and Paul focused on the positive when it came to the church at Thessalonica.

Had Paul sent a more critical stand-in to visit with them and report back to him might he have received a more pessimistic account? We know from the letters to Thessalonica there were some unhealthy things going on in this church. Instead of dwelling on the deficiencies, they chose to focus on the good qualities Timothy observed.

Wouldn’t this be a good step for all of us, to focus primarily on the good things others are doing? Isn’t this what Paul prescribed as the solution to the clashing of his two sisters at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, and their congregation – “. . .whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8)?

Paul did not naively “see no evil” with the church at Thessalonica. He was not afraid to address the shortcomings needing correction. But his overall impression was upbeat. Paul’s positive view of the church grew out of his heart full of love for them, a love that embraced them in spite of their imperfections. A couple of scriptures come to mind.

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins”
(1 Peter 4:8).

Look at the impact Timothy’s hopeful words made on Paul and his team. In the midst of their crushing troubles, they were brightened by the news of faith and love in Thessalonica. Some people who are going through a time of trial resent hearing about any joyful experience of a brother. But rather than react with envy, Paul reacted with thankfulness. It was knowing the good things happening in Thessalonica that kept Paul going!

A positive report can be a huge stimulus to perseverance. We need to love enough to see the good things happening among our brothers and sisters rather than unsympathetically pick a church to pieces. We need to love enough to speak joyfully about the good things happening with others rather than jealously respond with disapproval. We need love enough to rejoice with others, even when we are in a time of personal despair.

Knowing can keep us going.

We Thank, We Pray, We Know

“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4).

How do you describe living in God’s community? Christian fellowship? Church family? Paul gives us a good starting point for a discussion of the nature of fellowship in the opening lines of 1 Thessalonians.

Thankfulness. The Christian community is made up of people who are thankful for one another. Like most communities that thanks is expressed face to face. But what makes the community uniquely Christian is that thanks being expressed with “face to ground,” in other words, thanks is poured out to God. God deserves our thanks; after all, He is the One who brings people into our lives. He is the One who works through people, bringing peace, joy, and love to the community.

Prayer. The fellowship of believers is held together by prayer. Prayers are offered for the kingdom work being done by our brothers and sisters. Deeper still, prayers are offered for the faith and love motivating that work. Prayers are offered for the patient endurance needed to stand the tests of faith and trials of life. Deeper still, prayers are offered for the second-coming inspired hope which bolsters that endurance.

Recognition. In a church family people recognize God is at work. In a physical family you don’t choose your brothers and sisters, they are born into your family. It’s the same in a spiritual family. God chooses people, they are born into your spiritual family by the work of Almighty God. We rightly think of the community as “our church family,” but we know ultimately the fellowship belongs to God. He is the source and sustainer of life.

1 Thessalonians is all about fellowship, community, family. Paul uses the words “brother(s)” 19 times in the five chapters. And these opening lines go a long way toward explaining exactly what living in community is all about. Yes, it is difficult to give up on one another and abandon one another when you are giving thanks and praying for one another. But it’s almost impossible to do so when you know God not only has chosen these people, but is working in them.

Fellowship, in a very practical way, is about thanking, praying, and knowing.