Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks. I Thess 5:16-18
When I get what I’ve always wanted, I rejoice. When I’m hurting, I pray without ceasing. When I’m delivered from something painful, I give thanks. Three different experiences on the emotional continuum. Will I do all three when I’m happy? Will I do all three when I’m under the weight of something heavy? Not usually. I relegate rejoicing and thankfulness as a response to good news and praying without ceasing as something I do under difficult circumstances. Paul is saying that all three should go together no matter what is happening in my life.
Let’s face it. Rejoicing, praying, and expressing gratitude can grind to a halt when nothing is going right and I’m at the end of my rope. So, as one who is driven to take Christian clichés out of the abstract, let me take a stab at it. Here are four life-scenarios, and in each, there is a attempt to rejoice, pray without ceasing, and express thanks.
- An elderly man wakes up with chronic back trouble, unable to bend to tie his shoes without crying out in pain. “Lord, I rejoice that I don’t have to face today without You. I’m so grateful You are here to help me. I praise you for being so faithful that I can rely on you for strength every moment of today.”
- A mother aches over her wayward son. As she thinks of him, her heart is heavy and her insides churn. “I rejoice in the knowledge that You love my son even more than I do. I pray for him continually, knowing You are answering my prayers whether I see it or not. Surround him with your angels. Give him a heart to choose righteousness. Thank you for being my refuge in prayer.”
- A husband and father, unemployed and at the end of hope, is turned down again by several potential employers. “I’m so grateful You’re listening, Father. Oh, I depend on Your promise of provision for me and my family. I rejoice that these rejection letters are not a surprise to You. You have my future in Your hands and I breathe out prayers all day long for your supernatural strength.”
- A woman buries her husband of forty five years and is overwhelmed with the loss. “I don’t know how in the world I’ll live without my husband but You have already made a way for me. I rejoice in Your companionship. I could be frightened of living alone but that would be wasted. We are connected all day long, my Lord. I know You have my hand, even while I grieve.”
It’s humbling to realize that out of the several thousand of you who read this, many are you are facing the exact circumstances I’m describing. Every one of us must know that no one can steal our ability to pray. No circumstance can erase the character of a God I am grateful for. No set of crushing circumstances annihilate the promises I rejoice in. If joy, prayer, and gratitude are out of reach, I can know that my mind has fallen prey to the deception that my well-being is connected to my environment and not my Savior. He is the one who, no matter what, has plans in place to prosper me, not harm me, to give me a future and a hope. That provides deep joy in momentary despair.
Trouble often rolls over my head. I abide you in the quiet of still waters, far beneath the crash of the waves. Amen