1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my office in my home. My children are home from school because we had an ice storm last night and school was closed. It is dry and warm in our house and I have bread rising in the kitchen. My husband has a good job.
It’s easy to read that verse today. Rejoice ALWAYS. Pray WITHOUT CEASING. IN EVERYTHING give thanks.
But the fact is, there are times in life when this verse is impossible to comprehend. Some of you are reading this now thinking, “No way.”
I understand. I’ve been there.
My dear friend’s parents lost their entire town to a terrible fire this week. Flooding has killed dozens and destroyed communities in Italy. School shootings, house of worship shootings, bar shootings are becoming normal words. We’ve been at war for 17 years.
I don’t think this passage is intended to admonish those who don’t always rejoice, who don’t always pray, and who aren’t thankful in everything. In fact, Solomon, the man whom 1 Kings tells us that God gave him “wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore”, who was “wiser than all men”, (1 Kings 4:29-30) tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there’s a time to hate, a time to mourn, a time to weep, a time to break down — that there is a time for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
I think this passage of verses in the letter to the church in Thessalonica is intended to encourage us, to give us the smallest glimpse into what life will be like in our perfected bodies. It’s something to which we’re to strive to achieve and to know that one day we won’t even have to try.
When things are dim and scary, when life is hard and feels impossible, I say these verses out loud. The Bible tells us that the word of God is our weapon – our sword – to use to battle the enemies of God (Ephesians 6:7). Speaking the words out loud even in the midst of grief, pain, and fear, reminds me of the fruit of the Spirit that dwells inside of me. That no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:7), and that I am not alone (Deuteronomy 31:6).
It gives my heart and mind peace to know that I have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of me to draw upon and then find that I can start rejoicing, despite the circumstances. That I can pray through good times and bad, and keep a constant line of communication open. That I can be thankful in all circumstances because I know the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
Be encouraged during this time of Thanksgiving. As you ponder that which you can easily give thanks, remember that even if your time is to weep, or your time is to mourn, you can draw upon that same power.
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