Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This is the 3rd annual Thanksgiving meal hosted by Brookwood Celebrate Recovery and I’m so grateful you’re here.
I’m not usually snarky on Facebook, but not long ago I broke that rule. A friend of mine was ranting about their experience at the airport. The line took forever, their bags got searched, and they got searched. But then they got on their flight and got where they were going.
I said, “So let me get this straight. You took an hour getting through a building where you got in a machine that brought you across the country in just a couple hours—a distance that would have taken months to travel just a little over a hundred years ago? And then you had a relaxing vacation?”
Perspective. The problem is, I’ve whined on my way to a vacation in the airport too.
Make sure you hear this: We are truly blessed when we count our blessings as inconveniences.
How many of us have complained about something that’s actually a blessing in our lives? We’re not always good at being grateful for our blessings. But the truth is, we’re actually called to be thankful for a lot more than our blessings.
In the Bible, Paul described 3 expectations for the life of every Christian—three hallmarks that identify those who follow Christ. Some scholars call these three things “the standing order of the church.” They’re found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)
Always be Joyful.
Never Stop Praying.
Be Thankful in all circumstances.
That’s God’s will for our lives.
Here’s the problem (especially when it comes to being joyful and thankful), we usually view them as the destination rather than the path.
To put it another way, we look for things to make us joyful rather than living a life of joy and gratitude.
Let’s take a few minutes to explore each of these commands:
1. Always be Joyful. (v. 16)
So do we live joy, or do we look for things to make us joyful?
The logic of this world is that we should pursue things that make us happy, but the Christian life often seems contrary to logic, doesn’t it?
I love riding horses—there’s probably few things in this world that bring me more joy… but that’s the catch. I’m looking for things in this world to bring me joy—when I’m supposed to already possess it.
Perhaps the most difficult word in this verse is “always.” At all times—the word means forever. Are we joyful all the time? I know I’m not. But joy is meant to be the constant and consistent state of believers. How is that possible? It’s possible when Jesus is the center of our lives—truly the center. Because He is the source of joy. It’s a natural byproduct of His power in your life.
Psalm 16:11 (NLT) says:
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
This is a difficult truth, but if joy is granted through being in Christ’s presence and allow Him to show me the way of life—what does it mean if I don’t have joy? It means I’m not truly in his presence, or at some level, I’m trying to live life my own way.
Pursuing joy leads to emptiness. But pursuing Christ naturally creates joy.
That leads us to the second command:
2. Never Stop Praying. (v. 17)
If we’re called to be always joyful and joy comes from connecting with Christ, then prayer should be the constant attitude of every Christian.
For most of us reading that verse, the first thing that comes to our mind is, “How is that possible?” I have CrossFit (well, I’ve never said that), but I have work, I have to go grocery shopping. I can’t spend all day praying.
Well, Jesus certainly had dedicated times of prayer (and we should too), but even when he was traveling, or teaching, or eating—he was never disconnected from the Father. So even when we’re working, doing errands, or even playing—we should still enjoy an ongoing communion and relationship with Jesus.
Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV) says:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
That’s only possible when we’re communicating with God in an ongoing way throughout the day—about everything.
Consider Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT):
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
This verse says that continual prayer leads to peace and thanksgiving—a peace that is beyond human understanding. And that’s exactly the point. Having continual joy and being in a state of never-ending prayer seems inconceivable from a human standpoint, but this Thanksgiving God wants to offer us something beyond the possible. He wants us to have a peace and a joy that is only available through Him—peace and joy beyond our understanding.
And when we have that kind of peace, we will find Thanksgiving in everything around us—because we’ll see God working through it.
That leads us to the third expectation in verse 18:
3. Be Thankful in all circumstances. (v. 18)
Think about this—why is Thanksgiving necessary? Why do we have this holiday? It’s because we’re not naturally thankful. If we were, we wouldn’t need a day to remind us to be thankful.
What if we decided for the next year that EVERY day was Thanksgiving?
I mean, you can’t eat pumpkin pie every day, but the thankful part—what if we lived that every day? Because the key to this verse is the phrase “in all circumstances.”
The question we usually ask one another on Thanksgiving is, “What do you HAVE to be thankful for?” The answer is everything. Every circumstance can bring gratitude because we believe what God says in Romans 8:28 (NLT):
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
We look at difficult circumstances through the lens of having read the end of the story and knowing who wrote it.
It is possible to be thankful in all circumstances.
Most of you know Anne Frank was a Jewish teenager who hid in a secret room for 2 years—her family and friends were being hunted by the Nazis. They couldn’t even move around in the room during the day for fear of being caught. Yet she wrote this:
“I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains” –Anne Frank
Thankfulness in all circumstances. Anne Frank was less than 15 years old when she wrote that. I don’t think we give teenagers enough credit for what they can teach us.
So I asked the students at the Landing (which is our Celebrate Recovery program for grades 7-12) to help me with this devotional. I asked them 5 questions about gratitude and thanksgiving. As we look at their answers, take a few moments to consider how you’ll answer these five questions this Thanksgiving.
<WATCH VIDEO HERE>
Look carefully at Psalm 28:7 (NLT):
The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
When we truly embrace the concept that trusting God with all our hearts leads to our hearts being filled with joy—that His strength will make us burst out in songs of thanksgiving—then we’ll have Thanksgiving every day.