If you’ve ever longed to know God’s will for your life, this is it.
Six words. Ready?
“Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks.”
That’s it. And yes, it is the same for everyone. If you’re thinking God’s will for your life is unique and personalized and not like anyone else’s, that’s just not how it works. Sorry. One will to rule them all.
But how you do these things, what shape and form they take, the ways you live them out—well, that makes these six words truly yours, as individual as your thumbprint.
Let’s take a look.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Maybe you have one or more of these verses posted around your house or hanging from your key chain or written on the front of your journal. All good, of course, but we gotta be careful not to reduce God’s Word to a slogan. “Rejoice Always” can end up sounding like some happy-happy-joy-joy Christian platitude, dished out like candy. “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
The truth is, God is asking us to do something that’s not merely difficult—it’s impossible to do on our own strength.
“Rejoice always,…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16
I’m an upbeat kind of woman. I usually look on the bright side and try to think positively. My glass is at least half full. (Actually, it’s overflowing, but we’ll save that for another post.)
So a command from God like ”be glad-hearted” (AMP) sounds like an easy assignment, right? Keep smiling. Be joyful. ”Celebrate always” (VOICE).
The rejoice part is easy. The always part, not so much.
Even so, God is asking us to “be cheerful no matter what” (MSG). No matter what kind of day we’ve had. No matter what’s happening on CNN. No matter what our hormones are up to. No matter what someone just said to us. No matter what’s for dinner (or isn’t).
Lord, you’re kidding, right? You don’t really expect us to ”be full of joy all the time” (NLV)?
Yes, he does. And here’s how he makes it possible.
”Be happy in your faith” (PHILLIPS) means despite all that’s going on around us, we can be happy, joyful, content in Christ. Our faith keeps us anchored. Not always silly and laughing, but definitely solid and certain.
“Joy be with you” (KNOX) reminds us that the Holy Spirit, the author of joy, is always with us. Beside us. Inside us. He makes our joy real. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22). If the Holy Spirit is in you, then so is joy, with love on one side and peace on the other.
Joy isn’t a feeling and it’s not something you can fake. Joy begins with knowing you’re not alone and realizing you have somewhere to turn. Always.
“…pray continually,…” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray? Okay, we’ve got this one. We know how, we know when and where, and we know what to do. Close our eyes. Bow our heads. Maybe take hands if we’re with people. ”Talk to God” (WE).
Except prayer is more about listening than it is about spilling out requests. David wrote, “I will listen to what God the Lord says” (Psalm 85:8). When God tells us to “pray without ceasing” (ASV), he’s also saying, “Listen to me all the time!”
Just like that last little two-word verse telling us to rejoice “always,” this one calls us to pray “regularly” (CJB), “perseveringly” (AMP), “constantly” (HCSB).
Lord, this really is impossible. I have things to do, places to go, people to meet. How can I pray all the time?
Here’s how: by redefining prayer as an ongoing conversation. That means I don’t have to close my eyes or bow my head or hold hands. I start right in. And another thing… I never want to be irreverent, never want to take prayer lightly. But since the Lord wants us to ”never stop praying” (CEV), I’m thinking that’s how it could work.
“…give thanks…” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Ann Voskamp wrote the book on this. Really. One Thousand Gifts is about giving thanks, being grateful, living a life of gratitude, seeing everything from God’s hand as a gift.
To be honest, some days it’s easier to count all the things that went wrong, instead of adding up all the things that went right. Ann would say (eek!) count both, give thanks for both.
That’s what the Bible says too. “Keep thanking God” (CEV) and ”always be thankful” (ERV). My favorite translation is “do ye thankings” (WYC).
(Now that’s a sign that would get your attention each morning: Do Ye Thankings. I’m on it.)
All right then. I decide to be intentional about expressing gratitude. To write down, “Thank you, Lord, for…” The list is long. Gratitude begins to swell inside me, threatening to pour out my eyes.
Then God adds this.
“…in all circumstances;…” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Wait a minute. We’re already joyful around the clock, praying nonstop, and writing down all the things we’re thankful for. Now God is asking us to be joyful, prayerful, grateful “in every situation”” (CEB), “no matter what the circumstances may be” (AMP)?
Each one of us can think of situations and circumstances where it would be nearly impossible to say, “Thank you.” This seems too hard, even unfair.
Surely you don’t mean this, Lord.
“…for this is God’s will…” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Now I’m mad. No, I mean it. I’ve lost too many friends. I’ve seen too many tragedies. I’ve known too much pain, and people I love have known much worse.
How do you expect us to do this, Lord? This joyful, prayerful, grateful business?
Make no mistake, “This is what God wants you to do” (CEV) and “this is how God wants you to live” (ERV). No way around it. No escape hatch, no easy exit.
The answer is woven between the syllables: “you will be working out the will of God” (PHILLIPS).
The good news? You will not be the one doing this. God will be doing this through you. Let go of have to. Embrace willing to. God’s will, not yours.
This isn’t for everybody. God knows the whole world isn’t going to be able to do this. Only those who belong to his Son and have his Spirit working inside them. Only those who want to experience the fullness of this word.
“…for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
You “who are united with the Messiah” (CJB), you who live “your life in union with Christ Jesus” (GNT). It’s God’s will to do all of the above and more in you because you are in him.
I’ve been walking (stumbling, crawling) with the Lord for thirty years, and I’ve come to realize most of us are still making faith in God all about us. We’re still stuck, trying to keep the Law instead of learning to trust his grace.
Law says, “If you do this, God will do his part.”
Grace says, “Because God has already done his part, you can do this.”
It’s a question of who goes first, who leads by example, and who ultimately does the work. Jesus, Jesus, and Jesus.
You can live in God’s will “because you believe in Christ Jesus” (NIRV). The deepest joys, the richest prayer life, the most heartfelt thanks are possible because it isn’t going to be you doing it, it’s going to be God working through you.
Thank. You. Lord.
Now it’s your turn
So much for three short, sweet, simple verses, eh?
Have you experienced God’s joy in the midst of sorrow? Have you found a way to pray (and especially, to listen) in the midst of a noisy world? Were you able to give thanks in a difficult circumstance?
We’d love to hear your experience. Just add your response under Post a Comment below. Bless you for taking a moment to add your voice to the conversation.
Next Wednesday, we’ll hang out in the New Testament and unpack #11 of the verses you love. Lots of people chose it as their favorite. Can’t wait to find out if it’s yours!
Your sister, Liz