Recently at youth group we read 1 Thessalonians 5:16, one of the shortest verses in the Bible. It says, simply, “Rejoice always.” Thinking about it after, though, it struck me how it’s linked with the next verses. Here are the following verses, and notice that “Rejoice always” is part of a sentence: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Joy in All Things
Paul commands us to rejoice always and we should recognize that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness comes and goes and is dependent on our circumstances at any given moment. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of mind, rooted deep within us in the knowledge that whatever may come, God is in control and that it’s all for our good and for His glory.
But that doesn’t mean joy always comes easily. Even now, I know people—some close to me—who are struggling with medical issues, financial challenges, and life changes that are difficult. These are people who, in a way, would have every right to be miserable or angry with their circumstances. But Paul says to have joy always. How can any of us rejoice all the time?
Prayer is the Key
The apostle gives us the answer: “pray without ceasing.” If prayer is simply having a conversation with God, then praying constantly shouldn’t be a difficult proposition. It doesn’t mean we have to walk around 24 hours a day with our heads bowed and our eyes closed (though there is certainly a time and place for that), but it does mean that we should allow ample time talking to the One who knows us best.
Part of prayer is recognizing who God is and what He has done for us. Think of the titles we use and what they mean in relation to God’s character. We call Him “God,” “Lord,” “Creator,” “Father,” “Savior,” “Spirit.” God sent His Son, who died and rose, that justice might be satisfied and our sins forgiven. Prayer is a great reminder of these things.
Thanksgiving All Year
Which brings us to the last clause of the sentence: “give thanks in all circumstances.” As we spend time in prayer, contemplating who God is and what He has done, it reorients us. It causes us to take our focus off of our problems and, instead, focuses us on the One who is in control of our problems. And that change in focus leads to thankfulness. It also brings us full circle. As we think about and give thanks for what the Lord has done, it causes our joy to deepen. And that makes it easier to “rejoice always.”
Paul’s command in this sentence is not an impossible one. Paul likely knew that life’s problems cause us to focus on ourselves. It’s easy to worry when things don’t seem to be going our way. But an attentiveness to prayer—and the awareness that brings as we’re reminded of the God who loves us no matter what we go through—changes our worry to joy. Then we will have what we need to follow the command to “Rejoice always.”