Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
As a young person, I had the misguided thought that there were only ten commandments. I soon learned that every time a verse was written in the imperative tense (as above – be joyful, pray continually, give thanks) that the intention was that I would practice it. Well, in the lifetime since then, I’ve had to come to terms with lots of verses – there are definitely more than ten commandments!!
Fortunately, the Lord knows I’m slow to learn and maybe you are too so these verses come along from time to time as I read through and study the Bible or hear sermons. Sometimes, it’s so blatantly obvious that I should do something about a verse because it appears everywhere – Sunday sermons, church signs, bulletin inserts, bookstores, etc. – after a few times of spotting a verse I realize that God is trying to get my attention about something. Did I mention that I’m a slow learner sometimes???
Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I lived in a community that was less friendly to those who were not born there than to “natives.” Unfortunately, a job change had brought me to this place to live and I moved with the expectation of meeting new people, finding a great church, etc. It was not until after I arrived, that I realized this community, including the church, didn’t appreciate “outsiders.” I began to resent my time there, hated where I worked and had no friends.
Then this verse from 1 Thessalonians started showing up everywhere - Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and I thought, “Are you kidding me?!?!?” I was the new person, the one eager to be there and “they” were cordial but did not welcome me or anyone new. It was a hard time.
Of course, as Max Lucado, says in his book, Just Like Jesus, “God loves you the way you are. He just doesn’t mean to leave you that way.” This began my journey to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances – even when it didn’t feel good!
Part of the journey of leadership is to make commitments to things that are not always popular or easy and it’s easy to fall into the “woe is me” trap, which is where I was several years ago. I had made the commitment to this work assignment, knowing that God had called me there. I had a hard time understanding why it was not wonderful, easy, etc. after all I was doing what I believed to be God’s will.
I had learned and had to re-learn that the study and application of Scripture is a BIG deal for everyone, not just someone with a title of pastor or priest. Did I mention I was a slow learner??
I knew several things already:
1. I knew that God was good and that He had a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11)
2. I knew that the Scripture is there to teach, correct and rebuke (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
3. I knew that God would never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8)
I knew all these things, but it seemed hard at the time. But, of course, God was not content to leave me like I was. He wanted to make me like Jesus.
In the months and years that followed (did I mention I was a slow learner?), I came to realize that my time in the desert was for my good and His glory. I learned that there were some strongholds in my life and if I was going to be the person God intended, then I had to release them and move on, knowing that God’s plan for my life was best and was what I truly wanted. I’d already learned that my plan for my life or anything else for that matter was never the best plan!
Since then, it’s become easier to listen more carefully and to follow more quickly than in the past. I have a new understanding of what it means to …
… be joyful. For in following God’s plan I’ve found peace and joy in abundance.
… pray continually. I’ve found the One who knows my need is more than will to meet my need according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
…give thanks. Thanksgiving is a normal part of life when you know the One who loves you best and most.
What are you holding on to that keeps you from being the person God intends for you to be or become? What one step can you take today to begin that journey?
Come along and join the journey!!