“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
In only a few words Paul sets down three imperatives: rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances. It’s those words “always,” “without ceasing,” and “in all circumstances” that seem so difficult. Some would think these commands would be impossible. So how do we go about doing these commands.
It’s not about feelings. First, Paul is not talking about ‘rejoicing always’ in the sense of permanent happiness, always laughing, always being upbeat and never feeling sadness, if he was then we have a problem, because neither Jesus nor Paul were always happy. When Lazarus died John said “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) and before facing the cross Matthew records Jesus saying “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt 26:38). So, what does Paul mean by “rejoicing always”. We must remember that Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica, who was facing persecution from the government and division of families for following Christ. Given their difficult circumstances, Paul is not talking about the feeling of joy but rather of obedience of following Christ in the face of persecution. When we are in difficult trials or if people have mistreated us because of our faith, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity. Or we can set our minds on the things above.
It defines who you are. James 1:2-3 says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Paul goes even further in Romans 5: “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). What James and Paul are both teaching is that the finest and deepest parts of our character are formed because of the things with which we struggle. The hard things shape us. They refine us. They make us better people and prepares us for the plans God has for us (1 Cor 4: 7-18)
It brings glory to God. When we rejoice in our suffering it brings glory to God. 1 Peter 4:16 “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.” Glorifying God means showing by your actions and attitudes that God is glorious to you and when you keep rejoicing in God in the midst of suffering, it shows that God, and not other things, is the great source of your joy (Nehemiah 8:10).
So how do we develop the habit of rejoicing always?
First, we can rejoice always by focusing on the blessings God has given us. God chose you before the foundation of the world. In love, He predestined you to adoption as His child. In Him you have redemption and forgiveness of all your sins, lavished upon you by His grace. He has made known to you the mystery of His will. He has given you an inheritance and has sealed you with the Holy Spirit of promise. (Ephesians 1:3-14). He works all things out for good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). He will not leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). The creator of the world who has plans to prosper you (Jeremiah 29:11) is in your corner.
Secondly, spend time in God’s word. When you are not staying in God’s word that is when Satan will twist things in your mind. That is why we need to hide God’s word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Psalms 119:11). How easy was it for Satan to twist the words of the Lord in the garden of Eden? Adam and Eve walked with God, walked with Him, and still they let Satan convince them to sin. James calls us to be doers of the word and not hearers only, and by doing what the word says we will be blessed. (James 1: 22-25)
No matter what might be going on in your life today, take some time to focus on the One who gives us the reason to “Rejoice Always”.