In middle school and high school, I often penned “I Thess. 5:16-18” after signing my name in a classmate’s yearbook. In my then early-teenage view of the world, little did I realize the depth and gravity behind the words always, continually, and in all circumstances.
In these three consecutive verses, Paul drives home his point that no matter what, we are to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Did Paul know adverse times? Yes. Once a persecutor of the church, he was blinded for three days, converted to Christianity, often forced to flee cities for his own safety, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned.
In all circumstances.
I can by no means say I’ve been through anything near what Paul went through. And I’m guessing that most who read this article have gone through far more difficult circumstances than I have. However, since turning 40 just a year and a half ago, I have been challenged in a greater way to live in these verses. From a fluke concussion causing ongoing symptoms more than a year later, to COVID-19, and then to kidney stones, rejoicing and giving thanks have not been the first items on my list. Yet, Paul writes that “God’s will” for us “in Christ Jesus” is to do just that.
Why would this be God’s will? When we take our eyes off of God and His goodness, it is easy to get caught up in ourselves and in our own circumstances. By exhorting us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks, we are called to put our focus back on God. By rejoicing, we practice a heart-set and a mind-set of joy. “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” (Psalm 32:11). We are reminded to trust in God.
By praying, we are able to give our burdens to the Lord and know that He hears them. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you” (Jeremiah 29:12). We are reminded that God hears us, knows our needs, and cares for us.
By giving thanks, we recall all that God has done for us. He has created us, redeemed us, and reigns on high. “I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1). We are reminded of God’s goodness, grace, and love.
If I were to sign your yearbook today after the last year and a half of life’s newest challenges, would I still scribble “I Thess. 5:16-18” after my name? By God’s grace I can say yes. God is God, unchanging despite our circumstances. In all times, especially difficult times, let’s continue to remember what God has done for us. And we can do so by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.
Andrew Hanson is the music director for the Free Lutheran Schools.