Lesson 22: With Joy, Prayer and Thanksgiving - Part 1 (series: Lessons on 1 Thessalonians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tom Lowe

Lesson 22: With Joy, Prayer and Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Lesson 22
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice always (v. 16)
Our joy, prayers and thankfulness to God should not fluctuate with our circumstances or feelings. Obeying these three commands― “Rejoice always,” “pray continually,” “give thanks in all circumstances”― often goes against our natural inclinations. When we make a conscience decision to obey God, however, we will begin to see people in a new perspective. When we do God’s will, we will find it easier to be joyful and thankful.

Happiness is not found in anything external. It is a certain state of the soul when it is filled with the peace of God and lit up with the sunshine of heaven. It is a mockery to talk about cultivating happiness. It is not a potato to be planted in rich soil with manure tilled into it. Happiness is a glory shinning far down upon us out of heaven.

So, what is happiness and how do we find it? The secret of a happy life is found in the constant and faithful discharge of Christian duties. It is our duty to rejoice continually. “Rejoice always” (v. 16). To rejoice is not only a privilege, but a duty; the believer is as much obliged to rejoice as he is to believe. It seems a mockery to direct people to rejoice in the midst of a world of sin, sorrow and death, and in a church which is greatly tried; and yet, that was the condition of things when these words were penned, and when similar council was given to the Philippians (4:4{a]). Allow me to say it again, It seems a little strange that Paul would admonish the believers in Thessalonica to “Rejoice always,” knowing that they were severely afflicted and persecuted by the enemies of the gospel (1 Thess. 1:6{b]; 2:14; 3:2-42; 2 Thess. 1:4). But Paul had learned to rejoice even under heavy fire from the enemy, and he taught Christians to rejoice when persecuted.

In Romans 5:3-5 we read “. . . We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul says, “. . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches rejoicing when tempted by the tempter. 1 Peter 4:12-14 also admonishes believers to rejoice when persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Christians have spiritual resources which are so great that earthly things cannot disturb their composure, and they go on their way with a song in their heart (Col. 3:16{c]). Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22{d]; Rom. 14:17), and Paul has made it clear that the Thessalonians knew this joy. It is the joy that comes from being, “in Christ.” So the note of joy rings through the New Testament, and so Paul, who himself knew what it was to rejoice in difficult circumstances (Acts 16:25{e]; Rom. 5:3; Col. 1:24), can say, “Rejoice always” (Phil. 4:4{a]), and speak of the Christian as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Pray Continually (v. 17)
There is another duty that falls to Christians; it is to pray without ceasing. Since we are in need of something every moment, we should pray for help every moment. The Lord requires not only frequent prayer, but also unwearied repetition. Live in the spirit of prayer; let everything you do, for your whole life, be done in the spirit of prayer, as prayer offered to God. He who prays the most lives the best. Prayer surrounds the soul with a golden atmosphere, through which is sifted the sunbeams of heavenly joy.

I am sure someone is saying, “I cannot pray without ceasing. I work 8 hours a day; I have other duties.” Dear reader, Paul is not speaking here of going into a closet, shutting the door, falling on one’s knees and crying out to God in prayer. He means that we should be in an attitude of prayer at all times―a spirit of prayer forming an undercurrent of all our thoughts. Pray continually! We cannot afford to do less, because if our prayer life weakens, the devil will drive a wedge between us and our spiritual birthright of abundant life.

Paul and his co-laborers were men of prayer. In prison, at midnight, they prayed―and God answered with an earthquake that opened every door in the prison! If you will study Paul’s epistles, you will find that he always prayed. He is not preaching what he did not practice; he said, “Pray Continually,” and he did just that. He was in an attitude of prayer at all times (1 Thess. 1:3; 2:13).

Christianity is a religion that turns people’s thoughts away from themselves and their puny deeds to the great God who has wrought a stupendous salvation for them in Christ. Paul’s exhortation to “pray continually” fits into this picture. The Thessalonian believers (like all others) were dependent on God for everything. Continuing prayer is the continuing expression of this dependence. Christians, then, are always conscious, that they depend on God, and that they are always surrounded by God’s love. This knowledge will keep them always rejoicing and always in the spirit of prayer.

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