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
Which all seemed unbelievably impossible. Are you serious? Always? Continually? In all circumstances? Why don’t you just say, “forever and ever and ever,” like my toddler?
Hi, I’m Steph Lenox. And I’m recovering from Bad Attitude Christianity. It’s a thing. Totally is. But I’m beginning to call it into question. You see, I really do love the Lord. He saves my bacon daily. Without His grace and mercy, I would be kaput. End of story. But it’s his commands that get me hung up sometimes. And I have a feeling I’m not the first.
So I started digging in. Because if I’m calling myself a Christian, then I must take it all in as real, and true, and from the Lord. No cherry picking allowed. God help me. 🙂
Yesterday I asked a few friends what Bible verses they could think of, just off the top of their head. Don’t ask me why – sometimes, it’s just the right time for a pop quiz. One friend mentioned the above verse.
She said, “Isn’t it great that it says, ‘Give thanks IN all circumstances,’ rather than ‘Give thanks FOR all circumstances’? Because we’re not crazy people!”
My brain made a popping sound that I wondered if anyone else could hear.
Why had I never seen that before? I had read that verse countless times, but I never noticed the word IN. Oh for heaven’s sake. That makes much more sense. It even seems more realistic, like, something that I’ve practiced a bit, and something that the Holy Spirit could grow in me. Then I got to thinking about the other verses:
Be joyful always…
Not “Be happy always, be care-free and giddy always, be bubbly and outgoing always.” (The very idea of this sets off Bad Attitude Christianity like you wouldn’t believe.) No. Simply, “Be joyful always.” Joy is a deep emotion, a product of choices I make to focus on the personality of God, and what he’s done for me. He does not change. He is good when I am running late every morning. He is faithful when I lose my patience with my kids. He is love itself when I serve myself a bigger slice of cake than my husband. I change all day long. I act selfishly and secretly. My emotional climate resembles peak season in tornado alley. But when I look to Jesus, he forgives me easily. He hasn’t changed. Having this kind of rock to anchor to amid the storms of defeat prompts thankfulness, which produces relief, which clears a patch of ground in which joy may find pasture.
Not, “Talk only to God. Never never talk with people. You don’t have the time.” This is crazy. But what if “prayer” was just as much an attitude of communion and attention as it was words? What if the breathless pleas that pepper my days counted as prayers? What if this was praying:
“Oh God, help.”
“Give me patience.”
“Yesss! Thank you God!”
“Whew! That’s over now. Thank you Lord.”
“God, what do I say to her?”
“Oh Lord, what’s for dinner?”
If all of these small forms of communication were considered prayer, a simple exchange of speaking and listening, then I may be on my way. Thinking of it this way makes me hungry to have longer conversations, knowing that he’s listening all the time, and just may have something to say if I listen to him as well.
Give thanks in all circumstances…
Here’s the kicker: that magic word IN! Why would a person give thanks FOR all circumstances? That would mean giving thanks for car accidents, cancer, poverty, and the likes. Which doesn’t make sense. Yes, God is good, but bad things that happen are still very very bad. Calling bad things good is just nuts. Bad things are BAD! Got it?
When bad things happen to me, I am IN that circumstance. Doesn’t matter how I got there. When I’m there, I’m there. Right in the middle of it. That’s what this verse means. Give thanks IN (the midst of) all circumstances (as they are happening, like, right now). Why? Because our circumstances are always changing, but God doesn’t change. I’m thankful that no matter how good or bad, rich or poor, generous or selfish I am, God is more real than my behavior and circumstances. There’s the power of faith in God, “Because what is seen is temporary. But what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)
The best part of this whole verse is that it shows what God’s will is for me: point blank. And it is set in a present-progressive tense. Be joyful…Pray continually…Give thanks. So… God’s will is for every moment of my life? How thorough of Him! How eternally desirous he must be of my heart! What an all-encompassing experience to be seeking to live in God’s will. All the time. Does this feel overwhelming? You bet. I don’t think I do anything ALWAYS, except maybe breathing. But I do have his Holy Spirit living in me, and He has been known to do crazier things, as I let him lead.