Lent 06: Day 29

As I was checking the site logs yesterday morning before going to church, I noticed someone went to an old post entitled Keeping The Focus. They were searching for writings on 1 Thessalonians 5:17. That verse, pray without ceasing is taken out of a larger sentence encompassing verses 16-18.

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

So, I decided to remind myself what I had written on the subject and upon further investigation I found out:
1: I believe those three verses should be one verse, not three.
2. It was the first of a three-part posting.
3. I never finished the third part, which was to cover pray without ceasing.

Since the focus of this year’s Lent observance and these meditations (for me) has been disciplined prayer, I think God is prompting me to finish that third posting and to keep my work word (you know, your yes be yes…). However, to keep that posting in context, I believe I should repost the first two on giving thanks in all circumstances and rejoicing always, while I try to finish the third post in the limited time I have available (some postings take 2 or 3 hours or longer to do).

With that in mind, here is the first posting: Keeping the Focus, in which I deal with giving thanks in all circumstances. New comments added today are in brackets [like this].

One scripture that a lot of Christian people skip past is 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing” or “pray continually.” Those who do take the passage seriously, usually interpret it along the lines that their whole life is a prayer or everything we do is a form of prayer to God. That begins to stretch and distort the plain spoken meaning of the passage as it relates to the commonly understood meanings of prayer. With that in mind, I have recently begun to see that demand by Paul in a new light. [I now may not be as sure as I was last year on this]

In order to examine Paul’s demand we first need to look at the passage in context, which includes verses 12-24.

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

[If that isn’t a summation of how to live out the daily practical Christian life, I don’t know where you would find a better one.]

First, I would like you to see that this demand for continual prayer is not optional. Paul says “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In addition, praying is not the only thing that he says we are to continually do. We are also to be joyful and thankful at all times. So in this passage Paul lists three things that God demands of us at every moment for the rest of our Christian lives. Let me say that again for the maximum effect: the Apostle Paul, in the Holy Scriptures lists three things that God told him to demand from us continually, at all times, for the rest of our life as Christians: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” [How’s that for a Lenten insight!?]

I don’t know about you but I have never heard a sermon that covered those very specific demands. More the pity, since if God demands it and we aren’t doing it, well you get the picture. Let’s forget the sermons and realize that even any halfway effort at studying Thessalonians could not help but see and as a result have to confront that demand. Forget Bible study, since you are reading this little blog posting, it is doing just that, making that demand. God snuck used this posting to sneak up on you and now you know. [This statement was one of the reasons I decided to repost the two lead-in postings.]

Let me say that I believe these three little demands illustrate why more Christians aren’t serious about their Bible study; if you really get into the Word it will always make new and difficult demands on your life. [That could be taken as a gross understatement.] Isn’t that the major reason why so few Christians have serious Bible study as a regular part of their spiritual lives and why that little set of jewels that Paul exposes here in Thessalonians, which reflect a significant aspect of God’s will for our lives, receive such little notice. [In my opinion, most modern Christian like Bible study light, an issue I covered in my posting Bible Study Nutrition, one of the earliest postings on this blog.]

Well then, rather than cut and run let’s take a look at these three jewels. Let’s examine them in an order to reinforce their demands and open our eyes to what God is saying. To get us started I am going to first deal with giving thanks. In subsequent postings I will deal with the other two: being joyful always and praying continually. [Thank you Lord for bringing me back to that commitment.]

Give thanks in all circumstances
All is all, not just when you feel like it, or see the purpose in it, or things are going well. Giving thanks means accepting that what God is doing or is allowing to happen is what is right and necessary for you in your development as a Christian at this very moment. [That takes a lot of trust and believing that God is in absolute control, not the popular theological position in our Emerging Church movement.] It means that you accept both blessing and correction from the hand of our Father in Heaven. But it also means that God may have a higher purpose in what is happening than what we personally want. [Who of us wants suffering. None of us if we are fully sane. We are geared to avoid pain.]

The classic example for giving thanks is Job and for two reasons:
1. He accepted from the hand of God everything that happened. He said whatever God did was God’s right to do, whether good or ill, [literally evil in the verse (in the sense of diaster, not moral evil), which is a whole posting in itself.] while at the same time still maintaining absolute trust in his Lord. He resisted the temptation to blame God (his wife’s advice: curse [blame] God and die) or even himself where unnecessary. I am reminded of a recent Christian lady, who during a time of deep trial said she was confessing sins she didn’t think she had committed in an attempt to get God to listen to her. Such things are not necessary. We have to trust that God will answer us when the time is right. She recently got her answer, but in God’s timing. [Next to humilty, patience is the most difficult virtue in my opinion.]

2. He asked why things had to be so bad when they were really, really bad. Note that in asking why he never questioned God’s right (see #1) to do anything he wanted with Job, he just wanted to know the purpose. I don’t know about women but men usually want, even feel the need to know why. [It’s all part of our motivation.]

Job never found out. God never told him. We know, because we read the story of Job’s life, but God did not tell Job. From this I have learned an important lesson: that it is alright to ask why, but not alright to demand an answer or complain if I don’t get it. [Think on that for a while…] I like Job’s response at the end of his trial.

Then Job replied to the LORD : “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6

So Job is a good example of both accepting and questioning our circumstances while at the same time thanking God for everything that happens. He knew that since God is our loving Father whatever happens will, as Paul so wonderfully said, “work together for our good” since we both love God and have been called for his purpose. Note that it is his purpose, not ours. In the end, doesn’t it always come down to submission to the purpose, plan, and will of God? [It is so easy to confuse our own desires with God’s purpose.]

So, are you giving thanks in all circumstances? If not, why not? What will it take for you to do so? Why is that necessary [for it to take something] and how do you justify putting those conditions on God. I believe that if you can unequivocally give thanks to God for everything that happens then you have stepped inside the inner circle of faith with Job. You have become both faithful and immovable. You are truly blessed and your perspective now shares God’s perspective as far as humanly possible.

Tomorrow I will look at unceasing joy. Until then, may the grace and peace of God find purchase in your heart of hearts. [End of orignal posting]

So there you have it. I thank my heavenly Father for bringing this study back to my attention, both so I can fulfill my original promise, but also so I can remember the significance of this three part demand to this year’s Lenten observance. May God richly bless you today and my we all find in our hearts the resources to be like our brother Job, giving thanks in all things.