“Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 HCSB
I don’t know about you, but as we head into the holiday season this year with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am struggling to feel “cheerful and bright.” It has been a hard last two years for us all, and I am finding it a daily challenge to see God in the midst of the hard and trust that He is at work and that He is good. So when I read Paul’s admonition to the church in Thessalonica to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances,” I wonder how I can fulfill this difficult command.
I know the answer. I’m sure you do too. It’s pretty textbook, Sunday school stuff: We are able to rejoice, remain faithful in prayer, and give thanks when we fix our eyes on God and the spiritual reality of all that we have in Him.
But how do we do that when the whole world is so out of control, so broken, so frightening? How do we keep our spiritual eyes on God when we struggle to see how He is working in our own mess, in the uncertainty of our futures and the pain of our present?
Pardon the cheesiness of the rhyme, but this is little jingle might help you and me to find an answer to these questions and some peace in our chaos:
This is the key: Thanks is how we see.
It's funny, but Paul’s three part admonition actually builds on itself to show us exactly how we can obey it. We rejoice always when we pray continually. And what do we pray continually about? We pray our praise. We look around us, inside of us, and in the Word to see the blessings God has showered on us and the fingerprints of His grace in our everyday. And then we give thanks.
When all I see is how difficult life is right now and how much hard or unknown is ahead, I have to hear the anxiety and depression that well up as warning bells informing me that my perspective has shifted away from God. It is immensely helpful for me to pause for a minute and do this little exercise I learned in counseling: Look around you and name 5 items you see. Take a deep breath. Name 4 more items you see. Take another deep breath. And so on until you name one last item, take one last deep breath, and then, I like to quote Psalm 23 to myself to round it off. This practice is a way to engage your body and mind and tell yourself that you are safe. It grounds you.
We can take this practice and adapt it a little to learn to look around us spiritually too. Think of 5 big things God has done for you in your past. Take a deep breath. Think of 4 ways God has provided for you recently. Take a deep breath. Think of 3 blessings you have enjoyed today. They can be as simple as the warm sweater you are wearing or the really good cup of coffee you had this morning. Then take another deep breath. Think of 2 blessings God has given you spiritually, like His grace or fellowship with other believers. Take a deep breath. Then think about the one big thing that can always, always give us joy no matter what: the hope of Heaven. This life is not all there is. Our light and momentary afflictions may not feel light and momentary, but they will pale in comparison with the joy and glory of Heaven. Our story has a happily ever after, no matter what happens between now and our last breaths. So take a nice deep breath, and just give thanks. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His love endures forever (Psalm 136).
And that’s how you do it. That’s how we see God in the midst of our crazy circumstances. That’s how we can rejoice always; by praying continually, giving thanks in everything. This simple practice of thankful prayer and spiritual grounding keeps our eyes raised above the world around us and fixed on the center of our world: the God who is good and does good and will work everything for our good and His glory.
This is the key: Thanks is how we see.
Here are a few questions to think about as you head on into Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season:
If the little practice of “spiritual grounding” I outlined speaks to you, how can you incorporate this or a similar practice into your daily or weekly spiritual walk? Would keeping a thankful journal be helpful? Maybe having a buddy who you can share 3 or so thankful thoughts with once or twice a week? What is the best way for you to make thanksgiving a constant in your life?
What is one passage of Scripture that really encourages you and helps you remember that God is at work and He is good? Consider memorizing this Scripture or writing it on a notecard and placing it somewhere that you will see it often.
What are you most thankful to God for today? Tell Him, and take some time to just rejoice with Him!