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I have often found it a challenge to put into practice 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).” As much as I want to, I just can’t seem to maintain a constant state of rejoicing and prayer. I began to wonder if it was even possible until last week when I ran into Sandy, a woman I have know for years.

Sandy is a giving person who has served on a village council for more than 10 years. When she first joined the council, their small village was depressed and not very prosperous. One person described it as being stuck in the 1950s, but she persevered with a grateful heart. Over the years she worked to implement one positive change after another. A mural here, an improvement to a park there, a repaved street here and there. Before long a positive momentum emerged as people saw the town change for the better.

I remarked to Sandy about all the good things happening in her village. “We are so blessed,” she exclaimed to me. Then she listed all the good things going on just this year. “I don’t have all the answers, but I keep praying for our town, our businesses and our people.” I smiled as I realized she is an example of 1 Thessalonians 5:16. In essence she bathed everything in prayer, rejoiced always and was thankful for everything.

Then she told me what really mattered to her. “Oh but what we really need is Jesus,” she said to me with a smile. “Now you know my real passion.” She had shown me that I had 1 Thessalonians 5:16 backwards. Her optimism wasn’t just out of her efforts to have a positive attitude about everything, it was a joy born out of her love for Jesus and her deep desire for others to have that same joy.

For too long I focused on the first part of the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,” as this challenge to be joyful about everything; to lift up everything to God in prayer. I was treating it almost as a chore, keeping track of how many times I failed to pray or be thankful about something. What Sandy taught me is that the second part of this verse is really the answer: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

It is God’s will that in Jesus Christ we can rejoice always in continual prayer. Through Jesus we can find the ability and the will to gives thanks in all things. We can see God at work in all things. When our optimism is born of the Spirit of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are aligned with God’s plan and his will. It is having a passion to serve Christ Jesus, to bring Jesus to others, that makes us want to constantly rejoice, to constantly pray, to continually thank God.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people – Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

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