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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)

Throwback Thursday – Post originally published March 12, 2010

A commitment to Christ is a decision to follow Him at all costs. Every activity, interaction, and thought becomes a choice for Jesus or self. With each daily decision point, you draw a line in the sand and announce, “I’m staying with Jesus.”

When we declare we are with Christ, we become an enemy of the evil one and his plans to trap us in sin. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “We are fighting against the power of this dark world.” (NIV) Some days it’s an internal struggle, other days an external fight with temptation in the world. Either way the battles are sure to come.

Paul instructs us in Ephesians 6:13 to be ready for these scuffles by putting on the full armor of God. He tells us to prepare ahead of time to “stand your ground” against the evil in this world. Paul gives us a visual picture of a soldier suiting up for battle with the weapons of the faith: the belt of God’s truth, breastplate of righteousness, gospel of readiness, shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. It’s a conscious act of protecting your decision to follow Christ.

Then there is the secret weapon that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:18, prayer. “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 saints.” In prayer you will feel Christ gently take your hand and say, “follow me.” His grip of truth is far stronger than the lies of the world that try to take hold of you.

It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

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