Americans are pretty good at giving thanks at Thanksgiving, as it should be! But as followers of Jesus, there’s more to giving thanks than just saying thank you! The “more” comes from doing God’s will! 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The Message Bible says it this way: “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” That makes giving thanks non-optional! These verses outline an “all or nothing” trilogy! Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks! If we make this trio top priority, filtering everything we say and do through them, we’ll be giving thanks like Jesus planned us to!
Most of us can agree rejoicing ALWAYS is a bit of a misnomer in Christianity. Instead, we tend to rejoice sometimes, when we have earthly reason to rejoice. We’ve decided, maybe without being aware of it, rejoicing without cause is just faking it. We even encourage one another in the church “Don’t put on a mask; don’t be plastic or pretend everything’s okay. We have problems just like everyone else. Just be real.” Well, those are the facts; we shouldn’t fake it, put on a mask, be plastic, be pretenders, and yes, we do have problems like everyone else. But “just being REAL” as Christians, demands that the facts NEVER stop us from doing “truth”! We are to rejoice all the time!
It’s not as hard as one might think! We won’t be putting on a mask, be plastic, pretending, or fake any rejoicing WHEN we look to the source of our joy, the target of our cheerfulness, Jesus Christ Himself! IN Him our joy is complete! Jesus said in John 15:11 “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” The “these things” Jesus spoke of center on “abiding” in Him! When we remain and stay IN Him, wait on and focus on Him, we are filled with joy; we REDO joy; we RE-Joy or rejoice always! Our joy tanks will be empty if we abide, remain, or stay set on things of this world; on people, situations, worldly comforts, and even blessings! These things come and go, whereas Jesus is constant; He doesn’t come and go! So when we let His joy remain in us, we are full to the brim all the time! No faking, no pretension, no masks – just being real in Jesus!
Let me share an illustration from profound Christian author, C.S. Lewis. One day he was in his tool shed near his garden. He noticed a sunbeam shining across the shed showing up the dust particles. He’d seen the same thing many times before, but this time he was captivated by it. He traced the beam of light to the crack at the top of the closed-door of the shed. What struck him was that although the light appeared to be coming from the crack, it was really coming from a blazing star 90 million miles away! Squinting up at the beam carefully so as not to burn his eyes, he followed the beam through the crack in the door, through the leaves of a tree outside, up and beyond to its magnificent source. Lewis thought to himself how different it was to trace the beam to its source than it was looking at the beam in his tool shed.
Joining Lewis in our mind’s eye in his tool shed, we cannot help but notice how the thin beam is so much smaller and weaker in comparison to the great burning nuclear fire called the sun. Looking at the beam alone tells us so little about its great source. Only by following and tracing the beam all the way to its source are we able to see the vast difference! The little beam is certainly beautiful but its source is magnificent and awe-inspiring.
The things of earth that flush thanks from our mouths are so much smaller and weaker in comparison to the great burning fire of God found in His Son, Jesus! Looking at the beams of blessings, the things we rejoice in here on earth alone tell us so little about their great source. Only by following and tracing the beams back to their Source, are we able to see the vast difference. The things of this earth we rejoice in are certainly beautiful but their Source is amazing and glorious! We can never get so entranced by the things of this world that we forget to trace them back to the source of all beauty, the beautiful One we love.
Rejoicing positions us to embrace the second act of the trilogy, “Pray without ceasing”! The more we pray the more we’ll rejoice! The Bible repeatedly urges us to pray always but we often prefer to make excuses for our shortage of prayer; saying or thinking it’s not possible to pray constantly or that’s not really what He meant! Praying always doesn’t mean we do nothing else but pray; it means nothing else hinders us from praying. Luke 21:36 “Watch therefore, and pray always…” 2 Thessalonians 1:11 “Therefore we also pray always for you… Luke 18:1 “. Men always ought to pray and not lose heart…”
Prayer is simply communicating and communing with God, something we should want to do ALL THE TIME! But never forget communing is a two-way street; we don’t do all the talking; we let God speak to our spirits bringing comfort, confidence, conviction, correction, and cheerfulness to us! He makes us want to rejoice, to re-do joy repeatedly when we live IN HIM! Surely there are times of sadness and sorrow in this world; no one is saying they don’t exist. But IN the midst of sorrow we commune; we pray; we listen to His Words; we respond to His direction; we rejoice IN Him! 2 Corinthians 6:4, 10 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…”
When we rejoice always and pray without ceasing we’ll be compelled to “give thanks in everything”, the third act in the trilogy. Notice we give thanks IN not FOR everything! This week we’ll thank God for many things. But let’s admit there are things unworthy of thanks; sickness, disease, murder, abortion, poverty, famine, fires, earthquakes. We don’t thank God FOR these terrible things! I know… some Christians think bad things make us reliant on God or remind us to trust Him more! But unbelievers think we’re crazy when we thank God for terrible things and yet tell them He is a great God, the Giver of all good gifts! We need to be real in Christ. Bad things happen and we’re not thankful FOR them BUT… we sure do thank God IN the bad times, in everything, trusting Him IN all things! Romans 8:28 “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
The story of Martin Rinkart might help us understand how we don’t thank God FOR everything but IN everything! Martin was a German Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, an overcrowded refuge town during the Thirty Years War from 1618-1648 when famine and deadly epidemics raged! In the year of the Great Pestilence, 1637, the town started with four pastors. Soon, one left to work in healthier conditions and Pastor Rinkart officiated the funerals of the other two. As the lone pastor, he often conducted funeral services for as many as 40-50 people a day, burying over 4000 people that year including his own wife. By the end of 1637 the death toll demanded people be buried in trenches without services. Living in this kind of world, dominated by death, Pastor Rinkart lived real Christianity. He rejoiced, prayed and gave thanks by tracing everything back to his Source of rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving, God Himself and he wrote the now famous hymn as a prayer for his children to pray “Now Thank We All Our God”! As you read the words, keep in mind what was going on around Him.
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore!
Martin lived in the midst of extreme chaos, confusion, and loss! But in this world, he found reason to rejoice always, to pray without stopping, to give thanks in everything because it was the will of God in Christ Jesus for him. It wasn’t WHAT He was experiencing that caused him to rejoice, pray and give thanks. IT was WHO he was experiencing!
Thanksgiving MUST go with a life of rejoicing and praying! Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but IN everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” The truth is if we’re not actively giving thanks in everything we’re likely complaining about something! One doctor wrote, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I’ve come to realize they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better. It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives.”
Complaining always leads to misery! Psalm 77:3 “I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.” God’s answer is revealed in Philippians 2:13 “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” That sounds like a plan to me! Shine like stars! When we shine, the world will SEE Jesus in us! We cannot hide our light or waste time complaining and arguing. We are light in a dark world!
The parable of candles might help us remember to stop making excuses and start shining! There was a blackout one night and a woman fumbled to the closet where she kept the candles, found and lit four of them. As she was turning to leave with the largest candle in her hand she heard a voice, “Now, hold it right there.” “Who said that?” “I did.” The voice was near her hand. “Who are you? What are you?” “I’m a candle.” She lifted up the candle to take a closer look and there was a tiny face in the wax. “Don’t take me out of here!” “What?”
“I said, don’t take me out of this room.” “What do you mean? I have to take you out. You’re a candle. Your job is to give light. It’s dark out there.” “But you can’t take me out. I’m not ready,” the candle explained with pleading eyes. “I need more preparation.” The woman couldn’t believe her ears. “More preparation?” “Yeah, I’ve decided I need to research this job of light-giving so I won’t go out and make a bunch of mistakes. You’d be surprised how distorted the glow of an untrained candle can be…” “All right then,” she said. “You’re not the only candle on the shelf. I’ll blow you out and take the others!”
But right then she heard other voices, “We aren’t going either!” She turned to the other candles, “You are candles and your job is to light dark places!” “Well, that may be what you think,” said the first one, “But I can’t go, I’m busy … I’m meditating on the importance of light. It’s really enlightening.” “And you other two,” she asked, “Are you going to stay, too?” A short, plump, purple candle with chubby cheeks spoke up. “I’m waiting to get my life together, I’m not stable enough.”
The last candle had a very pleasant female voice, sweet to the ear. “I’d like to help,” she explained, “but lighting the darkness is not my gift … I’m a singer. I sing to other candles to encourage them to burn more brightly.” She began a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The other three joined in, filling the closet with singing. The woman took a step back and considered the absurdity of it all. Four perfectly healthy candles singing to each other about light but refusing to come out of the closet and shine in the darkness!
This world is full of darkness with many people stumbling around trying to find their way. We can be light for them! But we only shine when we reflect light from the Source of all light; when we rejoice when there is no earthly reason to rejoice; pray when we have no words left to pray; give thanks in everything, not for everything. Smile…say hello…forgive…shine…reach out…serve…! Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Happy rejoicing! Happy praying! Happy Thanksgiving!