Reading: 1 Thessalonians
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
I've always wondered how it is possible to “be joyful always”. If I'm feeling grumpy or stressed or irritable, I sometimes say to myself, “Right, I'm going to hum a tune about joy.” And I do. “Break forth into joy, O my soul, dee dee, de de dee, de de dee…” Somehow it helps!
I also remind myself of Philippians 4:6 “Don't worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.” So I do that, and it too certainly makes a big difference.
But what else? What can I do that will reliably turn on the flow of joy in my life?
There's an interesting turn of phrase in the verses above — “Give thanks”. Thanks are something I give — like a gift or an offering. A sacrifice, perhaps.
Sometimes, thankfulness just wells up all by itself in response to the good things that are happening. In my “lesser” moments, when the emotions that well up are rather less constructive, thanks are only given if I make a deliberate choice to do so.
Fortunately, there is always something to give thanks for, and always the capacity to do this. I can never “run out” of thanks. I can give thanks at will, and never exhaust my supply.
I don't think it is coincidence that “Give thanks” sits right beside “Be joyful always” and “Pray continually”. These three habits are not only complementary, but each one makes the other ones possible:
- Giving thanks in all circumstances helps me to be joyful always.
- Giving thanks in all circumstances means that in good times and in bad, I will find myself praying continually.
- Praying continually makes it much easier to give thanks and be joyful, because the goodness of God is always set before me.
- Being joyful makes it natural to give thanks.
I am sure that God appreciates my thanks. I'm also sure that he himself doesn't actually need them. But for me, giving thanks in all circumstances is a key to unlocking joy. When I give thanks, I receive joy!
So here is a paradox. When I give thanks, I am the one that benefits! The more I give thanks, the more I benefit!
Here then is the answer to my question. How can I be joyful always? By giving thanks in all circumstances. Yes! I can do that.
Thank you Father for this truth. I feel like I have just found an essential piece of the jigsaw puzzle of life. Please help me to make thankfulness my constant habit, and may joy always follow in its wake.
See also, And the Antidote to Stress is…
Reading: Psalms 140 to 150
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honour and sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:4-5 NIV
…the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11 NIV
When the day is done, and it's time to pause from all my chores, what is it that comes floating to the surface of my mind? And what is the emotion that triumphs over all others as I lay in my bed at night?
I'd really like for it to be joy. And here is just one more reason for joy to well up: The Lord delights in me! What an honour! Not only does he know me, but he enjoys me! Even while I lay sleeping, God is thinking about me.
And, he delights not just in me as an individual, but in us as his people — the whole family of those who have put their hope in his unfailing love. As we grow together in love and maturity, we are for God a source of very great pleasure!
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:3-8 NLT
I find it so satisfying when I wake in the night or early in the morning to turn my thoughts toward God. It has become my regular habit. Now here is one more reason to feel joy in the quiet watches of the night — God takes delight in me!
I don't have to be someone I am not. God delights in me just as I am, and takes great pleasure in seeing how I am coming along as his Spirit continues his perfecting work in me. It's so good to be on the receiving end.
Knowing that God delights in me also makes me want to please him. And, it inevitably draws from me thankfulness. God is so good — sometimes all you can do is just soak it up.
What a wonderful privilege Lord, to bring you pleasure. My wife perhaps will not appreciate it if I “sing for joy on my bed” as the psalmist suggests, but Father, you can wake me any time you like, and I will relish the opportunity to rejoice in this honour — to bring you pleasure. Thank you so much!
Reading: Philemon 1:1-7
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers… Philemon 1:4 NIV
Paul is such a tender-hearted bloke towards his children in the Lord. I've never noticed it before, but in the majority of his letters, once formal greetings are out of the way, he just can't help himself from telling them how thankful he is — for them, and for what God is doing in their lives. Just listen to him…
Philemon 1:4-5 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus…
Ephesians 1:15-16 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God … as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Paul is just like a proud parent brimming with joy as he sees his children growing in their faith. They're not all perfect, of course. The “foolish Galatians” are not doing so well when Paul writes (see Galatians 1:6). Nonetheless they are all in his thoughts and prayers.
I suspect too that Paul is feeling that same excitement that a gardener feels when the seed he has planted sprouts up through the soil and begins to grow. He is intensely interested and concerned for that seed. But although he did the planting, he knows it is God who brings the growth. Which is perhaps why Paul feels so much delight when he sees growth happening.
And who shares that delight with him? All of heaven. Together, heaven and earth celebrate in the wonder of new life.
This week, I had the privilege of helping someone invite Jesus into their life — someone I had been praying for. It was such a wonderful occasion, and I was so thankful! I couldn't stop myself from thanking God over and over. Since then, I have had the double joy of seeing the same thankfulness welling up in the man who was saved.
I can so relate to Paul when he says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers…” It just wells up. I feel as though the great celebration that happens in heaven for every soul saved has somehow spilled out of heaven and enveloped me, and I want more of it!
Thank you so much Lord for the privilege of this experience — to be able to bring someone into your family. I offer myself to you as a planter of seeds, a tiller of soil, and nurturer of new life. I want to be your agent of blessing, bringing many more into your kingdom. May I? Holy Spirit, just give me the word!
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NIV
I love these scriptures. God has plans and purposes for every stage of my life, beginning, middle and end. And although I don't always know in advance what his will is, here in these scriptures are three things I can be certain are God's will for me, three good “buddies” that are always to be with me:
Be joyful always — no matter what the circumstances, I am to embrace joy, and never leave it for a less worthy partner — not fear, or anxiety or anguish. These latter things no longer have my permission to remain in residence!
Pray continually — I am always to be in conversation with God, my constant companion.
Give thanks in all circumstances — God is good, all the time. There is always something to be thankful for.
And then there's this “body guard” called Peace. As I bring all my worries and concerns to God in prayer, and keep an attitude of thankfulness, peace is there guarding my heart and my mind. The knot in my stomach is untied. My troubled thoughts are brought into order. This is what God has secured for me through my relationship with Jesus — Peace. Ah, thank you, Lord. This is something I can enjoy!
These three habits can be my default setting. It's God's will for me, so it must be possible! And whenever I find myself weighed down with worries or tied up in knots, I can simply turn to my three good buddies, Be joyful always, Pray continually, and Give thanks in all circumstances.
I like the following paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-9 from the Message:
“Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
“It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:6-9 MSG
Father, I'm so grateful that your plans for me are good. Help me to trust you with all my cares, and to live in that place of peace — right in the centre of your will.
Reading: Philippians 3-4
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
“…Becoming like him in his death…” What was Jesus like in his death? Sapped of all human strength, mocked, tortured, tormented by the agony of crucifixion, and carrying upon himself the weight of all our sin – how did Jesus respond?
He had already committed himself to his Father's will: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Still, when it came to it, there was no protest, no pleading for mercy or shrinking back from the atrocity he was suffering. Instead, there was submission.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7-8
Nor did he show resentment, but rather, grace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). In Hebrews 2:10, Paul tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”. Indeed, though he suffered terribly, Jesus responded with enormous courage, with humility and with continuing obedience to his Father, demonstrating for all time the depths of his love for both the Father and for us.
That's what Jesus was like in his death.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). In this verse, it seems like Jesus is offering me a burden, but actually, I think he is offering me a secret, the key to becoming like him in his death. And that is, to put my life completely and utterly into God's hands – to “lose it”, as it were, to him.
But although I offer him my life, I suspect it will not be until I find myself in the 'crucible of suffering' that my submission to him will become complete, and I will, as Jesus was, be made perfect through suffering. And in the meantime, with any suffering that comes my way, I can follow Jesus' example by lifting up my eyes from the suffering at my feet, and instead fixing them on the joy set before me.
Your example Jesus is inspiring. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you, and to understand more deeply the joy that is set before me. May I live my life with courage, humility and obedience as with your help I commit myself daily into your hands.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
See also Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life.
Reading: Mark 10:1-16
When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16 (NIV)
Something about the way children come to Jesus delights him. Clearly it's not their spiritual maturity, nor their wisdom or knowledge, as these things are yet to develop. It surely wouldn't be their good behaviour, nor the selfless way they consider others before themselves, given that children are more naturally self-centred.
Children react with delight to anything that is fun and makes them feel happy. They often squeal and laugh and become playful. They are not limited by what they see around them. Instead their imaginations enable them to explore and enjoy all sorts of possibilities.
The kingdom of this world may constrain me in all sorts of ways, but the kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom of possibilities. If I can just let go the handbrake of my own limited thinking, and instead let my imagine run wild, I would be free! I have walked through the door into a rich and exciting land, but have spent far to long camped just inside the door. The Kingdom is for explorers, and it's time for me to explore!
Jesus, I get the distinct feeling that there is a LOT more to living in your Kingdom than I currently know. Will you be my guide? I really want to explore and know more of what it truly means to be in the Kingdom. Please open my eyes, increase my understanding, and release me into the possibilities that you have for me and your children.
See also Supernatural Encounters with God.
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Reading: Philippians 1
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29 (NLT)
The “privilege of suffering.” The phrase could easily have been penned by poet Rupert Brooke who, during WW1, wrote idealistically of the 'glory of war'. But whereas Brooke died from infection en route to the battlefield before having faced a single day of active combat, Paul was certainly a man familiar with suffering, and even as he wrote was chained up in a Roman prison because of his faith.
Unlike Brooke, Paul doesn't speak of the 'glory' of suffering for Jesus, but rather the privilege of suffering. Elsewhere he speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10), and Peter speaks of “participating in Christ's sufferings”. (1Peter 4:13)
But Paul does say that if we share in his sufferings, we will “also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17), and Peter says, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Peter 4:13)
Paul even goes so far as to say that he wants to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings! (Phil 3:10). He has reached such a level of trust in Jesus and love for him that his greatest, most heart-felt desire is that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)
When Jesus suffered for me at the Cross, his work was complete. There is nothing left still to be done to put me right with God. He died on the Cross “as me”, and I now live forever under the favour of God, a “co-heir with Christ.” But until the day when God puts all things right, I can expect to encounter suffering for being a Christian. In a sense, I am suffering “as Christ”, as his ambassador.
Jesus, thank you that you did not turn away from suffering, but instead you let love and obedience determine your path. For the joy set before you, you “endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” I also want to walk a path of love and obedience. Please grant me courage to be your ambassador, to share you with others, to carry your love and grace to the world in which I live.
Help me Lord to be bold without being obnoxious, and sensitive without being timid. Like you did, Jesus, help me to look beyond any suffering I might face to the joy that is before me, and even now to live in that joy as I serve you, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)
See also, To Him Who Overcomes
Reading: Isaiah 60 and 61
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:10-11 (NIV)
It is God who is the source of all righteousness. He makes it spring up. He speaks and it happens. He creates the conditions which cause righteousness to grow. When I see righteousness in my life, it is evidence that God is at work. The willingness that allows this to happen – even that is a gift from God, and faith, hope and love, those eternal qualities which increasingly characterise my life, they all have their source in God.
So there is no room at all for pride – just gratitude and joy and praise. No wonder that “I delight greatly in the Lord, and that my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” And if God has clothed me, I can expect to look pretty darn good!
It's Spring! All sorts of plants are popping up in my garden, many of which I haven't even planted! It's the same in me. God is causing righteousness to 'pop up' and grow, in me. I don't need to strain to be righteous. I just need to give the Holy Spirit free reign to do his work in me, and up righteousness comes! It's not my doing. Rather, it's all his – his purpose and his delight. I just need to be willing and obedient, and then I will enjoy the fruit of righteousness in my life. This is what salvation by faith in Jesus is all about.
It is such a privilege Lord to be at the receiving end of your good plans and purposes. May you cause righteousness and praise to spring up in me, and may it be visible to all as a testimony to your goodness and love.
Reading: Galatians 1-5
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)
We can live either under the law, in which case we must obey all of it, or live under grace, in which case we must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The intent of the law was that we learn to love God and love one another. Effectively, by following the Spirit, our lives will bear fruit that satisfy that intent, since “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”
It is for freedom that Christ set us free. (Galatians 5:1) It seems that freedom doesn't always come naturally to us. We are in danger of becoming slaves to the notion that we must earn God's favor. Obedience is still required, but to the promptings of the Holy Spirit our guide, our helper, our advocate. He brings forth the fruit in our lives.
Yippee! I am free! Free to love unconditionally, free to serve others, free to be joyful and enjoy the benefits of living under God's favor. I plan to enjoy it! I don't have to worry about whether or not I will make the grade. Actually, I flunked and it doesn't matter a jot because Jesus sat the test for me and passed with flying colors.
Thank you Lord for the freedom I have in Jesus to enjoy a relationship with you, free from guilt, and free from anxiety. Thank you for joy, and as I serve you, and serve those in my sphere of influence, I thank you that I serve as a free man.