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!
Reading: Psalm 138
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. Psalm 138:7 NIV
I love this verse. I imagine myself walking calmly through a storm, surrounded by dangers and troubles, with “baddies” coming at me from all directions. And God is there walking along beside me, swatting them all away!
God never promises me a life free of trouble. Quite the opposite, in fact! If I am truly following in Jesus' footsteps, I can expect the same opposition and persecution he faced.
But, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, [God will] preserve my life; [he will] stretch out [his] hand against the anger of my foes, with [his] right hand [he will] save me.” I need never fear trouble, nor the anger of those who would oppose me because of my faith, because God is with me, and he is good. Always.
If I'm to expect trouble, I might as well prepare for it. Walking through a time of trouble can feel like walking through a minefield. Yes, God promises to be with me, and to guide my every step, but all those problems can be stressful. How should I deal with that?
With thankfulness. It's my secret weapon against fear and anxiety! There is always something to be thankful for. And when I thank God for all the good things in my life, my focus moves off my problems and onto God's goodness. Instead of being overwhelmed by my problems, I can be overjoyed by God's love!
I can thank God not just for the good I have experienced, but for his promises. Thankfulness is a great way to declare truth. The promises of God are always greater than my “light and momentary troubles”, and declaring them can turn apparent defeat into glorious victory.
The truth of God is always greater than the 'facts' of my current circumstances.
No wonder Paul says, “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
Lord Jesus, I have so much to thank you for. I choose to focus not on my problems, but on your goodness. Help me to develop a one-track mind which turns by habit immediately to thankfulness.
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: Psalm 103-105
He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:39-42 (NIV)
When God brought his people Israel out of Egypt and into the inhospitable harshness of the desert, the people had absolutely no idea that they were about to enjoy the faithful hospitality of their God. Rather, many of them feared they were about to die. The environment offered them nothing. There was no way they could provide for themselves – there was no food, no water and no protection from the elements. Unless God miraculously provided for them, they would surely die. But God did provide, and in a way that left no one in any doubt: God was looking after them.
I'm used to the idea of providing for myself. I work to earn money and provide for the needs of my family. I have insurance lest something be stolen or damaged. The government provides services to care for me should I become sick or needy. If I'm hungry, I just go to the pantry. I'm certainly grateful for all those things, but I really don't know what it's like to have nothing, to be absolutely dependant on God for everything as the Israelites were.
Yet everything I have comes from God. He is the source of everything I will ever need. If all I depend upon is taken away from me, he will still be my Provider. It's all because of God's wonderful grace. So what can be my response?
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name. Psalm 105:1
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)
Thank you Father that I can trust you. Please continue to provide everything I need. Thank you that I can trust you with my life, and with my family. Thank you for the opportunity to work and earn an income. Thank you for the good things you provide, and for all your blessings to me. I look to you, Lord. May nothing else have a hold on me except the desire to know you more, and enjoy your grace forever.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:4-5 (NIV)
See also: Jesus Wants Me to Ask!
Reading: Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100 (NIV)
Psalm 100 is a wonderful psalm – short, yet full of wisdom and truth. I belong to God! That could either be good or bad, depending on God's character. But it's ok, God is good! Not only that but he loves me, and his love will last forever! He will never discard me or shift his affection elsewhere. His faithfulness is the stuff of legends. He stores up goodness for me for rainy days (see Psalm 31:19). He is the rich kind benefactor we all secretly wish we had.
The psalmist need hardly have bothered telling me how to respond. Anyone who really gets it will have that feeling of excitement and anticipation bubbling away constantly in the background, at least to some degree, and even when times are difficult. And when that joy wells up, we naturally find ourselves worshiping God and expressing our grateful thanks.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20, Paul tells me, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Psalm 100 gives almost the same keys for living, but also reminds me of the reason I can live like that – because I belong to God, and because God is good, he loves me and he is faithful.
I need to remind myself of these things often, lest I slide away from thankfulness, joy, worship and praise, and find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum – self-absorbed, anxious, irritable and bogged down. Whenever I find that the colour has drained out of my life and that the grey tones have taken over, that will be my signal to put Psalm 100 into action:
- “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving!”, an easy place to start as there's always something I can be thankful for.
- I will remind myself that I am God's, and will submit myself once again into his care.
- I will focus my lens on these thoughts, that “the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
- Finally, I will lift up my hands and my heart to worship him.
Yep, that should fix it.
Lord God, I love the view from the colour end of the spectrum. Thank you for your plan for me to be always joyful, to be in continual conversation with you, and to be always focused on the good as I give thanks in all circumstances. I really like this plan. Holy Spirit, if ever you see me down at the grey tones end of the spectrum, please give me a prod. I want to see you fully expressing yourself through me as you fill me with your light.
Have you tried SOAP with your Bible reading? Why not try it out! You can learn more about this excellent tool here: What is SOAP?
Reading: Psalms 94 – 99; Philippians 4:4-8
Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. Psalm 94:17-20 (NIV)
God is my help. Whenever I get that uncomfortable feeling that things in my life are getting out of control, that the weight of my responsibilities is too much to bear, it is God who supports me. His love is never overwhelmed. If I can just be filled to the measure with that love, there simply won't be room for anxiety. Paul gives some great advice on how to do this in Philippians 4:
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:4-9 (NLT)
My heart and my mind are like rooms which can be filled with either darkness or light. Pressures and worries bring darkness. The solution? Add light, and the darkness will be dispelled! How can I add light?
- I can be joyful! This means focusing on and celebrating the good.
- I can pray about everything and talk to God about what I need.
- I can be thankful! Once again, this means focusing on the good.
- I can consciously fill my mind with good stuff, and not allow lies or negativity a look in. Chewing on God's Word is a great way to do this.
What a helpful book your Word is, Lord! Thank you for your love. Please help me to fill my mind with what is true and good, to always be thankful and to live a life characterised by joy.