“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
In the first chapters of 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the Christian conduct that we should exhibit in the family of God. And in chapter five, he gives some instructions that may seem difficult at best to accomplish in the context of our daily lives.
Paul’s instruction to “rejoice always” may seem crazy and impossible with the difficulty we experience in this life. And if the difficulty is what we focus on, that may be true. If we are to fulfill the exhortations above, our focus is not to be on the difficulty in this earthly life but on God, who has given us this life. And there is plenty to rejoice about!
The phrase is actually “at all times be rejoicing.” How can we do this? First, we can focus on the character of God! He always does what is right or righteous. We can depend upon the character of our God to always be working for His glory and our good. And “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped, therefore my heart exults (rejoices), and with my song I shall thank Him” (Psalm 28:7). Second, we can rejoice because Christ has redeemed those who trust in Him, though we have nothing to offer God. Third, we can at all times rejoice in the fact that God is always working things out for our good because we belong to Him (Romans 8:28). Fourth, we have the promise of a glorious future in heaven provided by God to the believer. We could keep going just on God’s character and the fact that He is a God of His Word! God calls us to rejoice always, so let us practice this.
The more we rejoice because of who God is, the more dependency we will have in Him for the next exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” The prayer that Paul mentions here would include every aspect of prayer, such as submission, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, petition, intercession, praise, and thanksgiving. “Without ceasing” defines the prayer not as an activity of kneeling or a posture of prayer but of a continual attitude of prayer. When we recognize the time that the Lord Jesus dedicated to prayer, we can understand the importance of this exhortation of the Apostle Paul. Jesus was in communion with the Father continually.
Our desire for fellowship with the Father should also motivate us to pray continually. Jesus told us, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). In the model prayer found in Matthew 6, we are to pray for God’s glory, His kingdom to come, His will to be done, our provision, our forgiveness, and deliverance from the evil one. There are many reasons to pray. God wants us to pray and not stop praying!
Paul adds that we should “in everything give thanks.” When God regenerates the heart, we desire to come into compliance with this exhortation to give thanks to God! “In everything” refers to all that occurs in life. It does not matter the struggle, trial, or circumstance of the Christian’s life, we are to give thanks. Because “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), we can give thanks in everything. We can trust in the sovereignty of God, regardless of whether we understand all that happens in our lives or around us. God blends everything in the Christian’s life for our ultimate good and blessing and His eternal purpose. We can give thanks for that fact!
The Apostle Paul repeatedly calls believers to be thankful and demonstrates thankfulness himself in his letters as well. Even in times of fear, doubt, anxiety, and the stress of all of life’s challenges—rejoicing in the person of God, praying continually, and thanking God for all He is and does is God’s will in Christ Jesus! Paul’s statement, “For this is God’s will in Christ Jesus,” is attached to all three of the commands in this passage. Those who are in Christ Jesus should express constant joy, constant prayer, and constant thanksgiving to God!
When we, as those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ, rest and trust in the sovereign God of the universe, this brings resilience to our lives. The Apostle Paul endured incredible hardship in his life as he served the Lord faithfully (2 Corinthians 11:21–27). Even through his hardship, Paul continued to run the race with endurance because of his dependence on the Lord and his focus on God’s goal for him. Paul was focused on winning as many to the Lord as he could while he was still on this earth. He was focused on doing what he committed to do for the Lord. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). We can, with the Apostle Paul, entrust all we have committed to the Lord for his safe keeping. That is our faith and our faithfulness! Paul kept running to the end, and by God’s grace, we can too! Paul’s mission is our mission—to do what we can to bring more people to Jesus Christ. Keep running well!
Questions for Thought
- Are you focusing on what God has done for you so that you can remember what God wants you to do—express constant joy, constant prayer, and constant thanksgiving?
- Who in your circle of influence does God want you to reach so they can know God and His blessings as you do?
Minister of Pastoral Care & Counseling
Alan has served full-time on the staff of First Baptist Church of Dallas since May of 1987. He has a passion for ministering to and assisting the body of Christ in experiencing God’s fullest blessings. He is passionate about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, and he is passionate about his family. Alan and his wife, Janna, have three adult married children and six grandchildren.