Joyful, Prayerful, and Thankful
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As believers, we should be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Bob Lepine expounds on some biblical directives from 1 Thessalonians 5.
Joyful, Prayerful, and Thankful
Bob: Thanksgiving is a day when all of us ought to be joyful, prayerful and grateful. [Music]
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition, the Thanksgiving Day edition of FamilyLife Today. Do you have a most memorable Thanksgiving?
Dave: Well, for 33 years on Thanksgiving Day, I was down at the—
Bob: —the Silver Dome.
Dave: —the Stadium/the Silver Dome and then Ford Field. It would be interesting to know how many times we’ve won!—[Laughter]—33 seasons!
Ann: I don’t know if there were very many, but it was still a great day! [Laughter] You took down to the field all of our kids and cousins, and it was a crazy time at the Wilson house.
Bob: Did you do turkey and—I mean, did—
Ann: I stayed at home with my mom and sister, and we cooked.
Bob: After the game, everyone would come over; and you’d do the big celebration thing. Will you have the TV on this year with the game?
Dave: We will?
Ann: Of course, we’re going to watch it.
Dave: I don’t care anymore about it; I don’t like football anymore. [Laughter]
Ann: What about Bob? What do you guys do?—any great memories?
Bob: If I think of great memories, I think of the Thanksgiving that we went to my mom’s one-bedroom place, where she cooked Thanksgiving dinner for all of us. She was in her 80’s at this point. We were all crowded in. I remember her apartment being warm; I just remember all of us being glad to be with my mom on Thanksgiving Day.
Family/Thanksgiving—they go together. Sometimes, that’s stressful for folks because it can mean you’re talking about politics, or theology, or things that can get uncomfortable. But our hearts, on this day, ought to be more turned toward what we’re going to talk about today; and that is, being grateful, being joyful, being prayerful.
I had a chance—this was a number of years ago—speaking on 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5. You know the verses that are kind of those rapid-fire verses in
1 Thessalonians 5?
Dave: We get to hear form a great preacher today! [Laughter]
Ann: I think it’s perfect timing; because being Thanksgiving—this is coming into a season where you’re spending a lot of time with family—it can be stressful; it can be hectic. I think this will be the perfect message to start the holiday season.
Bob: Let’s hope so! Let’s hope we can all get our heads and hearts wrapped around what God calls us to, here from 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5, as we hear about being joyful, prayerful and thankful.
Bob: When we look at the verses that we’re going to look at this morning—verses 16, 17, and 18 of 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5—these verses ought to be true about us, individually; but they’re true, as well, for how we, as a body, should be responding to challenging circumstances that we’re going to face. What it tells us is that our lives ought to be characterized by joy, by prayer, and by thankfulness. To put it another way, we ought to be people who are joyful, prayerful, and thankful. That’s pretty simple.
First Thessalonians, Chapter 5, beginning—we’ll begin at verse 11:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you’re doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you, and who are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with them all.
See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now, let me say just a word about this entire section of Scripture that we just read through before we get to the verses we want to focus on. If you’ve read this carefully, you noticed there are 18 staccato instructions in this. I mean, it’s just a checklist of “Do this; do this; do this.” Some of you read that and: “Now, wait. I was told that Christianity is not a bunch of do’s and don’ts/it’s not a list of instructions; it is a relationship with Christ.” And that’s true.
It’s not the do’s and don’ts that make up our faith; but in the context of the relationship, there are some do’s and don’ts. Listen to the way that Ligon Duncan, who is a pastor in Jackson, Mississippi—listen to how he explains it—he says:
Christianity is a message about what God has done for us in Christ, not about what we do to make ourselves right with Him, but about what He has already done to forgive us, and accept us, and to welcome us into His family.
That’s the message of Christianity.
But it’s not true that there are no commands in the Christian life—that there are no do’s and don’ts to observe. When we find do’s and don’ts in the New Testament, it’s not, “Do this…” or “Don’t do that; and then, God will love you, and forgive you, and accept you; because you’ve done this or not done that.” No; it’s actually the other way around: “Because God has loved, and forgiven, and saved you; therefore, do this and don’t do that.”
We’re not saved by our doing or don’t-ing. We’re saved to a life of holiness, out of our rebellion against God and against His will. Ligon Duncan concludes by saying:
God saves us in order for us to be what He made us to be. These do’s and don’ts cease to be oppressive things that hang over our heads, condemning us. These are not rules that we look at and go: “Uh-oh. I’m scared. If I don’t behave, God’s going to whack me.’” He says, “These serve as guides/as standards for living the life that God has called us to live.”
And I would say: “More than guides/more than standards—they are directives. These are not, as I said, suggestions or good ideas.”
So, now, you look at verses 16, 17, and 18—which is: “joyful, prayerful, thankful”—you look at those 3 verses, and you see God directing us to a life of joy, and prayer, and gratitude, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. That’s why you see words like “always,” “without ceasing,” “in everything”; because He’s saying that we are, in good times or hard times, to respond to the circumstances of life with a confident joy, with regular prayer, and with an ongoing attitude of gratitude for the everyday blessings of life.
Does “rejoice always” mean: “Never weep about anything”? Look back at verse 13—Chapter 4, verse 13—Paul says to the Thessalonians, who had friends who have died: “I don’t want you to grieve as those who have no hope.” Now, what he doesn’t say to people who have friends, who have died, is: “You shouldn’t be grieving; you should be joyful.” No; he says: “You’re going to grieve. Life is going to include grief, but we embrace sorrow with joy.”
Now, I think to understand that, we’ve got to understand there is a difference between happiness and joy. You are happy if things are going well; you’re unhappy if things are not going well. But joy and rejoicing are not rooted in circumstances. Joy and rejoicing are rooted in something deeper than that. That’s why we can grieve over circumstances and rejoice; because we trust, by faith, that in the midst of these circumstances, God is at work.
Our joy is rooted in the gospel—in the knowledge that God knows you, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you—He’s not only rescued you from hell, but He has adopted you into His family. He loves you. That news/that reality trumps everything else. I’m not saying that joy in the gospel erases pain, but it does put pain and sorrow in context—so: “Be sorrowful; yet, always rejoicing people.”
We’re also to be prayerful people. That’s what verse 17 says: “Pray without ceasing.” I don’t think this verse is saying, exclusively, be praying at all times without doing anything else. I think the verse is saying two things.
First of all, it’s saying, “Be constantly aware of the presence of God, and the greatness of God, and your full dependence on Him.” One commentator said, “It’s to always have God in your spiritual peripheral vision so that you’re always aware of His presence there.” I also think this is saying, “Pray without giving up.” I think this verse is telling you that, when you are taking a matter before the Lord—and you don’t see the answer you’re asking for immediately, or in a month, or in a year—don’t just say, “Well, that’s not working.” Pray without ceasing, I think, can mean pray without quitting—you don’t give up. You don’t say, “Praying a decade—isn’t that long enough?”
Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow, who keeps knocking on the judge’s door. That parable is designed to say: “Keep knocking. Keep asking. Keep praying. Pray without ceasing. Pray continuously.”
The Scriptures tell us about a man who was in the temple courtyard at the time that Jesus was born. This was shortly after Jesus’ birth, when He was brought to the temple for His purification ceremony/for His dedication—Mary’s purification/Jesus’ dedication. They brought the baby into the temple courtyard, and there was a man there whose name was Simeon.
I love Simeon. We don’t know exactly how old Simeon was, but there are ancient manuscripts that say Simeon was 113 years old—now, that’s not Scripture—but that’s what the manuscripts say. God had come to Simeon—prior to the birth of Jesus; years before the birth of Jesus—He had given Simeon a promise of great hope. He had confirmed in Simeon’s heart that Simeon would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
And so, what did Simeon do? Every day, at 113, he went to the temple; and he prayed. He prayed, and he trusted God for this promise; and he continued to pray. One day, while he’s there, praying, in walks Mary and Joseph, with their baby. The Spirit quickens in Simeon’s heart: “That’s Him.” Simeon goes over and says, “Can I pray a prayer of blessing for this child?” The parents say, “Sure.”
He takes the baby, and he prays this beautiful prayer—he says, “Lord,”—he says, basically—“I can die a happy man now.” He said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word.” In the King James, that’s how he said it; okay? But he said, “I can depart happy now, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.” He had seen the fulfillment of his prayer—he prayed without ceasing.
Joyful, prayerful—what’s the last one?—thankful—joyful, prayerful, thankful. We are to be thankful people; interesting that this is on the list with rejoicing and praying. Some people look at giving thanks as manners/being polite. But I want to draw on the wisdom of two people I really respect here—speaking about the issue of thankfulness. One is Nancy Leigh DeMoss [Wolgemuth], and the other is Jerry Bridges. Nancy has written a book on the subject of thankfulness—a book called Gratitude. In it, she says:
I think we tend to think of gratitude as an add-on or a second-tier grace.
But she said:
When I get into this subject, I realize it’s foundational. We are always debtors—we owe God, and we owe others always. He doesn’t owe us anything. Yet, God has given us Christ. He’s given us grace; He’s lavished it on us. For us to be anything other than grateful for that,” Nancy says, “it is really, really wicked.”
Now, does that sound like an overstatement to you?—that to not be thankful is wicked? I mean, maybe, not polite/maybe, not the best way to act; but wicked?
Well, Jerry Bridges says:
To fail to be thankful to God is a most grievous sin. When Paul talks about the moral downfall of mankind in Romans, Chapter 1, he begins with the statement, “Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him.”
The moral downfall has, as its genesis, a failure to be grateful to God and to acknowledge His glory.
“If a failure to give thanks”—this is Jerry Bridges—"If a failure to give thanks is such a grievous sin, then, it behooves us to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness that permeates our lives.”
Now, the question is: “How do you do that?” How do you cultivate, in your own heart, an attitude of thankfulness? Well, here’s what Nancy DeMoss [Wolgemuth] said about how she has learned gratitude from watching Joni Eareckson Tada—she says:
For more than 40 years now, she’s been a quadriplegic in a wheelchair with very limited physical capacity. Things that come easily for us—like getting up, getting dressed, feeding ourselves—she can’t do these things by herself. But anytime anyone is with her, you can’t help but notice she has this effervescent, joyful, hymn-singing, praising, thankful spirit.
I was doing an interview with her, and I asked her in the interview: “Joni, I noticed you’re a joyful woman/you’re a thankful woman. How do you maintain that spirit with the challenges you have in your life?” She paused a minute; and she said, “You know, I think over these years, I’ve so disciplined and trained myself to give thanks in all things, that it’s become my reflex reaction.”
She cultivated it as a habit.
Joni said a lot of things that day; but I left with this lodged in my heart, and I pondered it after I left. I realized that the reflex reaction in my life was not to give thanks in all things; but to first, whine before I got to a place of gratitude. I usually get there, but what Joni had done was trained her heart to be thankful when the circumstance comes—to start by giving thanks in all things.
You realize that the happiness quotient/the joy quotient in your life is not determined by whether you are in a wheelchair or not—not by your life circumstances—but by that inner discipline/that choice to do what the Scriptures say and to give thanks in all things.
She also said this:
I have a friend, who thought one day, as he was brushing his teeth—he was meditating on the verse, “Give thanks in all things.” And he realized that he never stopped to give thanks to the Lord for his healthy teeth. So, he said, “I thought to myself: ‘If I were only to have tomorrow what I thanked the Lord for today, what would I have tomorrow? If tomorrow’s supply depended on today’s thanksgiving, how much would I have tomorrow?’”
Jerry Bridges says:
The reason we need to be thankful people is because there is a tendency in a sinful, human heart—even in a regenerated heart—to usurp the credit that rightfully belongs to God. And by giving thanks, we give the credit back where it’s due.
So, when we cultivate a habit of thanksgiving for God’s past blessings, it stirs us to have faith in God for what’s ahead. Thankfulness exercises faith. Thankfulness helps you have faith. And when you cultivate the habit of thanksgiving, you learn how to focus on the blessings you have and cultivates contentment in your life rather than discontentedness for what you don’t have.
Our lives, as sons and daughters of God, should be characterized by joy, and prayer, and thanksgiving. In fact, if I were going to paraphrase these verses, I would say this:
Rejoice when there’s reason to rejoice; and when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to rejoice. Remember: God loves you; He saved you; He’s at work; He’s going to make all things right—and rejoice.
And pray, and pray, and pray, and pray—and never quit, and never give up, and never imagine that God doesn’t hear you/that He doesn’t care about what you’re saying. Pray always and remind yourself, regularly, of just how much you have to be thankful for in life.
Then, give thanks to God, who blesses you with every good gift, whether it’s the daily blessings that we tend to take for granted or the extravagant blessings that often come our way. Give thanks for them all.
When this is happening in your life: when you are joyful, even in the midst of sorrow; when you’re faithful in praying/you don’t quit; when you are perpetually thankful—here is what happens: “People who see you, who don’t know Jesus, get really confused/ they get really curious.”
John Piper has said:
Nobody is drawn to Christ when good things happen to Christians and Christians say, “Well, praise the Lord!” Nobody goes: “Oh, wow! They say, ‘Praise the Lord when good things happen. I want to know more about Jesus.’”
But when circumstances and trials come your way, and you respond with rejoicing, and prayer, and thanksgiving, in the midst of that—not denying the sorrow/not denying the pain, but coming back to the bedrock—and people see that in your life—they go: “How do you do that? Where does that come from? There is something different about you than about me.”
Being joyful, prayerful, thankful is a part of how we put the gospel on display for people around us. And the truth is—it is not natural, because of our fallen nature, for us to rejoice always, or to pray without ceasing, or to give thanks in all things. This takes a supernatural work of the Spirit of God in your life.
God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing; therefore, we ought to, at all times, be joyful, prayerful, grateful men and women. Those things ought to be characteristic of us, as His children. That’s His expectation of us. So, how are you doing with this? Good diagnostic here: “Is God perpetually in your spiritual peripheral vision? Are you joyful in the midst of hard things? Are you prayerful? Are you thankful?”
I’ve had circumstances this week—it’s been good for me to be in these verses/to have this rolling around in my head so that, when I step into hard circumstances that have been painful in my own heart and life—to say, not “That doesn’t hurt,”—not put on a phony smile and have everybody think you’re okay—but remember: “God’s doing bigger things. Be joyful, be prayerful, be thankful.”
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a message on 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5 on the call to be, joyful, prayerful, thankful people. I was talking to someone, recently, who was going through a really hard time. They said, “Here’s what I’m doing…” I said:
“You’re doing the right thing. You’re counselling your own heart, in the midst of your circumstances, to say: ‘Here’s what God says is true; here’s the circumstances I’m facing… Which of those am I going to put my faith in? I’m going to believe what God says is true and counsel my own heart in the face of those circumstances and choose to be joyful, and prayerful, and thankful’”; because those are choices we make; aren’t they?
Ann: They’re hard choices, too. They are not always easy to make, because our feelings and our emotions can take precedence over what is true and what is right.
Dave: I know I’ve found—maybe I’m the only one here that’s found this—but I found it easy to complain and sort of grumble. I’ll never forget—
Ann: —and gossip!—like you walk out of the room and, then, you are like, “Can you believe they are doing that?!”
Dave: Yes; Bob, you were just talking about, sometimes, life doesn’t go the way that we want. It’s hard to be thankful. I’ve found it easy to be complainer/grumbler-guy.
I remember I was at a conference—boy, this was 35 years ago—and the topic was Philippians 2. He [the speaker] was talking about Paul writing about: “Do everything without grumbling and complaining.”
Bob: Parents’ favorite verse; right? [Laughter]
Dave: Yes! [Laughter] But I remember—I just remember the thought: “You can grumble and complain about anything. Or you can choose, whether you feel like it or not/whether the circumstances are lining up the way you want in life or not, to be thankful. You’re alive.”
I’ll never forget—I went to the restroom, right after that message. There was a long line. As I got in there, this guy comes in beside me; he goes, “Can you believe the line out there?! All these people…blah, blah.” I go, “Isn’t it great to be alive and be able to go to the bathroom?” [Laughter] He just looked at me, like, “What is your problem?!” [Laughter] I thought, “You can be thankful in any situation, if you choose to do it; and it does change your entire demeanor.” So why not be thankful this Thanksgiving?
Bob: I remember—we were staying at a friend’s house. I got in to take my shower that morning, and the water pressure was terrible; and the water was tepid. I mean, I like a hot shower.
Ann: —like one stream of tepid water.
Bob: Yes! I was in the shower, going, “This is miserable”; then, I thought: “I got a shower! I got indoor plumbing”; you know? It really is a matter of perspective—just saying, “Okay, I can choose to look around at the things that are the blessings in my life and rejoice in that, or I can focus on what I wish I had and grumble about it. I hope, on this day, all of us will tune our hearts to be joyful, and prayerful, and thankful.
I know we’re thankful for those of you who listen to FamilyLife Today. If you’re listening—maybe for the first time because your schedule doesn’t allow you to tune in normally, or you’re traveling, or whatever—welcome aboard. Hope you can tune in more often or download our podcast; be a regular listener of FamilyLife Today. We’re grateful for all of you who are with us, regularly. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration.
I want to thank our engineer, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team for all they do, all year long. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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