As believers, we should be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Bob Lepine expounds on some biblical directives from 1 Thessalonians 5.
As believers, we should be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Bob Lepine expounds on some biblical directives from 1 Thessalonians 5.
Bob: Thanksgiving is a day when all of us ought to be joyful, prayerful, and grateful.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition, the Thanksgiving Day edition.
I have to tell you a story as we start here. I was on an airplane recently; and I was talking to a woman, who lives in Connecticut.
I forget what brought this up; but she said, “Do you have Costco where you live?” I said, “We don’t, but I know what a Costco is.” She said, “We have three kids at home.” She said, “So, Saturdays, we go to Costco a lot.”
She said, “Whenever we go to Costco, my husband always wants to check out in the same line with the same cashier; because, when we get up to him and my husband says, ‘How are you doing?’ he just looks up at us and he says, ‘I’m grateful.’ My husband will wait in the longest line in Costco just to hear somebody say they are grateful to have a job at Costco.” I thought, “That’s a good message for us to hear, particularly, on this day.”
Dennis: All of us need to be around people who are grateful—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —not people who are griping, or people who are pessimistic or discouraged. We just need to pause and just say, “God, I want You to know I’m grateful.”
You’re going to hear an encouraging message today that will cause you to pause and be grateful. It’s our co-host, Bob Lepine, speaking at a church, here locally, encouraging folks just to give thanks in all things.
Bob: Well, that’s what the Bible tells us to do. This is from 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 5, verses 16 to 18.
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, 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 to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and 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 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 dos and don’ts that make up our faith; but in the context of the relationship, there are some dos 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 dos and don’ts to observe. When we find dos 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 dos 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 he said, suggestions or good ideas.”
So, now, you look at verses 16, 17, and 18, which is: “joyful, prayerful, and thankful.” You look at those three 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 those 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 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.
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 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, 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 enlighten 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. Well, we’re supposed to write thank-you notes / we’re supposed to be thankful in that way. They don’t see it as a huge grace. Being thankful is kind of one of those things that some people do.
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, right up there with going to church on Sunday night, or cheerfulness, or hospitality.
But she said:
When I get into this subject, I realize it’s foundational. We are always, always, always debtors. We owe God, and we owe others always. He doesn’t owe us anything.
Thought about that? God doesn’t owe you 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,
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. Nancy says:
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 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, and be thankful.”
Dennis: Okay, Bob; we’ve been listening to you preach. Get off my toes! [Laughter] You’ve been stepping on them, and I don’t appreciate it one bit. On a one-to-ten point scale, you—
Bob: I had to get stepped on before you got stepped on—just know.
Dennis: Yes; preparing the message—
Dennis: —no doubt about it. So, on a one-to-ten point scale, how are you doing on giving thanks?—ten being: “I am unequivocally giving thanks. I’m moving on. I’m grateful, like the guy in line at Costco.”
Bob: At Costco—why don’t you ask me after the turkey and pecan pie later today? [Laughter]
Dennis: Is there a chance it’ll be bad?
Bob: No; no chance it’ll be bad; but I’ll be more grateful then than I am right now.
Dennis: Oh; okay. You know, I’m just thinking—in my own life, I’m a seven or an eight. The reason is—it is kind of how you unpacked it—it’s not that I don’t have some hard things in my life that are very real / that don’t sometimes take my breath away—
—but I’m really working on, by faith, truly giving thanks to God, and not grousing, and griping, and complaining.
I think it’s important for all of us to just do what you suggested—have a little diagnostic test on your heart: “How are you doing on a one-to-ten point scale?” If it’s below a six or a seven, ask God to breathe some fresh joy and thanksgiving into your soul.
Bob: Well, and to remember where the source of being prayerful, and joyful, and thankful comes from. You talked about it earlier—it comes from the fact that we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, that we’ve been adopted by Him into His family.
It occurs to me—we may have some listeners who are tuned in today, and that’s not the case for them. You’re listening to this program; but if you stopped and asked: “Am I a part of the family of God? Has God ever brought me into His family?” you’d have to say, “I don’t know that that’s true for me.”
Dennis: And if you died right now, would you be confident of where you’d spend eternity? And if you aren’t, then, this is the perfect day, indeed—a day to declare thanksgiving to Almighty God for providing for your redemption / for your forgiveness of sins—all your sins. That’s what Jesus Christ came to do. We’re about to celebrate His first advent here, as we move toward Christmas. Why not celebrate His advent in your life today by receiving Him and His forgiveness for your sins?
Right now, pray a prayer: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Bob: On our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a link that talks about two ways to live—living a self-directed life versus a God-directed life. I’d encourage listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out more about what it means to give your life to Christ and to follow Him as your Lord. Again, our website is FamilyLfieToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we want to encourage you to tune in to hear a great story of how God worked through one man/one family to do a miracle in a little town in Texas called—believe it or not—Possum Trot. We’ll hear about the miracle in Possum Trot tomorrow. I hope you can tune in as we talk to Bishop W.C. Martin.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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