Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.
Week 3: A reading from Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians.
Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NET)
In every circumstance.
In every challenge.
When the road seems to be a dead end, rejoice.
Sometimes, reading the Apostle Paul can be an exercise in frustration. Be joyful always?!? Is this guy for real? Does he not understand the challenges that simply being alive brings???
We began our week with a prophecy given to Isaiah about God’s chosen people. A people that appeared to have chosen sadness as their destiny. Yet, Isaiah tells them to rejoice becuase God is about to rescue them. Now, we find Paul. As Jewish as one can be. Telling a church in a heavily persecuted area to rejoice always.
Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds on: Pray constantly and give thanks for everything.
Salt, meet wound.
The trifecta of challenges. “No matter what’s going on around you,” Paul says, “Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks.”
He then opens the entire salt shaker and says: “For this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”
Paul knows a thing or two about suffering. He outlined it all very clearly for the church at Corinth:
I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. –2 Corinthians 11:24-29 (MSG)
It would seem to me that these three commands–Rejoice, pray and give thanks–are linked together for a reason.
The lynchpin here is thanksgiving. As we begin to give thanks for everything: food, clothes, shelter, family, clouds, sun, moon, pets, water, coffee, maps, phones, shoes, kids, parents, next-door neighbors, church, pastors, teachers, and on, and on.
From out of the giving of thanks will come rejoicing.
From out of the giving of thanks will come prayer. Prayer that will no doubt start with, “Awesome and giving God!”
Paul understood the importance in giving thanks. Thanksgiving brings joy. Thanksgiving brings a humble awe that leads to prayer.
Consider Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity [to show it]. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret [of being content]-whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:10-13 (HCSB)
Paul understood that our joy wasn’t contingent upon our circumstance. As, Rev. Thorpe showed us yesterday, joy comes from knowing God. Joy come from knowing that Immanuel has indeed come, and will come again.
Are you walking in joy this Advent season? Are you living in the revelation of who God is? Are you living a life that illustrates to the world that Immanuel has come and is coming again?