"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)
These three verses in 1 Thessalonians 5 give me a wonderful glimpse at what God wants my life to look like all the time, regardless of if I'm at home, at work, or with my church. In whatever I'm doing it tells me to be: 1. rejoicing in Him all the time and all He has given me in Christ, 2. having a deep and meaningful conversation with Him (not primarily just talking to Him but even more importantly listening to Him), and 3. praising Him from the heart in constant gratitude.
For many of us living a life such as this when we’re so busy seems so far off. We can praysometimes, and we can rejoice sometimes, and we can give thanks sometimes… but to do these things 'always', 'without ceasing' and 'in everything' is something that seems very difficult. We may try for a while in our own power, but then things get busy and we forget to talk to God and to praise Him. Our mind gets caught up with other things and other cares. But we agree this life sounds wonderful and we want it. We want to genuinely be praising the Lord all the time, rejoicing in Him, living in gratitude to Him, talking to Him all the time, having an inner conversation with Him all the time.
In the Old Testament, God commanded many things that could never be kept by the Israelites. The point of the law was to show them their helplessness (Gal 3:21-24)! And for those who were honest like Paul, they saw their wickedness and their need for a Savior.
But the Old Covenant is done away with and now God has provided a way to live rightly, like Jesus in every area (Romans 8:3-4). And God says to all of us in the New Covenant who are needy and confessing they need help: “according to your faith be it unto you” (Matt 9:29). In the New Covenant we have only two limits to the height we can go in our life with the Lord: our need and our faith.
The Apostle Paul was someone full of faith. And if you read what he wrote you can see that by the grace and power of God (and his faith), he entered into this ‘always’ life. Look at 2 Timothy 1:3, for example: “I thank God whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.”
Paul was constantly ‘praying without ceasing’ night and day – a constant natural conversation with God, where he was praising Him and thanking Him for his brothers/sisters in Christ, and listening to Him. He entered into this ‘always’ life. And what a joy he found!
Paul’s joy was not a rapturous emotional joy where he was crying tears of joy and smiling all the time (we don’t even see Jesus doing that). But it was a deep joy of the spirit that stayed with him all the time, that drove him to live a life of gratitude before the Lord, serving Him with all his heart. He carried that joy with him. That's where this 'always' life is rooted - in the heart, where even if our mind isn't consciously talking to God at the moment, we have a desire to be ready to listen to anything He's saying. Where even if we're not outwardly singing a song of praise we have a joy and thankfulness in our heart that doesn't need to be expressed with words, maybe they are more like inward 'groans' of gratitude. These things are deep and in the heart.
When a loved one passes away, the grief is very deep. And we carry it with us. Days pass and there’s a pain that just goes with us wherever we go, and thoughts will often come to our mind of what we loved about that person and how we miss them. This grief we have drives our thoughts and our mood for some time.
In the way that deep grief stays with us after a dear one passes away, I believe the joy of the Lord stays with us in a similar way but instead of the deepest sorrow, it’s the deepest joy. It stays with us wherever we go. A deep feeling of awe in what the Lord has given us lifts us up and drives us on. “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). This inner joy brings thoughts to our mind of His promises and what we hope in. And we often think of our future hope, we think of the Lord’s return and eternal life with Him. These help us put all of our problems of this life in perspective and give us an inner strength, peace and joy that no one outside of Jesus can have.
I’ve always been impressed by the godly people I’ve met, where it's evident they overflow with a joy in the Lord all the time, and easily cast off discouragement because of the truth of the cross and what it means to them, and the hope it gives them. With their life, you can see that what God did for them in Christ is bigger than anything else on earth, than any problem they have. It's their hope, and it's what they enjoy and live for.
Their example and progress where this truth has become a reality to them encourages me to press on to enter into that life. And also to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit all the time, because after so many times of trying to accomplish the 'always' life in my own strength and failing, I know that it can only be done when God fills me with the power which comes through His Holy Spirit. Physical feats require muscles but spiritual feats require the Holy Spirit. So to live this 'always' life we have to pray with faith to be filled with the Spirit always.
To solidify our hope we have His promise that He will help us attain this high calling:
1 Thess 5:24 “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”