Paul taught the Thessalonian church to pray continually. I learned that verse in the King James Version as “pray without ceasing.” I couldn’t imagine how that would be possible, and therefore wondered why God asked us to do something that He knew we would be unable to do. The entire passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Impossible! I can’t rejoice always – what about when my son calls and tells me he has cancer? What about when a friend calls and says her marriage is breaking up? Pray continually. A person needs to work, raise kids, answer the phone, sleep, eat, watch T.V. or read a book. How can I pray continually? And give thanks in all circumstances?!?!? Obviously the Apostle Paul wrote that verse before April 15th tax days, jury vetting or sitting on the North Dallas Tollway at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon. Why is that verse in Scripture? Why did God want us to live with that standard for our lives? And what do you and I need to know about those impossible statements – to make them possible?
Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians is thought to be one of the first letters that Paul wrote to a church. He had heard that the church was suffering persecution from the government and the Jewish people. Paul’s reputation had been slandered and his teaching ridiculed. And enough time had passed to cause the church to question why Jesus had not yet returned to put an end to their persecution. So Paul writes a letter of encouragement to a church that greatly needed that. But why would he tell them to achieve the impossible? He didn’t. Paul spends the first part of the letter thanking them for their faithfulness, their preaching and the obedience to the Word of God. Then he encourages them to keep growing in their faith, even though persecuted. Then, in chapter 5, Paul tells them to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. He is telling them to choose to rejoice, even though they were suffering. He tells them to pray continually, because that would be the only way to maintain their joy. And Paul tells them to rejoice, in all circumstances, because “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Paul is telling that early church that whatever difficulties existed in their life – they were still all right. If they were in “God’s will” then even the bad circumstances would soon work for their good (Romans 8:28). Paul was teaching that church, and us today, that if your soul is right with God, obedient to the will of God, then that right spiritual relationship would produce joy, prayer and thanksgiving – regardless of difficult circumstances – maybe even because of them.
Ryan’s cancer is the most difficult situation that I have ever faced. He is in his last week of radiation, and even though he feels the effects of his treatment, he has been blessed and protected by your prayers. I understand what Paul was trying to tell the Thessalonian church. A right relationship with God really does provide joy in the worst of times, prompt prayers that maintain spiritual strength, and produce thanksgiving to God for honoring those prayers and bringing his good out of the world’s bad.
As you are reading this, I am leading a prayer retreat….but really – I am attending it. I have so much to thank God for and I’m sure God has so much he has been looking forward to telling me. It should be a great few days! When was the last time you left your life behind just so you could spend a LOT of time talking to God? Your soul needs to spend time with the One who can “refresh” it. Why did God ask us to pray continually? Because prayer is to your soul, what breathing is to your body. If you do not breathe, you cannot live. If you do not pray, your soul will cease to thrive. Paul was telling the Church to walk through their lives in a constant state of continual communication with God. Praying should come as naturally to a Christian and breathing. Scripture doesn’t ask us to do anything impossible. In fact, Jesus told us that “with God – all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). As you walk through this day, this week, this life, remember – REJOICE, PRAY AND GIVE THANKS. God will bless those choices!