Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances
I Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am not very skilled at concealing my emotions. If I am mad, my jaw is set, my gait is clipped, my words are sharp. If I am sad, my face droops, my steps drag, I grow silent. My demeanor can do nothing but reflect what is going on inside of me. I am not one of those people who can just smile and say that everything is fine when actually, it isn’t.
So, I struggle with these directions from Paul. I can’t be fake; it’s not in my DNA.
In fact, way back in 1988 when I was doing my student teaching at Concordia High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of my cooperating teachers told me that in order to be a better teacher, I had to ‘stop wearing my heart on my sleeve’. He wasn’t the first one to tell me to check my emotions. It started with my great grandmother, Elsa, bless her heart, who told me that my face was ‘going to freeze that way’. True. And, I’ve already mentioned that I was voted ‘moodiest’ by my high school classmates.
I actually don’t think I was any moodier than anyone else, I just was incapable of containing it. I ‘wore it on my sleeve’. Yeah, not very attractive.
So, when Paul says, ‘rejoice always’, I think “Well, dear Paul, I will rejoice when there is a reason to rejoice, and mourn when there is a reason to mourn.” And then I remember that there is, for me, always a reason to rejoice. Even when I was a hormonal adolescent, I did actually have friends who cared. When I was overwhelmed with student teaching, I had already found my future husband who had been crafted by God just for me. When I was fighting my way through the metaphorical desert in St. Louis, even though it was a difficult time, God was still providing for our family in every way. I did have plenty of reasons to rejoice.
However, I did also have reasons in all of those circumstances for legitimate emotions — sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness. But, I believe that humans are complex enough that we can simultaneously mourn and rejoice.
On Sunday, I got a call from a friend who had recently lost her mother to cancer. She is simultaneously mourning and rejoicing. She is so sad for herself and her family because her mother was a gift from God. However, she is also rejoicing that her mother is with Jesus, free from pain, free from suffering.
Of course Paul’s instructions are right. If the only good news we had was that God had sent His Son to die in our place and pay the debt for all our mistakes, that would be reason enough for rejoicing. Wouldn’t it? And yet, most of us who are able to read a blog on the Internet have so much more to be thankful for. Even if our job is not what we had in mind, our family is struggling, our health is failing, and our finances are in the toilet, we can rejoice.
It’s important to see the next instructions from Paul — “pray without ceasing”. Paul was aware of the circumstances that can cloud our reason for rejoicing. I mean, let’s be honest, he was continually run out of town, thrown in jail, beaten up, and yelled at. Yet he says to us, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Really, Paul? You’re locked in a jail, chained up, probably filthy and starving, and you are ‘giving thanks”?
I can only conclude that Paul was able to rejoice and give thanks because of the fact that he ‘prayed continually’. In the middle of his circumstances, he acknowledged that God was God and he was not. He knew that God was holding him in the palm of His hand. He lifted up his situation to God and then trusted that God would “work all things together for good”.
It’s hard to be thankful and rejoice when I feel like I have to solve all of life’s problems by kicking butts and taking names. It’s much easier when I acknowledge that I don’t have control of the situation, but God does. He loves me and has always done what is best for me. When I release my stuff up to Him, and offer Him thanks and praise, I always end up rejoicing.
Ok, Paul, I admit it. You’re right.