Editor's Note: This article is a compilation of two devotionals examining the truth in the same piece of scripture from different stopping points along the journey of faith.
pray without ceasing;
in everything give thanks;
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NAS
That Skip-Over Verse
by Laura MacCorkle
Today's verse is one that I like to skip over in my Bible, even though it's highlighted. And underlined. And on a page that's dog-earred.
You see, whenever I read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, I can't help but think: Really? Be joyful ALWAYS? And how am I supposed to pray CONTINUALLY? And give thanks in ALL circumstances? Who can do all of THAT?
I'm sure you probably have a verse or two that you really don't like to read or mull over either. But,conveniently, God has ordained it so that I've had many opportunities to put my skip-over verse into action just this past week ...
- When I said "hello ... how are you doing?" in passing to an acquaintance and was greeted with a cold "hello" and a sharp "I'm fine" in response. Ouch. Where's the joy here? What did I do to deserve that kind of treatment? Why doesn't this person like me?
- When funny, but certainly unkind, words flew out of my mouth at the expense of someone else and his feelings. Why, oh WHY, did I do that just so I could make fun of them? And feel better about myself? Obviously, I was not praying while saying.
- When a friend's van, in which she had just pumped a couple thousand dollars for repairs a few weeks earlier was pronounced "dead" by mechanics. How could anyone be joyful in this type of circumstance? I want to greet these mechanics with a "holy punch" on her behalf. Argh!
- When people are difficult just to be difficult and disagree with every factoid or opinion you might share. You say black. They say white. You say gray. They say plaid. Ugh! Am I supposed to be thankful for this? Isn't there some other way I can learn humility? 'Cause I'd be ever so grateful if it was a different circumstance, Lord.
What also stands out to me about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, is that each thought gets its own verse. I think that this week is the first time that that has registered with me. It's almost as if Paul wanted to give specific emphasis to each way of living:
- Be joyful always
- Pray continually
- Give thanks in all circumstances
These three directives were part of the "Final Instructions" section in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. He was reminding the church in Thessalonica of how God's people are to live and how our attitudes should not be affected by (or a result of) our circumstances.
This is a hard pill to swallow, folks. At least for me it is. Sure, it's easy to be joyful, praying continually and giving thanks in all things when life is going great, when everyone is your best friend and when the blessings (usually material) are just raining on down.
But what about when you've had a week like I just did? How are you supposed to live like this?
I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13).
That's the key. God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is the one who powers me and helps me to live in this way. And this is the kind of living that God wants for his children. It is his will for us, not our own. And it is that which is pleasing to him.
Please don't skip over 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 like I have a habit of doing. Let it cause you to pause and take some time to assess your current attitude. What is it-or who is it-that's got you not joyful, not praying and not giving thanks? Ask the Lord to soften your heart and change your attitude. He doesn't want to skip over you. And if you are willing, through YOU he can work wonders!
God's Will: So Simple it's Hard
by Shawn McEvoy
"God's will for my life"... how often have you pondered that notion? Studied it? Read untold books about it? Know people who torture themselves trying to locate it?
Well, here we have an obvious chunk of it, even compact and useful just as we like things to be, tucked away at the close of Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica. "This is God's will for you...," it says.
Well, yes, it says that, and it sure is pretty - almost poetic - but is it deep enough? Shouldn't there be more? Is it practical?
Okay. Then let's go Old Testament. Prophetic. Action-oriented. Micah 6:8 says, "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
It's still simple, still bunched in a group of three, still indicating that there's no big mystery way far out there which must be solved before we know how to act or decide, or how God wants us to act or decide.
So why do we seek for more?
I think it's because the ridiculously simple, paradoxically enough, is ridiculously hard, and we know it. G.K. Chesterton famously said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried."
We could spend a lot of time discussing the ins-and-outs of how easy or hard God's will is, and where else in His Word we can find snippets of it. One woman from my Bible fellowship class is fond of asking during our lessons, "What does that look like?" Let's ponder on that for a minute here.
The situation is this: you've been sent on a mission trip via a clear calling from God. The resources were there, the people willing. You are leading your group through a city when you encounter a psychic who keeps taunting you. After a while, through calling on the name of Jesus you cast out the evil spirit within her. Hooray! Score one for the Lord, and your group! But alas, there is no praise here, because those who had been making some cash off the now-set-free woman's powers aren't happy with you. They drag your group before local law enforcement, have you beaten, and thrown into prison. Hey now!
At this point, I am saying, "God, this is NOT your will. YOU made it very clear we were to come on this trip, and we even did a miracle for you! Now we're injured, in jail... I don't even know how I'm going to get home much less continue to be effective for you from here! I want a telephone, I want a lawyer, and I want you to reveal your ACTUAL will, right now, and suffer no more discomfort while doing what you sent us to do!"
And with that, my missionary journey would come to a close. But not the Apostle Paul's, not as we have it recorded in Acts 16:16-40, which is one of my all-time favorite passages. Paul, who knew God's will better than I, and practiced it, knew to "rejoice always." And so, bloodied and with his feet in stocks, he sings. Seriously, he sings hymns of praise. He also knew to "pray without ceasing," and so, in verse 25, that's exactly what you find - Paul and Silas praying... at midnight, even.
The missionaries on this journey got out of God's way by doing the simple things that God had willed for them to do, so that God was free to let fly with His own big, complex, miraculous will for everyone else. An earthquake shakes open the prison, snapping chains in the process. Prisoners, however, stay where they are. A jailer, about to kill himself, holds his sword, and moments later accepts Jesus into his heart. Then his family joins the flock, all because those he had persecuted chose to "love kindness."
At every step of the journey, Paul, Silas, and their companions chose to walk humbly, give thanks, and do what was just (speaking of which, once officially released, Paul did have some words of justice regarding their citizenship and treatment for the magistrates).
It's absolutely amazing to me the ways that God plans to accomplish His Will (big "W") on earth. His will in my life has already been decided. It is my job to walk humbly, get out of the way, always be in prayer, always rejoicing no matter what situation I'm in. But how often do we come back to the same situation, sitting in my car, simple traffic jam, me needing to be somewhere, telling God, "Did you not ordain that I should do such and such today? Or get this amount of work done so I can spend this amount of time with my family? Then this is on you unless you make such-and-such happen now!"
Sigh... how many miracles have I missed?
No, God's will for my life isn't difficult to know. It's just frustratingly hard to do if self is at the center. And that's the crux of the very question itself, "What is God's will for MY life?"
Perhaps when we get out of the way, we shall see better.
How long will it take to learn the lesson that even if I know I am doing God's will it doesn't mean everything will appear to go smoothly along the way? That there are purposes I either don't know or am unwilling to consider could be a part of inconvenience? If you're like me, start learning today by making note of every story in the Bible that suffers a delay, interruption, inconvenience or other problem before the payoff. (Hint: start with guys like Joseph, and Abraham...)
Laura MacCorkle is formerly Crosswalk.com's Senior Entertainment Editor. She loves God, her family and and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.
Shawn McEvoy is Crosswalk.com's Managing Editor. He holds an M.A. in Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. He runs several fantasy sports leagues, and enjoys pop culture and the discussion thereof. He is married with two young children.
Original publication date: May 2, 2009