A Tall Order
When the Apostle Paul addresses the Thessalonians in chapter 5:16-18 he commands them to “Rejoice always, pray unceasingly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. I think if we are honest we all find that to be a tall challenge. It would be easier not to eat pork (except bacon), give up TV or even read our bible every day than it would be to nail Paul’s list with regularity. Maybe it’s because it’s not natural. We do stuff and check it off our list. That is what this society demands isn’t it? It seems natural to rejoice when we have a good reason, to pray when it is important or a part of our routine, and to give thanks when we are overcome with an apparent reason to thank God. But we often fall very short of “always, unceasingly, and in all circumstances”.
It Isn’t Natural
Paul’s command is really not of this world. Commands like these help us see that it isn’t possible to come close to this on our own. That is where the glorious gospel comes in. I find it very interesting that the very next line in the book is “don’t quench the Holy Spirit”. Could that be because it is the Holy Spirit that will wash our hearts and open our minds to the reality that this present day is a part of a greater reality? Joy comes from the Holy Spirit and so does the ability to (like Jesus Christ) enter into the brokenness of humanity and love the unlovely, to care for the forgotten and to spend hours upon hours faithfully asking God for a miracle in prayer. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives that makes us willing to put ourselves in a position to care enough to be vulnerable. After all, as we have stated many times, the gospel teaches us that all true, godly love is self-sacrificial.
I cannot remember a week that I have prayed as much as this week. Several care opportunities have caused this extreme focus and yet it doesn’t seem extreme to me as I write this morning. I realize that despite my earnest desire I cannot make these prayers happen. I believe God can achieve them and I know that He chooses to work through the prayers of His saints when He works. I also know that we are called to have faith and to stir up our faith. However, the active ingredient in that work is not the prayer itself but the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is one odd duck to be motivated, even provoked to pray, believing and hoping yet entrusting ourselves to God for the results. The gospel teaches us that God is present even in the brokenness of this humanity (Jesus entered into humanity). And as difficult as it is, we rest in that until He answers our petitions. One of my favorite scriptures that teaches me how the Gospel sustains us is Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Father, we thank you that you are awesome! Our words fall so short in attempting to describe your love and your power. Our hearts melt in front of us when we attempt to consider either. At times we make our prayers alone as if we are the only one praying those prayers and at other times we join with the entire Avenue or nation with our petitions. Despite the millions of prayers you receive, God we thank you that you receive each one as a loving Father with care and compassion for your children.
God we confess our lack of faith, our fear, and at times our frustration when we cannot see an answer or when the answer we wanted does not come. Help us to see as you do. Wash our hearts Holy Spirit. Lead us in our prayers. Deposit in us great faith that only you can provide. Give us courage to believe! May the prayers we pray be effective, not selfish, and for the glory of your great name. Please answer them according to your sovereign plan. Sustain us in the gospel, in the finished work of Christ. Be with us, save us, rejoice over us, and quiet us with your love. We love you Jesus, more than comfort, more than life. In Jesus name Amen