Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
How do you read this?
Do you read as a sort law or a set of Christian rules…or is it an invitation to a certain kind of life?
Is it “you have to or else?”
Or is it “you get to, if you will”?
We may need to change our perspective so that when we read or hear “this is God’s will” we don’t go to:
“Here comes the stuff I may not want to do but I have to do.”
Instead when we hear…”this is God’s will”…we must think…”Here comes an invitation to a different kind of life…a best possible kind of life.”
Be joyful always=How would you like to consistently have more joy?
-Joy that is independent of external circumstances.
-It this a rule? Or an invitation?
Pray continually=How would you like to have a more intimate relationship with the God of the universe?
-To hear from him, to know what he wants from and for you?
-Is this a rule…Or an invitation?
Give thanks in all circumstances: How would you like to respond well to adversity and to prosperity…how would you like to have a heart that is grateful for more and more things rather than fewer and fewer things making you satisfied?
This is: “Do you want to know what the kind of life God has for you looks like and would you like to move that direction?…well you can!”
These three things are both cause and effect: joy, prayer, thanks
We must train, choose to do these things and as we choose to do them, they will flow from our lives…we will more and more become them…as we more and more become then…we will more and more do them.
Let’s go back to our piano analogy:
-The pianist trains her fingers, mind, reflexes through repetition
-Then the result of this repetition is muscle and mental memory.
-A beginning pianist has to focus on every note…and those notes are simple and played poorly.
-An accomplished pianist can play and talk to you, or think of other things.
We practice to become, as we become…we more effectively and consistently do things.
We practice…so we will more readily put things into practice.
Let’s look at this three-part invitation to a lifestyle: consistent…joy, prayer, thanks
- Be joyful always
If you see this as a command to “feel” a certain way this will seem like a ridiculous statement…”feel happy and act happy always.”
It would actually be a healthy way to try and live.
For the person who is suffering or going through terrible challenges…trying to feel “joyful” or only expressing words that make it seem like you are joyful (faking) can undermine spiritual, physical, relational, mental health.
Honest words about feelings…are super important to overall health and growth.
Especially for people who have gone through hard things.
So this is not a command to fake or to feel…it is an opportunity to practice in order to become.
We practice joy and we can over time become more joyful.
How do we practice joy and avoid pretending something is true about us that is not?
*Probably the most important factor (in terms of our part in training) is to choose our thoughts well: (take thoughts captive and make them obey Christ: 2 Cor. 10:5)
And to think well we must:
- Know what thoughts to think (know what God has said)
- We have to honest about our thoughts to see if they align with God’s.
- Open Bible, open friends, and open heart to God
So a big part of how we train for joy is to choose the thoughts we allow to stay in our minds.
This doesn’t seem very “spiritual”…to practice thinking thoughts…
“Shouldn’t I be “praying and believing” that God will give me joy…shouldn’t I be “worshipping?”
Yes, those are good ideas…and that proves my point…those are ideas, good thoughts.
They must be turned into action…but the good thoughts are where good actions begin.
The Bible gives a good bit of attention to the necessity and the possibility of us choosing the thoughts that shape our lives.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
“Finally” here follows what?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Don’t be anxious…don’t worry
Instead pray about everything and be thankful about everything
Then God’s peace will set a guard over your heart and mind…and FINALLY…here’s how you consistently pull this off…choose to think about these kinds of things.
Make sure these thoughts settle permanently in your head…they will shape your life.
We simply must not underestimate the importance of choosing our thoughts and the possibility (power, authority) God has given us to choose which thoughts we allow to settle in our minds and shape us.
We are not helpless here…and God will help us…but he will not do this for us.
A common example: Most people get angry at some time…but people who allow angry thoughts to make themselves permanently at home in their minds will become angry people.
The same is true for fear, for selfishness, for unforgiveness, for pettiness, for jealousy, or moral impurity.
But the same is true for good things as well…becoming a person who prays…or is content…or thankful…these things follow consistently choosing to think the right thoughts.
*This is not merely positive thinking…or think happy thoughts and you will be happy.
This is to think what is true and real and do this consistently so that you will begin to more consistently live in line with what is true and real.
If you struggle with bitterness towards someone…that bitterness will shape you until and unless you replace those thoughts with better ones…ones that align with the gospel.
If you have allowed negative things to set up shop in your head and you find it hard to shake them…you can…but it is hard…what you allow to settle in your mind will shape who you become.
It will take a lot of work: prayer, memorizing truth, consistently replacing the bad with the good.
This is an active process…don’t despair that foolish, or wicked, or dark thoughts pop into your minds…do consistent battle against them.
Your enemy, Satan would have you believe that because you have these thoughts…the battle is already lost…nonsense…this is just not true.
The battle is only lost if you discontinue the battle…replace the thoughts…do the work.
God will help you…but you must choose.
- Pray continually
This doesn’t mean that we live on our knees or that we never do anything mentally or verbally than utter prayers to God all day.
In Romans 1:9 Paul used the same word to say that he prayed for the Roman church “continually”
He wasn’t saying he didn’t pray for anyone except them…but that he prayed for them often.
When Willie Nelson sang “You were always on my mind” he wasn’t singing about never thinking anything other than thoughts about his girl.
Everyone knows what this phrase means…it means that his thoughts would often by choice and even at other times spontaneously, go to her.
This communicates “his affection for her by his ongoing mental attention to her.” (Not a very romantic way of saying it, but its true.)
Here are three things “pray continually” can mean at the same time:
- Life in dependence and awareness on God…recognition, awareness of him continually.
When you are close to someone you don’t have to talk all the time when you are together.
If you are riding in a car or sitting at a restaurant with someone you don’t know well…silence can be really awkward.
As you spend more time together…you can shift back and force from conversation and silence more easily and naturally.
A famous book about a man who worked in a monastery kitchen and who was renowned for having a close, conversational relationship with God is called “The practice of the presence of God.”
The title is descriptive…it is practice that leads to ongoing awareness of God’s presence.
Our practice and our awareness of God’s presence are connected…thus “practice of the presence of God.”
Brother Lawrence did not verbalize non-stop prayers…but he lived, it is said…in a continually awareness of God’s presence.
- Pray often (planned and reflexive)
This, of course, is its most natural meaning…we can literally pray often.
This praying is both planned and reflexive.
The reflexive flows from the planned.
*In marriage and friendship relationships there is a need for occasional “deeper talks.”
-Some think the need is more than occasional…but too many “deep” talks can wear people like me out…so lets just stick with the occasional need.
-For the deeper, hidden issue “talks” to work they often need to be planned…to try to do them spontaneously generally doesn’t go well.
-But when they are planned and practiced on a regular basis…then what happens is when there is a need for unplanned deeper conversations they work well…because of practice.
The same thing is true in a conversational relationship with God…it is not either planned or spontaneous…it is always both.
We need regular set aside times of prayer…we all do.
Then we will find ourselves more consistently praying as we go.
- Don’t give up.
This third application flows from the first two…to pray continually means that we don’t stop praying because we don’t lose heart or perspective.
Some people haven’t prayed in awhile because they have stopped seeing any point in it.
This often means, I think, that they have not seen any “results”
The results, most often, is measured very narrowly as “God has not given me what I have asked for.”
So they lose heart, lose confidence in God or in prayer…
But a good bit of prayer is aligning our will with God’s, not the other way around.
Of course we are to ask God for what we want, but we are to trust God with what he gives.
This is a conversational relationship…but we must remember that he is God and we are not.
- Give thanks in all circumstances
The third component of this trinity of opportunities is to “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
This is a hallmark of a resilient life.
Much has been said, written and I would say misunderstood about PTSD.
The current and longest war in American history has brought this thing from the margins of our societal consciousness to the forefronts of it.
It’s been around since people and trauma have been around as a real mental/physical/spiritual/relational problem.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often very quickly given as a diagnosis to people in a wide variety of circumstances.
I have studied both PTSD as well as the preventive actions most often called “resiliency” a good bit over the past decade or so.
I am no expert at either…but the point I will make here is that everyone who goes through trauma has some level of PTS…post traumatic stress.
If it didn’t stress you…then it wasn’t traumatic for you.
But most people (statistically) who experience trauma (the “T”) will NOT develop the D…the disorder.
It doesn’t mean that when people do they are weak or flawed…there are many complex issues involved here.
But the vision that has often proven helpful for people who go through trauma…and I believe it is the vision that needs to be continually cast for people, is that of the possibility of PTSG.
Post traumatic stress growth.
This is not making light of trauma…this is making much of the fact that we can recover and grow.
This is a biblical concept and it has proven true over and over in the real world of real people.
One of the two most famous photos from the Vietnam War was has been called the “Napalm girl”
It was taken in June of 1972 and it shows a young girl who has been burned by a napalm bomb running through the streets.
Napalm is essentially gasoline combined with soap and formed into a sticky gel…it sticks to skin and burns…this young girl was terrible burned.
I remember the disturbing photo even though I was only 13 when it was released.
I had always assumed she didn’t survive her injuries but she did.
In fact she became a Christian after years of suffering and has lived a life of tremendous international impact.
In a December 21, 2017 article for the Wall Street Journal, Kim Phúc wrote that the trauma she suffered in the napalm strike still requires treatment, but that the psychological trauma was greater: “But even worse than the physical pain was the emotional and spiritual pain.”
This led directly to her conversion to Christianity, which she credits with healing the psychological trauma of living over forty years being known to the world as “Napalm Girl”. “My faith in Jesus Christ is what has enabled me to forgive those who had wronged me,” she wrote, “no matter how severe those wrongs were.”
Again, I am not diminishing what you may have experienced or the trauma that followed…but you need to know that whatever you have experienced…God can redeem it.
It will not ever go away…but it can become a part of who you are going forward…everyone can experience PTSG.
So to give thanks in all circumstances is not about pretending bad things are not bad things…it is not “whistling past the graveyard” and looking the other way.
It is believing God is good in the midst of bad things.
It is believing that God has a history of turning difficulties into things that bring him glory… and what brings him glory ultimately is what brings us joy.
Giving thanks in all circumstances is not live in unreality…it is to live continually in the reality of God and of the gospel.
It is training in giving thanks in order to become a truly thankful person.
- This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus
We began with a perspective on what it means when Scripture says that this is “God’s will.”
This is not merely a law, or a set of rules…”Be joyful, prayerful, thankful…always.”
“Check, check, check.”
How would that even be possible…can you turn joy or a truly thankful heart into a “checklist”?
Can you even turn continual prayer (prayer as relationship) into a checklist?
“This is God’s will” means that…this is your opportunity…it is part of the gift-package that is the gospel.
The gift of the gospel is not just “life that extends past physical death.”
The gift of the gospel is an entirely different quality of life that begins at the moment you give your life to Christ…and extends indefinitely.
We can choose to experience this quality of life now or we can choose to disregard it to a large extent.
It starts with thinking…what thoughts will you allow to live in your mind?
It extends to practicing…will actions will you consistently take to live in line with what is true?
It leads to becoming…over time we will become in our thoughts, actions, and character…more like Christ.
Remember the resilience model?
-The bang is a challenge, a trauma, a difficult event.
-Left of the bang is where resilience takes place.
This is all about…Training for spiritual Resilience, and the practical results of spiritual practice:
-Train for faith left of the bang
-Perform with faith during the bang
-Grow in faith right of the bang
Daniel’s life: A Case Study
- Taken from his homeland by the Babylonian conquerors.
-The nation had been in a downward slide for many years and now God’s judgment came in wholesale form.
-The Babylonians selected some the sharpest of the Jews to become a sort of brain trust for the Babylonian government.
-They were placed in a three year internship to learn language, customs, and other things necessary to help the government run well.
- Daniel’s first test was regarding dietary convictions
-He was a young man of faith and commitment and took considerable, but it was not a mortal risk to stand by his convictions yet.
He was tested…He saw God move through this choice and his faith grew.
- His next test was when all the wise men were going to be executed because they were not deemed useful by the king.
Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream and no one could tell him what it meant.
So what good is having a bunch of wise men…it they can’t even tell you what your dream means?
So he ordered that they be killed…he would then go find some useful wise men.
Daniel then asked his friends to pray that God would show mercy and give him wisdom.
Then as Daniel spent the night in prayer…God gave him wisdom to interpret the dream.
*Important to keep in mind what is being demonstrated here about Daniel.
Its not “Uh, God…it’s me, Daniel…I know we have not spoken in awhile…But I’m in big trouble…I really need some help tonight…”
I am not making fun of that prayer; it is a good one if you have not spoken to God in awhile.
But it is unlikely that Daniel’s spiritual ears would have been tuned to hear God’s voice answering his prayer, giving instruction, if Daniel had not practiced a life of praying…left of the bang.
He had trained for that night…many years of training to trust and to hear.
- Big Jump…many years into the Daniel’s future
-The Babylonians had been conquered by the Persians…Daniel is now an old guy.
The new Persian king made Daniel one of three administrators over the entire nation (Iraq, Iran, and other areas combined)
He showed himself to be such a good leader that the king was going to make him number 1 and get rid of the other administrators.
The king by making him number 1 was painting a big target on Daniel’s chest…and everyone aimed their jealousy at that target.
So the other government officials went after him…but they had a problem…Daniel had integrity.
At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:4-5
Since there was no holes in his integrity…they fabricated an excuse to persecute him.
They talked the king into issuing an irrevocable decree that for a month all citizens should pray only to him.
For some reason the king bought into it and issued the decree.
Daniel had long before this time (this bang) learned who and how to trust.
Now…he had trained to trust…he had become a man of faith…it was who he was.
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.
A week ago my grandkids watched a video cartoon of Daniel’s story and they thought praying by their windows would be a good idea…so they did.
*It warmed my heart to see these photos…but they were in no mortal danger…Daniel was.
What follows is the famous lion’s den…where the King, with a broken heart (because he respected Daniel and by now knew he been set up) had Daniel arrested and thrown to what was assumed would be his death.
Daniel, of course was saved.
And God was gloried throughout the land.
This is no children’s story…this is a story of a grown-up faith that was the result of years of real training.
Train for faith: left of the bang
Perform with faith: during the bang
Grow in faith: right of the bang
We should not imagine that we will perform with faith when we need it, or grow in faith after the fact…if we have not trained for faith day by day.
One of the more disturbing verses for me in the Bible is Proverbs 19:3
A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD.
I have seen this in practice…and it is a disturbing thing to see.
This folly that ruins a life can be in the form of outright rebellion…like doing things that lead to jail, or injury, or death.
But it can also be more subtle in the form of disbelief…thinking that the life God has laid out for us is negotiable…”Its okay if we do, and okay if we don’t live his way.”
So we live life on our own terms…and then when that life does not go well…we blame God for the results…”This Christian life doesn’t work! It made no difference.”
This is irrational…but it is not uncommon.
God offers us a pathway to a life that avoids ruin…but we must walk his path.
He does not guarantee we will escape loss or trouble…in fact the Scriptures guarantee that we will experience these things.
But the gospel offers us a path to experience God’s kind of life now as well as escaping ultimate ruin.
We want to train to become ever joyful, prayerful, thankful…he has given us what we need to move more fully into this kind of life.
Depends on where you are…remember, we are all closing the gap.
No one is hopeless and no one has arrived.
- Set aside a time to pray through the concentric circles (God in me, God around me, God beyond me)
Do it without fail and without excuse…5 minutes, 10 minutes.
-Spend some time being still and quiet.
-It is “working” even when we don’t think it is.
- Set aside time for extended prayer this summer…once a week or once a month.
-Walk or sit in your car and pray and be still for 15 or 30 minutes or hour…or more…depending on where you are in your training.
-Not possible? Yeah it really is…you just have to do it…train for it.
- Plan: Set prayer reminders up…phone, sticky notes…to practice his presence…whatever works for you.
*Practice, train…to live in the world as it actually is “A world where God is ever present and always at work.”
*The best plan is the one you actually do.
*There is no faith that does not take action…there is no action without some plan.*