Digging in Deeper: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

One of the number one questions people of faith (and even some who aren’t) wonder about when it comes to life at large is what God’s will for them is. What’s God’s will for my life? What does He want me to do? Where does He want me to go? Which decisions will bring Him the most honor? It sure would be nice if the Bible had some places that just spelled this out for us in unmistakably clear fashion. As it turns out, we have one right here. Let’s look at what it says.

I should actually correct that language a bit. The Bible never actually says anything. Thinking in those terms can make our understanding of it brittle and fragile. If we think of “the Bible” as a single book, then if we run into a problem in one part, the whole is threatened. Instead of thinking about “the Bible” saying this or that, we should think about Isaiah or Malachi or John or Paul saying something. That’s both more accurate and more helpful.

In that case, here at the end of his letter to the believers in ancient Thessalonica, Paul spells out for them in concise and clear fashion what God’s will is for their lives. This is a text we can apply to our own lives as well.

So then, what is God’s will for our lives? Paul says it is composed of three things. First, rejoice always. What does it mean to rejoice? The dictionary definition is to show or feel great delight in something. God’s will for your life is that you take great delight in all of it. It is for His spirit of joy to pervade everything you do.

Now, that sounds really good in the abstract, but it gets quite a bit harder when you start putting some structure to it. Most notably, as you and I go through our days, we are likely to encounter some circumstances that do not immediately give us cause for delighting. Something goes wrong at work. A driver cuts you off on the road. The kids are in a form that is not nearly are rare as you wish it was. You just don’t feel good. Does this mean we are living apart from God’s will in all of these occasions?

It doesn’t have to. Rejoicing in, experiencing joy in, finding reason to delight in a particular situation is a choice that we make. It is a choice rooted, not necessarily in the situation itself, but in our awareness of the presence of the God who is good in it. It is rooted in our sense of how this fits in God’s bigger (and better) plans for His world. It is rooted in our trust in His ability to work good in all things paired with our anticipation of His doing that.

No matter what the situation we are in happens to look like, rejoicing is a choice we can make in it. God’s will for your life is that you do make it.

Second, pray constantly. This is just as it sounds. God’s will for your life is that you live it with a constantly open communication channel with Him. Of course, if we are going to do this, we may need to rethink what prayer looks like. It certainly may look like going in a quiet room and getting down on our knees and pouring our heart out to the Lord while listening carefully for His voice, but it doesn’t have to. Praying constantly has much to do with the narrative we keep up in our hearts and minds.

You have one of those, right? We all do. We all have a narrator running in our head as we go through our day. We have a self-talk as we experience things. Some people do this out loud and sound crazy (guilty), but some just have it running on the inside. It just happens.

If we are going to live within the boundaries of God’s will for our lives, we need to take control of this self-talk, and turn it into God-talk. After all, if we believe He is with us—in us even—as the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we be able to talk to Him and listen to Him all the time? God’s will is that we do.

Incidentally, if we pray constantly, we will be more connected to Him. If we are more connected to Him, we will be better able to see our circumstances through the lens of what He is doing in our lives. If we are better able to see what He is doing in our lives, rejoicing always will be a lot easier. And when we are rejoicing always because of our constantly prayer connection to Jesus, we will be better positioned for the third part of God’s will for our lives: Giving thanks in everything.

This third thing is heavily dependent on our understanding of God’s nature and character. If He is truly sovereign and all powerful over His world, and if He is truly all good and all wise (didn’t Jesus say that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him knowing about it?), then nothing that happens in His world happens without His knowing about it and either causing it directly or allowing it for purposes that are ultimately to our good. And if that is the case, then we can give thanks to Him in every circumstance we face because He has caused or allowed it for our ultimate good.

If those things aren’t true about God, then things just happen to us and we can just get upset about them. But if they are, then we can give thanks. Hear me well: Those things are true about Him. That means we can. God’s will for us is that we do.

Now, if we’re honest, most of us would still like to know what God’s will is for our lives in the nitty-gritty of our daily decisions. We want someone to be following behind us, and every time we get to a fork and are wondering about which split to take, can whisper the answer in our ears. God doesn’t do that. But if we will get into the practice of these three things, I suspect will find ourselves on the right track a whole lot more often than we aren’t. Let’s get to it.

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