Hope Renewed

WHO IS THE MOST THANKFUL PERSON YOU KNOW?  WHY?

WHAT ARE THE OPPOSITES OF GRATITUDE? Complaining, whining, entitlement

We have been studying hope.  When hope is expressed, it looks like gratitude.

We may not be ungrateful, but we can forget to BE grateful.  We get used to the things we’ve been given, and we begin to take them for granted.  Believers can do that in their relationship with Jesus.  The longer we have been believers, the more we can get used to the blessings and benefits of knowing Jesus.  Over time, we can forget what it was like not to have that hope in Him.  Psalm 138 reminds us of the hope we have and pulls us into an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude to God.

READ Psalm 138:1-3

We do not know when David wrote this Psalm, but it reflects a lifetime of trust in God.  God is exalted over all others and He demonstrated His protection to David in all circumstances.  That is why David expressed thankfulness and trust.

A major quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness to God for the hope we have in Him. Gratitude to God must begin with faith in Jesus and with the idea that our lives are a gift of grace

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GRACE? (Undeserving and unearned gift from the Father’s hand)

That is the attitude David comes to God in these verses. It is also found in other places –

READ Psalm 100

READ Philippians 4:6-7

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

WHAT SPECIFICALLY WAS DAVID THANKFUL FOR? What God did, His purposes, His Word, His listening ear, His protection for those who trust Him.

In his book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson, tells of a time he came home from work tired and stressed.  He found his children had left their bicycles in the way of his putting his truck in the garage.  (HOW WOULD YOU FEEL/REACT?) This irritated and upset him; but, after he had moved the bikes and was back in the truck, he felt the Lord reminding him that he was viewing his life in a way that was robbing him of the blessings he enjoyed.  He realized that gratitude is a choice.  (WHAT SHOULD HE HAVE BEEN THANKFUL FOR?) As we recognize, accept and practice gratitude, our entire lives will be enriched.

In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.

Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:

  1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
  2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
  3. It creates a physiological state of “resonance”, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.

That’s gratitude for you, really. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it. This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.

Paul wrote about this:

READ Colossians 3:15-17

David spoke to God, the great I AM.  We are to trust, love, obey, and serve Him alone. Sadly, we do not do this consistently.  HOW CAN WE BE MORE CONSISTENT?  1 Thessalonians has a good answer – re-read it.

One interesting note from these verses – David tells us that he will sing before the heavenly beings?  WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT REFERS TO?  It may refer to heavenly servant beings (angels), judges and governors appointed by God as political leaders (spoken of in Exodus) or the supposed “gods” of the surrounding nations.  Whatever the exact meaning, we are to not be ashamed to honor God in any environment.  We are to let the powers that be know that our trust is in God – that is who we bow down to.

So – verses 1-3 thank God for His love and truth.  Now, let’s thank Him that we don’t have to call attention to ourselves to get His attention:

READ Psalm 138:4-6

Even kings and other leaders will give thanks to the Lord when they hear God’s own words. When people, even those in places of leadership, hear and believe the truth revealed in God’s Word, they will respond as well.

GRATITUDE IS A VERB – Fulton J. Sheen wrote:

“An interesting phenomenon in children is that gratitude or thankfulness comes relatively late in their young lives. They almost have to be taught it; if not, they grow up thinking that the world owes them a living.”

A friend once told me that she didn’t want to force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like it saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s OK to be a hypocrite.”

That’s not even close to what gratitude is. Our feelings have nothing to do with why we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is for the benefit of the other person. It’s about their feelings, not yours.

The same is true when it comes to saying “Thank you” to God. Thankfulness is the proper response to the goodness of God. We say “thank you” because he is good, not just because we happen to feel good at the moment.

This is why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” — it’s an act of obedience, not just an emotional outburst.

David said, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:17)

Like children, believers need to learn how to be thankful. Most of the time, when we consider all the good things God has done for us, we’ll feel thankful. Even when our feelings don’t cooperate, we need to properly express gratitude, offering God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the kindness and mercy he has shown us.

David tells us in these verses that the Lord, even though He is exalted, takes note of us when we are humble.  God delights in revealing Himself and His will to those who humbly seek Him.

READ Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” NASB

READ 2 Chronicles 7:14

WHAT ARE THE ENEMIES OF HUMILITY AND GRATITUDE?

  1. Assuming you have to live like a king to be grateful – not thanking for all
  2. Thinking God will not notice you – poor, poor, pitiful me or above it all
  3. Feeling entitled to what God gives you – what do people feel entitled to?
  4. Forgetting that life is a gift – taking everything for granted

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

~ John Wooden

Choosing humility is a posture of the heart toward God that wards off entitlement and other enemies of gratitude.  Gratitude is our response to the hope we have in God – even to His protection:

READ Psalm 138:7-8

We can live full, meaningful lives because our hope is based on His preservation rather than our own efforts.  Whether we realize it or not, we are all engaged in spiritual battle.  There are spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6) who do battle with us daily and we would do well to fasten our armor tightly.

God (and EMS) can rescue you from danger or protect you from danger.

HAS SOMEONE PROTECTED YOU WITHOUT YOU KNOWING IT AT THE TIME? Kids

HAVE YOU BECOME AWARE OF GOD’S PROTECTION IN A CIRCUMSTANCE?

We should keep in mind that our gratitude to God is not based on how good our situation is but on how we view the situation.  Gratitude should be our response to all situations.

READ 1 Thessalonians 5:18 again

What now?

  1. Record it – make a daily list of why you are grateful – you can use your lesson guide to start
  2. Say it – tell people why you are grateful instead of complaining, murmuring and arguing. See what difference it makes in your world.
  3. Share it – find someone in your world to share the love of Jesus, even if they don’t express their gratitude toward you. Maybe that way, you will know what God feels like when we fail to do it to Him.

WHAT DOES HOPE LOOK LIKE?  Gratitude

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Hope renewed

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT WAYS PEOPLE RESPOND TO FAILURE?

We fail, but Jesus gives us hope.  We often kick ourselves when we are down. “If I were a real Christian, I wouldn’t do that!” Peter knew something of failure – HIS BIGGEST? Denying Jesus three times.  Our failures may not get THAT kind of attention (thankfully), but we need to experience that grace every time we fail.

The same grace we need for salvation is what we need to live out the Christian life.  The hope we have in Jesus is grounded in grace – and that is what we need every day. It is a grace that picks us up when we fall.

DO YOU REMEMBER LEARNING TO RIDE A BIKE?  Who taught you?  Did you use training wheels?  What did you do when you fell? How long before you tried again?

HOW IS THIS LIKE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE? We will all fall and need others to help us up. Failure is painful.  The question is not IF we are going to fall, but what we will do WHEN we fall.  I am thankful that I can learn from Peter.

When we consider the life and ministry of Peter, we see a common, hard-working man who by God’s grace came to know and follow Jesus.  But, like us, he had some difficulties to overcome. The Holy Spirit did not give up on Peter – and He will not give up on us either.

READ John 18:15-18 and 25-27

Do you remember how Peter met Jesus?

READ John 1:35-42

Jesus identified Peter as “rock” – an appropriate name for Simon after his conversion.  Later, Jesus came by the Sea of Galilee and called Peter, his brother Andrew, James and John to follow Him.

When Jesus asked who the disciples said He was, it was Peter who said – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16).  Jesus commended him and promised to build His church on that truth.  Later, Peter (with James and John) witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration as He talked to Moses and Elijah.  They heard a voice from Heaven – “This is My beloved Son.  I take delight in Him.  Listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5).

Jesus also prepared Peter and the other disciples for His death and resurrection – but I suspect that was hard to grasp.  Going from a royal reception for His arrival in Jerusalem to being arrested not too long after no doubt shook up everyone in their group. This is the same Peter who even refused Jesus’ washing his feet – he did not want to accept the Servant Leadership Jesus came to demonstrate.  But Jesus did tell him that he would be “sifted” by Satan and that Peter would deny Jesus three times.

Nonetheless, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the garden of Gethsemane. WHO WAS IT THAT TOOK OUT HIS KNIFE TO DEFEND JESUS? Peter, of course.

SO, HOW COULD PETER BE SO AFRAID OF BEING IDENTIFIED WITH JESUS?

We tend to see the men and women of Scripture as bigger than life.  Their encounters with God, both their victories and their failures, seem so far beyond what we experience today.  We might be tempted to say, “I would never fail Jesus like that” – but that is exactly what Peter said too, and he did it three times!

HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THE SHAME OF FAILING OVER AND OVER AGAIN?

Murray Warmath, former head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers (1954-1971), once said about his team’s pathetic win-loss record in 1958 and 1959: “If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.”

Do you feel like you too are getting nothing but a “good education”? Do you feel like you’re knocked down more times than you deserve, crossing the goal line fewer times than you should? We all go through stages of defeat — sometimes stages of extended defeat — but Warmath is right: this is where lessons are learned; it’s where we get the best education.

Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” One of the world’s most successful men understands this principle: You learn more from your losses than you learn from your victories … that is, if you’re willing to take the time to evaluate your failures.

Ever had a bad day at work? When it happens, how do you respond? Do you shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well; guess I wasn’t ‘on’ today.”? Do you ask, “I wonder what was wrong with those people today?” Or do you relive it moment by painful moment?

It’s the days of defeat that often teach us our most valuable lessons in preparation and dependence on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, I am thankful for the projects or activities that went awry. In the long run, they’ve helped me be more effective and more consistent.

This principle works in every area of life, IF you’re willing to learn from your past mistakes — jobs that didn’t work out, relationships that failed, ministry projects that fell short of expectations, and on and on. We need to get in the habit of using mistakes as a foundation for a good education. Failure is a good teacher if you’re willing to pay attention to what it says.

WHAT ABOUT PETER? Did he learn from this failure? Let’s hear the rest of the story…

READ John 21:15-19

At least ten times, Jesus appeared after His death:

  1. Mary Magdalene at the grave – John 20:1-18
  2. Mary (Martha’s sister) at the tomb – Matthew 28
  3. He appeared to Peter (no details) Luke 24:34
  4. He appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-25)
  5. He appeared to the ten disciples behind closed doors (Luke24:36-39)
  6. A week later, He appeared to the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
  7. After that, he appeared to some disciples fishing – this is the passage we just read
  8. He appeared to many at a mountain in Galilee, including the disciples – Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)
  9. Later he appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  10. Final appearance – (to all) He promised them the Holy Spirit and that they would “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8)

DID YOU CATCH HOW MANY TIMES JESUS APPEARED TO PETER OF THE TEN?  SIX.

There’s no doubt that Peter loved Jesus, but Peter may have wondered what his future with the twelve disciples would be.  That may explain why Peter told some of the other disciples, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3).  The night’s fishing proved fruitless, until, at daybreak, a figure on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Then, when the catch was so large that they could not haul it in, John stated that it must be Jesus on the shore.  In his usual fashion, Peter leapt out and went straight for Jesus.

This sets the stage for these passages and for the conversation between Jesus and Peter. The three charges to Peter from Jesus include feeding, guiding and taking care of the flock.  Peter was charged to be the “rock” and provide whatever was needed to the new church.

From Peter’s experiences, we are reminded that each of us can and will fail at times.  But as Peter’s life shows, Jesus is waiting to restore us.

READ Proverbs 24:16 – For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity

Experiencing failure puts you in pretty good company. There’s a long list of great people who have failed in the past.

Speaking only of financial failure (bankruptcy), do you know who this list includes? Mark Twain. Burt Reynolds. Walt Disney. Donald Trump. Milton Hershey, of Hershey Chocolate. H.J. Heinz, of Heinz Ketchup. Wayne Newton. Larry King. Mickey Rooney. Johnny Unitas. Even Johnny Unitas!

All of these experienced financial failure, but the label of failure doesn’t exactly fit them, does it? Why not? Because they got up and tried again.

The Bible says even a righteous man will fall seven times (in other words, again and again), but he gets back up.

That’s the difference. The wicked are brought down by calamity, but the righteous man gets up to try once again.

In which area of your life do you need to get up and try again?

 

 

What now?

  1. Be honest – about your failures and sins. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103:12 that He will toss those failures away as we confess them. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  2. Seek reconciliation – sin rarely just hurts us – go and humbly ask for forgiveness – repair any damage you have caused
  3. Foster reconciliation in others – listen and pray with someone seeking forgiveness and restoration

Hope Personified

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE TV DAD?  WHY?

Who are your favorite TV dads? Here are those TV dads that bring me fond memories (not ranked in any order):

  1. Jim Anderson, “Father Knows Best” (Robert Young):Jim always had a solution for things when his wife and kids needed him. Everything got solved in 30 minutes! This show started on network radio on NBC and when television started growing, Young and his partner Gene Rodney took it to Columbia Pictures’ TV division and the show ran from 1953 to 1963, first on CBS and later NBC. Also ran in reruns in daytime on ABC.
  2. Ward Cleaver, “Leave It To Beaver” (Hugh Beaumont):Ward was a great father to Wally and The Beaver but you sure didn’t want to cross him! Beaumont in real life was a Methodist minister and a movie actor in the 1940s playing the role of Detective Michael Shayne. The Beaver show started on CBS in 1957 but moved to ABC and stayed there until 1963. Has been in syndication since!
  3. Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show” (Bill Cosby): Nothing more needs to be said… remains one of the most successful shows in television history. Big hit when it ran on NBC and later in syndication.
  4. Ben Cartwright, “Bonanza” (Lorne Greene): Ben would do anything for Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam…. all born with different mothers that were married to Ben… ostensibly the women died giving childbirth. Airing on TV since 1959.
  5. Tim Taylor, “Home Improvement” (Tim Allen): In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms in the American market, winning many awards. The series launched Tim Allen’s acting career and also was the start of the television career ofPamela Anderson, who was part of the recurring cast for the first two seasons.
  6. Charles Ingalls, “Little House On The Prairie” (Michael Landon):Father to four daughters, three adopted kids, and husband to Caroline, making a living during the 1800s. Based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ran on NBC from 1974-1983.
  7. Andy Taylor, “The Andy Griffith Show” (Andy Griffith):This show was a spin off from “Make Room For Daddy” starring Danny Thomas. Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were the producers created the Griffith show and as we all know this show became iconic with millions of Americans. After 50 years, the show still can be seen and in some areas of the country it is scheduled around local TV newcasts. Ran on CBS from 1961-1968.
  8. Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch” (Robert Reed):Great TV father and husband. In real life, Reed clashed with the show’s producer Sherwood Schwartz over creative issues. Reed was a Shakespearean trained actor and thought that some of the stuff on “The Brady Bunch” was hokey, but Schwartz would have nothing to do with it. Ran on ABC from 1969-1974 and still airing today.
  9. Jed Clampett, “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Buddy Ebsen):Ebsen was a dancer by training and appeared in movies during the 1930s and 1940s. Television revived his career when producer Paul Henning cast him as the head of the Clampett family who strikes oil in the Ozarks and goes from rags to riches while trying to fit in Beverly Hills, California.
  10. Steve Douglas, “My Three Sons” (Fred MacMurray):MacMurray was a Hollywood movie actor starting in the 1930s, usually cast as a tough guy (“Double Indemnity”) but later was cast in movies produced by Disney in softer, comedic roles. MacMurray was one of the richest actors in Hollywood in his day, known around town as a tightwad! He was a great TV father on “My Three Sons,” but on the set he would come and do his part and leave, not very personable with the kids. Show ran on CBS from 1960-1972.

 

Everyone’s perception of God is colored to some degree by their attitude and relationship with their father.  Even those who never knew their father might see God as an absentee God or they will paint God as the type of father they wish they had.  Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our Father.  Jesus used an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us.

READ Luke 15:11-12

During this time, the religious leaders criticized Jesus, not because the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Him, but because he was welcoming them.  Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost.  The third one, His parable about the prodigal son, illustrates how a loving father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him. It increased the percentage loss from 1 out of 100 sheep to 1 out of 10 coins to 1 out of 2 sons.  However, the loss of a son rather than sheep or silver ramps up the devastation.  So the third parable clarified and complemented Jesus’ instruction concerning the rescue of a sinner through the gospel.  Each of the three stories shows the sinner’s repentance and return to God.

The Pharisees repeatedly failed to realize what brings God contentment, satisfaction and joy.  The Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus’ welcoming tax collectors and sinners in the first two verses of this chapter.  Dining with the crowd gave a silent affirmation and approval to them as persons, outraging the Pharisees and scribes who would never have socialized with such people.

WHO WAS THIS PARABLE REALLY ABOUT?  The father – not the prodigal son

Jesus began the parable with, “A man had two sons”.  The father symbolized God the Father.  The younger son typified a repentant sinner and the older son represented the self-righteous Pharisees.  The younger son demanded his share of the estate from his father to try to find a happy life in a distant country.  Judaism advised against granting such a request, but it could happen.  A son asking for his share of the estate showed disrespect by suggesting he could not wait for his father to die.  The demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans.  By demanding his inheritance, the son sowed seeds of discord in the family.

By the way, this (sowing discord) is one of the things God hates:

READ Proverbs 6:16-19

#1 – He had the freedom to choose

His actions harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized his family’s financial security and fractured the family. The father, who did not refuse the son’s outrageous request, distributed the assets (to both sons).

DID THIS COST THE FATHER?  WHY DID HE DO IT?

READ Luke 15:13-19

After cashing in his share of the estate to bankroll his rebellion, the younger son headed off to a distant country.  Jesus reported ever so briefly that the son wasted all he had through poor choices.  All the money he could have could not provide what he was really looking for.  Having tried everything he could do on his own, he then chose to return to where he had all he needed to start with.

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE DOROTHY AFTER SHE WAKES UP IN THE WIZARD OF OZ?

Coming to his senses (you might too if you couldn’t even get the leftovers from pig’s food) and remembering how his father’s servants lived, he had to go back home.  His actions, more important than any emotional feelings of remorse, show the appropriate changes in thinking and behavior.  He accepted full responsibility for destroying the relationship with his father and sought reconciliation. BUT…

No respectable father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son if he would return.  It would break all Middle Eastern protocol.  The son’s outrageous and rebellious actions had brought dishonor upon his father and tarnished his family’s name.  The Pharisees and scribes would have expected the father to have refused to meet him, or to have forced him to sit outside the family gate in public view so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.  Furthermore, the son could expect to wait out certain period of time thoroughly humbling himself before his father.  Only then, would the father tell him with a measure of indifference how long the son would have to work to restore what had been squandered.  Only after the son had squared everything through the penances dictated by his father could he possibly hope to find some measure of favor again with his father.

OH, HOW IT IS WITH US – THIS IS OUR REACTION, NOT THAT OF OUR FATHER.

#2 God has the love that embraces

IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO HOME AGAIN?  IS IT YOU, SOMEONE YOU LOVE, OR KNOW? God yearns for us to return to Him, even if we have not rebelled like this.  How do I know this?  Check out the father’s response to seeing his son:

READ Luke 15:20-21

Jesus’ story blindsided His audience.  While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.  At best, he could hope for a half-hearted welcome and perhaps some menial job working for his father.  Oh, but consider this father!  He must have waited daily; yearning to see his son return.  Finally, he caught a glimpse of his dejected and emaciated boy – and it melted his heart in compassion.  Throwing aside conventions of dignity, the father RAN with exuberance.  He went beyond normal forgiveness and cascaded his son with incredible love!

Even before the disgraced son could butter up his father with his well-rehearsed confession, his father threw his arms around the boy’s neck and kissed him.  Everything he did signaled his absolute affection and complete reconciliation.

The father’s demonstration of love and acceptance without the son paying for his transgressions shocked the scribes and the Pharisees.  Even today, many people have adopted a similar view of spiritual economy – making works the means of salvation rather than God’s free gift of grace through faith.

#3 God has the grace that restores

This picture reveals God’s attitude and activity toward sinners:

READ Luke 15:7

While He longs to embrace and keep close those who rebel, just like the father in this parable, God will not force anyone to stay home.  The father, like our Heavenly Father, had a love that remained constant despite the hurt caused by the son’s departure.  His love did not stop at an embrace:

Read Luke 15:22-24

Despite the son’s actions, the father lavished on him the best gifts imaginable (still boggling the minds of the audience).

Bring out the best robe – either the master’s or the son’s to denote his place of love and honor in the family.

Put a ring on his finger – confirming the son’s return to a place of authority in the household

Put sandals on his feet – only the sons and the master wore shoes – full sonship

To completely restore a son who had shamed his father and blown through a third of the family’s assets (the older son was due a double portion according to the Jewish tradition) did not line up with their theology.  They would have demanded at least a waiting period or reentry time with limitations on family privileges.  NO – that is not the way our Heavenly Father works.  He waits – even searches – for us to come home to Him.

READ Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to SEEK and save the lost

When we repent from our sinfulness and turn to Him, like the father in the parable, He absorbs the hurt and the loss and He lavishes us with the blessing of a full relationship with Him.

By linking the three parables in this chapter – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return.  The shepherd and the woman invited their friends to rejoice with them, but when the father did it – it was the biggest deal anyone could imagine.

Did the son earn it? No!  Do WE deserve it? No! How great the love of our Father!

READ 1 John 3:1

We don’t have to hit rock bottom to decide to go home to our Father or to someone else.  Instead we can make the decision now.

What now?

  1. We can go home – if you have been keeping your distance from God, return to Him. Begin praying daily and reading your Bible.  God will show you the way back and looking for you to return.
  2. We can forgive generously – when was the last time you ran to forgive someone? Forgive even if it seems strange and shocking to everyone else around.  Forgive as God as forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).  Let that someone know you’ve forgiven them. Don’t be like the older son (remember he was the picture of the Pharisees) – vs. 25-32.
  3. We can invite someone home – engage in honest, but loving, conversation with a “prodigal” in your life. Patiently walk with the person as he or she finds the way to the Father.

Get a grip on grace

I have been intrigued with pearls. So this past week I did some research on how a pearl becomes a pearl. A beautiful pearl begins as a fragment of broken shell, a sand grain, or even a parasite. Such an object enters an oyster’s shell and irritates its soft tissue. The irritant then gets covered and strengthened with layers of mother-of-pearl or nacre (NAY-ker). Over the course of time, a beautiful pearl develops. Similarly, the Bible teaches that every human starts out as an irritant. We are enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins. Yet, by God’s amazing grace, those of us who believe in Christ are declared positionally righteous. Slowly but surely, God then envelops us in Himself and practically transforms us into beautiful followers who reflect His beauty.

Paul closes 1 Thessalonians the same way that he began, by emphasizing God’s grace and the need to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In view of these important themes, Paul urges us to, “Get a grip on grace.” In 1 Thess 5:23-28, Paul provides two instructions to strengthen our grip.

 

  1. Pray for spiritual dependence (5:23-24).

In this first section, Paul prepares to wrap up his book with a closing prayer affirming our security in Christ. In 5:23 he prays, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, the first word in the Greek text of 5:23 is the word “Himself” (autos). This is a significant point because Paul is emphasizing that the peaceful qualities of life that he discussed earlier in 5:13 come from God and God alone. Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Think about that for a moment. Exercise improves your body, therapy helps your soul, a friend lifts your spirit, good fortune improves your circumstances, but only God can make you better. God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this fundamental truth. In contrast to all our feeble efforts at moral betterment and self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God Himself, the God of peace.” The “God of peace” is the only one capable of sanctifying us.

This word “sanctify” simply means “set apart for God’s exclusive use.”

 

There are at least three different ways this term is used in the New Testament.

 

First, there is positional sanctification. When you believed in Christ as your Savior, you were instantaneously, once-for-all set apart for God (Heb 10:10).

Second, there is progressive sanctification. This refers to your daily growth in holiness (2 Cor 7:1).

Third, there is perfective sanctification. This takes place when you see Christ and become eternally like Him (1 John 3:2).

It is this last meaning of sanctification that Paul has in mind here. He prays that God will “entirely” sanctify the Thessalonians. He prays that their entire person will be preserved. The phrase “spirit and soul and body” has generated a great deal of controversy in theological circles over the concepts of dichotomy versus trichotomy. That’s basically a debate over whether man is basic two-part or three-part in his essential nature. 1 Thess 5:23 is a key verse for those who favor the trichotomy point of view. Yet, I doubt that Paul intended to give us some kind of definitive treatment of human psychology. I think the reference to spirit, soul, and body simply means “the whole person in all his parts.” Beale favors the dichotomist position and suggests that 5:23 “clearly restates and develops 3:13, where God is said to strengthen their hearts, which is either a reference to the entire person, or more likely, an allusion to the noncorporeal aspect of the believer (equivalent to spirit and soul in 5:23).”

 

The word translated “preserved” (tereo) is a word that typically means “to watch over, keep.” God Himself will ensure your salvation and Christian growth. It is God who does this work! This morning, I noticed that before going to bed last night I forgot to lock the back door of our house. A thief could have easily walked in. I immediately said, “Lord, thank you that You always protect my family and me, even when I fail to be wise or faithful.” The word translated “without blame” comes from the legal arena. It means to be acquitted in a court of law. You are “blameless” if no one can bring any charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. Those who know us best know our weaknesses and could testify against us. God’s goal, however, is that when we stand before Him, He will say, “Does anyone in the whole universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one in the entire universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect. Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered tombstones from Thessalonica marked with the inscription “blameless.” This indicates the impact God’s Word had upon the early church in the first century. I can’t think of a better way to die than to be able to place on our tombstone “blameless.”

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “good enough for government work.” That’s a sarcastic way of saying, “Don’t worry about the details. The joints don’t have to fit, the margins can be crooked, and we don’t need to worry about the budget. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be close.” Mark it down plainly: God does not do government work. Everything He does is perfect. But many of us feel like our lives are “government work.” We look inside and see lots of good and bad mixed together, a whole bunch of loose connections, and a lot of parts that don’t seem to work right. That’s the way it is in a fallen world. We’re stuck with what seems to be “government work” in this life. But it won’t be that way forever. God has promised that when Jesus Christ returns, we will be sanctified through and through.

 

Paul concludes this first section in 5:24 by esteeming God further: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” The adjective “faithful” (pistos) is the first word in the Greek text. The NASB is the one English version I could find that reflects the emphatic position. Paul is saying, “Above all else, God is faithful. You can trust Him. You can depend upon Him.” This is confirmed by the fact that God “calls” believers. The present tense verb “calls” stresses that God does not merely call Christians once and then leave them on their own. Instead, God continues to call the followers of Christ. God’s call mirrors the assertion in 1:4—God has chosen me. How do I know God has chosen me? First and foremost, His Word tells me so. Second, He is experientially calling me with His still small voice. His Spirit is at work in me all the time, prompting me to an increase in faith, love, and hope.

 

You understand this. We hear cell phones all around us: at work, at church, at the mall, and at home. There’s no escape. Someone always seems to be trying to track us down. This is also true of God. When you hear a cell phone, let it be a reminder to yourself that God is calling you. He wants to have a dynamic relationship with you. But you must answer His call. Don’t screen His call and let it go to voicemail. Instead, respond to God’s call upon your life for continual growth and intimacy in Him.

Paul continues to emphasize God’s preservation of the believer by stating: “He also will bring it to pass.” Think of those seven words: “He also will bring it to pass.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Not “He may bring it to pass,” “He could bring it to pass,” or “He’ll bring it to pass if He feels like it.” Not even “He will bring it to pass if we do our part.” There is just a simple declarative statement—“He also will bring it to pass.” When everything is said and done, it is not our grip on grace but God’s grip on us (John 10:28-29). Salvation is assured because it begins and ends with God (Rom 8:28-39).

 

Let me suggest six ways these verses should affect us:

 

First, God’s grace should give us enormous confidence in God. If you have doubted God, doubt no longer. He is faithful to keep His promises. He has ordained that someday you will be like the Lord Jesus inside and out. And He is working even now to make you a better person. Don’t doubt His purposes, even though you can’t always see His hand at work.

 

  • Second, God’s grace ought to give you assurance of salvation.Sometimes believers struggle with assurance because we don’t “feel” saved. But feelings have nothing to do with it. If you feel saved that’s good, and you should be grateful. But if you don’t “feel” saved, trust God to keep His word anyway. Salvation rests not on your fickle feelings but on the unchanging promises of a God who cannot lie.

 

  • Third, God’s grace ought to give you motivation to grow.After all, if God has said He is going to sanctify you, you can rest assured that you will be sanctified—whether you want to be or not! Your only choice is whether or not you will cooperate with God. Some of us get better slower than necessary because we fight against God’s purposes. We harbor wrong attitudes—lust, bitterness, pride, sloth, envy, and all the rest—and then we wonder why it’s taking us so long to get better. A little cooperation goes a long way in the area of sanctification.

 

  • Fourth, God’s grace ought to give us perseverance in prayer.Sometimes I think we stop praying two days before the answer is about to come from heaven. I know many Christians who have struggled for years with certain behavior patterns and then given up simply because they were so discouraged. But Paul tells us that God is always at work, moving us toward a time when we will be perfect in every respect. Even in this life we can make huge progress as Christians. It’s just that the progress often comes slowly and in small increments. So we ought to keep on praying precisely because we believe God is at work in us even when we don’t see it.

 

  • Fifth, God’s grace ought to develop patience toward others.After all, if God is not finished with you yet, He’s not finished with them either. And if you want them to be patient with your weaknesses, they should expect the same in return from you.

 

  • Finally, God’s grace ought to teach us gratitude for every tiny step in the right direction.Some people want to fly before they run, run before they walk, and walk before they crawl. But that’s rarely what happens. More often, our spiritual progress comes in one tiny baby step after another. It’s “little by little, day by day” that we grow into the image of Jesus. Therefore, let us take heart in every tiny step we take and in every tiny bit of progress our friends and loved ones make. For each baby step forward comes directly from the hands of a loving Father who is at work in ways we cannot see and probably couldn’t even imagine.

 

In order to maintain spiritual health we must remember where our spiritual strength lies. We cannot work out our salvation on our own (Phil 2:12-13). We cannot make ourselves holy by our own strength. The only way to develop and maintain spiritual strength is to depend entirely on the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives. Today, will you prepare for Christ’s coming by getting a grip on grace? Will you rest in the promises of God?

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) noted that our problem isn’t trusting God; it’s in trusting God only.

Will you completely trust in your faithful God?

[We are called to pray for spiritual dependence. This is especially important because our Christian growth ultimately depends upon God’s work in and through us.]

  1. Respond for spiritual growth (5:25-28).

In this second section, Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with three requests and a final prayer.

  • Request #1: “Brethren, pray for us” (5:25).Paul asks the church to pray for him and his coworkers. The present tense verb “pray” indicates that Paul wants the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (5:17). This means throughout the day, Paul yearns for the church to remember him in prayer. Interestingly, Paul seldom focuses on his own needs; however, he always acknowledges his need for prayer. Typically, Paul’s prayer requests focus on the need to be faithful to the Lord in sharing the gospel (e.g., Eph 6:19-20). The fact that Paul requests prayer demonstrates his humility and dependency upon the Lord. Paul rightly believes that prayer releases the power of God for effective ministry. Of course, we believe this as well, but it is often difficult to intentionally apply our knowledge. So allow me to share three opportunities.

First, consider making a priority of our prayer list. In my busyness, it is all too easy to put my need for personal prayer last on my to-do list.

Second, consider becoming one of our Watchman on the Wall prayer warriors. One of our pressing needs is to recruit prayer warriors who will pray during the week and on Sunday mornings. I believe that this is an incredibly fruitful ministry. “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), had hundreds of faithful people pray in his church’s basement boiler room before he preached. He used to say, “This is where the power falls!” He was so right! Great preaching and a great response to preaching is the result of great prayer. Whenever someone asked Spurgeon the secret to his ministry his reply was simple: “My people pray for me.” Would you be willing to sign up today to serve in the Watchman on the wall prayer ministry?

How strong is your supportive tie to those in your church? Can they depend on your prevailing prayer for them? We fulfill God’s purpose in our lives through the prayers of our fellow Christians. Living the Christian life depends on teamwork. If we play on a team, we depend on our teammates to fulfill their role. Soldiers depend heavily on other soldiers in their company. Their lives are at stake if others fail to fulfill their function. Every area of life needs teamwork. This is no less true in the church. Part of our teamwork is praying for one another. This is something that everyone can do. Get a grip on grace means you pray for other believers.

 

  • Request #2: “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (5:26).This is one of five such exhortations in the New Testament. The “holy kiss” was not a sensual thing. The kiss was intended to break down potential barriers of gender, race, and social rank. It was meant to be a symbolic expression of love, support, unity, and community. The holy kiss acknowledges our spiritual oneness. Christians have come into the family of God, which knows even closer ties than those of any human family (Matt 12:46-50).

 

A proper understanding of our Christian oneness requires understanding that fellowship is a part of worship. This means you shouldn’t make a mad dash for the door at the close of the service. I know we joke about this, but after (or during) the closing prayer, some members escape like rats leaving a sinking ship. This isn’t God’s will. Rather, He wants us to intentionally and strategically seek people out for the purpose of encouragement. This means I must look for ways to express affection to my fellow brothers and sisters. The Phillips paraphrase “Americanizes” this verse with this rendering, “Give a handshake all around among the brotherhood.” I don’t think this catches Paul’s intent. It is more than that. Although several people (including one complete stranger in Hawaii) have given me a holy kiss, there are other ways to express love. You can give a hug. You can put your arm around someone’s shoulder. You can give someone a double-handed shake, expressing warmth. The method is not that important, but the motive certainly is. Getting a grip on grace means you love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Request #3: “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (5:27). The word translated “adjure” is a little strange since we rarely use the word. “Adjure” occurs only here in the New Testament and means “to put someone under an oath.” Paul is saying in effect, “I obligate you with an oath before the Lord.” The “you” refers to the leadership of the church (see 5:12-13). Paul puts them under a solemn oath to have the Word read and explained. He calls them to do so by the authority of the Lord. The written Scriptures must be read and explained. Without God’s Word, the church falters. There is a buzz right now that is downplaying the role of preaching. Some would suggest it is enough to have community and do outreach. That is fallacious! The church apart from the Word is anemic.

 

Today, as your teacher, I commit myself to reading and teaching God’s Word. Will you commit yourself to responding to God’s Word as we worship the Lord? Will you also make it your practice to come to church prepared to hear from God? You can do this by reflecting on the passage you know is scheduled to be preached. You can ask the Lord to clear your mind and help you to focus on His Word. Getting a grip on grace means you take God’s Word seriously.

 

Paul closes the book of 1 Thessalonians with a final prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (5:28). The epistle began with the note of grace (1:1) and ends with the same note. Paul begins and ends all of his thirteen letters with a mention of grace. The reason for this repetitious emphasis is Paul wants us to know that we cannot live apart from God’s grace. The life-changing grace of God saves us. It also sustains us and never fails to strengthen us. Paul’s longing is that the unmerited favor of God would continue to be his readers’ experience and source of joy. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus that makes our salvation and sanctification possible from start to finish.

This natural lead-in begs the question, “Have you received God’s grace in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?” If you haven’t, would you please do so today?

Living in peace

“Practice makes perfect!” How many times have you heard this expression? No doubt, countless times. Yet, we all know too well that “practice doesn’t make perfect!” I wish it did, but it doesn’t. The hope is that practice makes permanent. Nowhere is this more critical than in the Christian faith. Christianity is nothing if it is not practical. Or, perhaps I should say, “The Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced.”

In 1 Thess 5:12-22, we come to one of the most practical passages on how to do church in the entire New Testament. Perhaps you have wondered, “What are the essentials for a happy, thriving church family? How can I make my local church a more spiritual place?” These eleven verses flesh out what it means to live soberly (5:6, 8). Paul provides four “checkpoints” that will enable us to function wisely in the body of Christ.

 

  1. Honor church leaders (5:12-13).

In this first section, Paul gives three specific exhortations on how to honor those in spiritual leadership.

  • Respect your leaders (5:12).Paul writes, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” The word translated “appreciate” (oida) ordinarily means “know.” However, in this context it means “recognize, respect, or honor.” The notion of appreciation is found in the second request in 5:13, so it seems best to understand this word to refer to respect. There is the need in every congregation to recognize and respect those God has raised up to lead, particularly those pastors and elders who “diligently labor” and provide “instruction.”

Someone has suggested five ways to get rid of your pastor:

(1) Sit up front, smile, and say “amen” every time he says something good. He will preach himself to death.

(2) Pat him on the back and tell him what good work he is doing in the church and community. He will work himself to death.

(3) Increase your offering in the church. He will suffer from shock.

(4) Tell him you’ve decided to share your faith and win souls for Christ. He will probably suffer a heart attack.

(5) Get the whole church to band together and pray for him. He will get so efficient that some other church will hear about him and give him a call. That will take him off your hands.

 

  • Esteem your leaders (5:13a).Paul urges the Thessalonians to “esteem them [their leaders] very highly in love because of their work.” The word translated “very highly” (huperekperissos) is a triple compound, which means abundant to the point of being excessive. You may say, “That’s laying it on a little thick, don’t you think? It’s one thing to esteem my leaders, I don’t know about holding them so high that it goes beyond all measure. That’s ridiculous!” Oh, really? I can tell you that to ignore this word is to ignore God’s Word to you. I have had so many people try to temper their encouragement because they are fearful that if they say something too positive it might “go to my head.” We frequently run the risk of taking our leaders for granted. Yet, Paul says we are to “esteem” our leaders because of their work. In both 5:12 and 13, he emphasizes recognizing and esteeming work.

It’s not easy to serve as a pastor, elder, deacon, or spiritual leader. The battles and burdens are many, and sometimes the encouragements are few. It is dangerous when a church family takes their leaders for granted and fails to pray for them, work with them, and encourage them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • These verses should not be restricted to pastors only. They apply to anyonewho has a leadership position in the local church.

Do you know who is teaching your children in Sunday school?

Do you know your teenager’s youth leaders?

Have you ever tried to find the names of the leaders of the ministries that touch your family? You need to know them by name. You need to respect these spiritual leaders who freely and sacrificially serve the body.

Unless we are actively involved in volunteer service, we will never understand the great sacrifices that many of our fellow believers make. Today, will you look for a leader that you can encourage? Write an email or a hand-written card. Bring a gift to this leader. Verbally affirm this leader. Ask how you can pray for this person. Offer to help this person in their ministry or in their home. Practice makes permanent.

  • Live in peace with your leaders (5:13b). Paul closes this section by commanding the Thessalonians to “Live in peace with one another.” I think living in peace with your spiritual leaders means you speak highly of them and refuse to criticize them. I find it rather interesting that very few people will criticize leaders to their face, but they will shred them behind their back. I don’t think that it is because people are intimidated by most leaders, rather they know what they are saying is not honoring to God. Yet in churches throughout America, gossip and slander continue to be the most prevalent sins committed. In fact, more churches have been split by malicious gossip than by all the doctrinal heresies that have ever been invented. Thus, we should take this sin seriously. If you hear another brother or sister ripping on a leader, rebuke that person. Don’t tolerate this sin or you are an accomplice who will be held guilty. If someone is talking about my wife, I’m not going to listen in and remain quiet. I’m not going to worry about hurting that person’s feelings. Instead, I’m going to rebuke that person. Too many Christians are afraid of offending someone so we let a leader be run into the ground. This is sin! Perhaps today you need to make a commitment that you will not criticize a spiritual leader. Or maybe you need to commit to not listening in while others criticize your leaders. If there was more praise coming from God’s people, there would be more power in our ministries. Tragically, many members have never said a kind word to those who are in leadership. Today, commit to a ministry of encouragement.

[We should esteem church leaders. Why? Because this showcases the unity of the church.]

  1. Shepherd church members (5:14-15).

Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the responsibilities of the church to each other. In 5:14, he urges church members to follow a four-fold job description.

  • Admonish the unruly (5:14a).“Unruly” (ataktous) is a military expression that means “to break ranks, to get out of line.” It refers to soldiers who are undisciplined, irresponsible, and idle. In the church there are unruly soldiers who are disrespectful, slanderous, and lazy. When a brother or sister becomes unruly Paul says we are to “admonish them.” Paul did this very thing with those who refused to work in 2 Thess 3:6-15.

The word translated “admonish” is an exceedingly strong Greek word that literally means to “put into the mind” (cf. 5:12). You might say we are to talk some sense into them. It implies a face-to-face confrontation, precisely the kind of situation most of us want to avoid at all costs. It is painful, difficult work. It is very scary. To lighten the severity of this responsibility, I always think of walking up to an unruly person, knocking on their head, and saying, “Hello, hello? Is anyone home?” Upon hearing a reply, I would cram God’s truth into their heads. Obviously, it is never this easy, yet it is often necessary to admonish a fellow believer. The key, however, is to do so with grace. Someone has that said for every negative statement people need at least five or six positive comments to overcome the discouragement that results from negative feedback. Generally speaking, any negative input should always be preceded by a few positive words and then followed up with a few more positive comments. Will you make a commitment to admonish unruly people in your life? Don’t call on a pastor. This verse is your responsibility. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Encourage the fainthearted (5:14b).The word translated “fainthearted” (oligopsuchos) literally means to be “small-souled.” In the Greek Old Testament this word refers to discouragement due to trials. Paul, then, could be referring either to those who were shaken by the persecutions that the church had to endure (2:14; 3:1-5) or to those who were anxious about various aspects of Christ’s return (4:13-5:11). In the church, the fainthearted can describe those who are overwhelmed with problems. It especially includes those who shrink before persecution, who fall under great temptation, who face trials at home, at work, at school, who find the Christian life one continual struggle. Paul says we are to “encourage” such people. That is, we are to put courage into them. We are to verbally affirm hurting people. We are to use our words to breathe hope into them. A word of encouragement can make the difference between giving up and going on. We must teach the “small-souled” that the trials of life will help to enlarge them and make them stronger in the faith. Who do you know that you can encourage today? Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Help the weak (5:14c).The word “weak” can refer to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual weakness. This third group of people is a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of gas. They are the ones who are exhausted, burned out, wrung out, and worn out. They are morally, spiritually, and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on. Often, these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and a growing church never sees them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, and hurting. The greatest way that you can help the weak is by praying for them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be patient with everyone (5:14d).If we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience. Who are the children or teens that are driving you crazy right now? They may be our future pastors and missionaries. When my brother and I were growing up, we were the wild hellions at our church. My next door neighbors predicted that my brother and I would end up in Juvie! Who would have guessed I would become a pastor? No one but God, I’m sure! A simple rule is: Be as patient with others as God is with you.

 

Paul closes this second section in 5:15 with a very relevant verse: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This verse is speaking of Christian relations in both the local and universal church. The phrases “one another” and “all people” are used elsewhere in 1 Thessalonians of fellow believers in the local church and surrounding region. The idea is if we can graciously forgive and bless our spiritual family members, we can live in peace with unbelievers as well. Thus, when others reject you and even oppose you, continue to serve in love and be ready to forgive. We show our love for God by making a conscious decision to love His children. Of course, this requires divine enablement. We tend to want to bury the hatchet in our brother or sister’s back! Yet, to return evil for good is natural; to return good for evil is supernatural.

Who is really getting on your nerves: a boss, a neighbor, a classmate? Maybe it is a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? How can you be especially kind to this person? What tangible acts of blessing can you pass on to this person? Will you do so today? This will free you from a root of bitterness (cf. Heb 12:15).

[We should shepherd church members because this is how we express love for God.]

  1. Discover God’s Will (5:16-18).

The age-old question that pastors are frequently asked is: “How can I find God’s will for my life?” Paul says that we don’t need to worry about finding God’s will, we merely need to find God and then His will finds us. Paul puts it like this: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In these three verses are three commands that will help us to discover God’s will.

 

  • Be joyful (5:16).This is one of approximately 70 New Testament commands to rejoice. This ought to remind us that choosing joy is a decision of the will. While happiness depends on what is happening around us, joy is independent of happenings. This means we must remember that nothing merely happens by chance. God is working out His sovereign plan in our lives, therefore we must rejoice. This doesn’t mean life won’t hurt, but even in the midst of the hurts we can rejoice, because we know that God is at work and in control. Consistent rejoicing is only possible if we remember three principles. First, we must remember who God is (Phil 3:1). Nehemiah 8:10states, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy has its roots in a deep thankfulness for who God is. If we focus on God’s character and attributes (e.g., sovereign, merciful, faithful, loving), we will always have plenty of cause to rejoice. Second, rejoicing is possible if we then begin to recall what God has done, is doing, and will do. We can especially rejoice in what God has given us in Christ (John 4:36; Acts 13:48; Phil 4:4). As we focus on our Lord, we will exude joy. Someone once said, “A coffee break is good; a prayer break is better; a praise break is best.” Can you rejoice in the Lord today? Finally, we can also rejoice in what God is doing in and through other believers. Paul only uses the word “joy” one other time in 1 Thessalonians and he uses it of his own joy for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians (3:9; cf. 2:19-20). As we begin to keep our finger on the spiritual pulse of God’s kingdom program, we will observe that He is doing great things throughout our country and world. Even though you may not feel like God is at work in your life, can you take your eyes off of yourself and see how He is at work elsewhere?

 

  • Be prayerful (5:17).Praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. The idea of the present tense imperative is not that believers should pray every minute of the day, but that we should offer prayers to God repeatedly. We should make it our habit to be in the presence of God. The Greek adverb translated “without ceasing” (adialeiptos) is used outside of the New Testament of a hacking cough. Have you had a cold recently? Then you know what it’s like to cough spontaneously, right? There are times you just can’t stop yourself. The same ought to be true of prayer. We should be continuously offering up prayers to the Lord because we just can’t help ourselves. We often go through life in such a hurry and so overwhelmed by our problems that we think we don’t have time to pray. That sense of hurriedness can be spiritually devastating.

Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil; it IS the devil.”

When you pray, you are forced to slow down. You are forced to shift the focus of your thoughts from yourself to God. You stop thinking of how impossible everything is for you, and you start thinking of how possible everything is for God. You stop thinking of how weak you are, and you start thinking of how powerful God is. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, this may mean that you pray when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re home-schooling your kids or driving them to school, when you’re cleaning the house or doing the dishes. If you’re a career man or woman, you can pray during your commute, when you stretch at your desk, during your lunch break, before you return home for the day. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be thankful (5:18). The apostle Paul didn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances, but “in” all circumstances. Thanksgiving was the fuel of Paul’s prayers. Note: the Greek word eucharisteite(“give thanks”) is an active, present tense imperative. This means that thanksgiving is not an option or a suggestion; it is a command! If we are to be properly devoted and alert in prayer, we must consciously focus on expressing gratitude to God. All of life’s circumstances are not good, but there will always be something in those circumstances for which to give thanks. Paul uses the word “thanks” only one other time in 1 Thess 2:13, where he thanks God for the Thessalonians receiving the Word. This demonstrates that there are many things that we can be thankful for. What are you thankful for today? Will you express gratitude to God and others? Gratitude is likely the greatest evidence that you and I are filled with the Holy Spirit. God has blessed you and me, but He expects us to respond with hearts full of gratitude.

 

These three verses are God’s will for you.” Most of us want to know what God’s specific will is for our lives—who we’re supposed to marry, where we’re supposed to live, what job we should have. Yet God tends to give us freedom in these areas. But if He does want to reveal Himself more specifically to you, He isn’t about to do so until you first obey His general will. His general will is that you be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Do you want specific direction? Do you want to know the will of God? It is found in 5:16-18. Be joyful, prayerful, and grateful. If you’re not obeying these commands, you’re not walking in the Spirit. You’re out of the will of God, no matter how many gifts of the Spirit you might be exhibiting in your life. You may say, “Well, I don’t like that.” I don’t like it much either, but I didn’t say it. God said it. The Bible is not only a sword, it is a hammer. Have you been hammered by the Word of God? Will you seek to obey these three commands so that God can reveal more of Himself to you?

[We must discover God’s will. How can we do this? By pursuing God and seeking to discover Him.]

  1. Worship with wisdom (5:19-22).

In this fourth and final section, Paul tells us how to worship in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). He writes, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Paul uses “quench” metaphorically to speak of hindering the operations of the Holy Spirit. People who refuse to submit to the above commands “quench” the Spirit. Those who usurp the ministry of the Spirit in the local church throw cold water on God’s work in the congregation. Do you know what it means to quench the Holy Spirit? What do you do when you quench your thirst? You drink some water and the thirst is put away. When you quench a fire, you put it out—you smother it. How do you quench the Spirit of God? You quench the Holy Spirit by not doing something He tells you to do.

Paul now relates this specifically to prophecies. The gift of prophecy is when a man or woman of God speaks a word to build up the body of Christ. Paul says, “Don’t despise prophecies.” Yet, he also commands us to examine every prophecy. This can be done by asking four questions: (1) Does the prophecy agree with Scripture? (2) Does the prophecy edify those who hear it? (3) Do other believers agree that the prophecy is from God? (4) Does the person with the prophecy present it humbly?

 

Paul is saying, basically, look before you leap. You don’t have to be cynical, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little skeptical. Investigate. Test things. Don’t allow yourself to be spoon-fed. When you hear a sermon or read a book about spiritual matters, think it through. Compare it with Scripture. Don’t be gullible. Reason it out. Test everything, Paul says, and hold on to that which is good, reject that which isn’t good. It’s not always easy to think things through, but it’s necessary. The more you practice discernment, the stronger you become spiritually.

Paul has said, “Practice makes permanent!” Will you make it your goal to practice Christianity? Will you live out your faith so that your life makes a difference in your world?