Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Have you ever felt that ‘your suffering’ is worse than everyone else’s? I know I have! The fact is, everywhere you turn, people are suffering in different ways and more so since the onset of this pandemic. Thousands have suffered physically from the virus (I’ve just received another text from a friend who’s tested positive) and many have lost love ones; health care workers are having to shield from their families; young children and teachers face the upheaval of ever-changing education provision; young parents have to be employees, teachers, parents, and spouses without leaving the house; teenagers are unable to do the things that most of us took for granted like meeting up with mates and sitting exams; university students are paying thousands of pounds in tuition and accommodation costs for a questionable Uni experience; young people are working from home with no office buzz, no gym, no social life; employees are furloughed or face redundancy; business owners face the threat of going under; those with medical conditions live in fear; those with mental health issues are robbed of community support; those with aged-parents in care homes are unable to see them; many with grown up children living elsewhere are unable to visit. So the list goes on. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean we’re immune from any of this suffering. How then does my faith in Christ make a difference in all this? Let’s focus on these verses in 1 Thessalonians. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (5:16-18)
Be Joyful Always
On the surface it seems that as followers of Jesus we’ve always got to have a smile on our face, be upbeat and positive, and in the words of the Life of Brian to, ‘always look on the bright side of life’ (at which point some of you will begin whistling). However, joy doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s not an inherent characteristic but rather a supernatural fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives, along with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23) His Spirit doesn’t come and go like a lodger, but he took up permanent residence in us from the very moment that we first trusted Christ. Even in the midst of our ‘pandemic suffering’ whatever it looks like, we can be reassured that as followers of Jesus we are never alone. God is with us by His Spirit. As we seek to live in step with His Spirit rather than our old sinful nature then joy will be the result rather than despair. This will be evident in our lives and is the first way that our faith will make a difference.
Generally, if we’re pretty confident of our ability to accomplish something, we are much less likely to pray. One of the positives of Covid has been the humbling of such man-centredness and an increased dependence upon the Lord, reflected in prayer. As a result of the completed work of Christ on the Cross and his High Priestly ministry on our behalf 24/7, we can be bold in prayer even though we’re suffering. As the writer of Hebrews says- “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (4:16) We may not always know what to pray and we may be in utter despair because of our circumstances (eg Psalm 88) but we can always cry out to the Lord. I’ve been so encouraged this past year by the commitment of many of you to tune in to the Zoom prayer meeting every Sunday night. This past Sunday we had over 30 for the Mission Prayer Meeting, which is a record! Hopefully these gatherings are indicative of a greater prayerfulness in our lives at a personal and family level. This is a second way our faith makes a difference; it encourages us to pray.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances
At a recent youth meeting on Zoom, as everyone was sharing about things to pray for, one of the youngsters said this- “Rather than thinking about what you don’t have, it’s really important to focus on what you do have and be thankful!” This was followed by stunned silence as we all realised that they’d absolutely nailed it. When our minds are filled with cravings and desires for what we don’t have then we won’t be content and we won’t be thankful. On the other hand, when we train our minds to focus on the blessings that are ours in Christ then contentment and thanksgiving will flow. If I am a Christian these things are true in my life- sins forgiven, eternal life, adopted into God’s family, the hope of heaven, his love that nothing and no-one can destroy, the presence of His Spirit and more. I have tried to make it my practice from time to time in my quiet time to begin by writing down things that I can be thankful for from the previous day. These will rarely be earth-shattering, history-shaping events but they remind me that our heavenly Father cares for his children and He is faithful. It’s not that we’re meant to thank God for the pandemic, but we can have an attitude of thanksgiving for all our blessings. This is a third way that our faith makes a difference.
For this is God’s Will for You in Christ Jesus
When we consider God’s will in our lives it is often associated with making big decisions- what job should I do, who should I marry, should I marry, where should we live, where should our children go to school etc. These are important matters and it’s right to pray about them and seek God’s wisdom. But, if I’m a follower of Jesus, I can be sure of this. That to be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances is his will for me daily. As Paul says, “This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It won’t always be easy. Sometimes we’ll want to wallow in self-pity or have a good old grumble. Satan will try to keep us focused on our problems and not look to the Lord. The world’s mantra is that we can do anything if we set our minds on it (ie we’re our own Saviours). But whatever we’re going through the Lord is with us, we can cry out to Him, and He’s always faithful. That’s the faith that makes a difference.