1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)16 Rejoice always,17 pray without ceasing,18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, tells us here that we are to have an attitude of joy, thanksgiving and prayer at all times, no matter the conditions or circumstances that surround us.
How is it possible to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in the wake of the horrors of Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, Chattanooga, New York and many others? Yet scripture, which we say is the word of God, tells us that it’s God’s will that we do these things at all times even in and during tragedy. All tragedy, no matter if it is national in scope like terrorist attacks aimed at a nation, it’s personal because individuals are the ones affected. Individuals die, individuals are wounded, individuals are affected physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Families, made up of individuals, are impacted forever.
It’s easy to say, rejoice, pray and give thanks we’re in church, surrounded by other Christians, or talking to our Christian friends. It’s easy for us, who are not going through tragic events, to say these things to those who are experiencing tragedy. But when we are the ones….how is this possible?
This doesn’t mean that we are to thank God for bad things and tragedies. We don’t thank Him for accidents, sickness, tragedy, etc. because He didn’t do or send them. God is not the author of evil that author is the devil, Satan. It’s an insult to God to thank Him for things He didn’t do.
John 8:44 (NKJV) You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
1 John 3:8 (NKJV) He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
Satan is good taking tragedy, which he causes by the way, and blaming it on God. If he can get people to believe the tragedy is from God he has an easy time in convincing them that God has failed and deserted them That’s when we hear things like “Why do you serve a God who does or allows these kinds of things”. Satan’s target is your mind and in destroying our faith in God.
What the scripture does mean is that we are to stay joyful no matter what’s happening because we have the Lord, and in Him we overcome no matter what.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV) Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
John 16:33 (NKJV) These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
We are to rejoice in the Lord in spite of what Satan or this world system throws at us.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit biologist and philosopher, once wrote, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Dictionary.com defines joy as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."
Our joy should rise above circumstances. This joy is not produced by something external. It is supernatural result of a life filled with the Holy Spirit.
James 1:2-3 (NKJV)2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.Remember what the angel told the shepherds when he announced Jesus’ birth?
Luke 2:10 (NKJV) Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
We have a choice. We can choose to live in an attitude of resentment, anger and fear or we can choose to pursue the joy of Christ. This is a joy that is impossible to describe.
Philippians 4:4-7 (NKJV)4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Joy which is better experienced than expressed because there are no words to describe it. It is a joy on account of the glory of God, which the believer lives in the hope and faith of; and by it saints may know a little what heaven itself will be. - Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
1 Peter 1:3-9 (NKJV)3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,9 receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls.
Christian joy is not dampened by affliction or other harsh circumstances, because it is rooted in one's unassailable relationship to God.
Philippians 2:18 (NKJV) For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.,
Philippians 3:1 (NKJV) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.
Philippians 4:4 (NKJV) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!)
In fact, joy may thrive in tribulation when a believer discerns the glorious purposes of God.
Romans 5:3-5 (NKJV)3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
James 1:2 (NKJV) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
Such joy is not self-generated but is the Spirit's fruit.
Galatians 5:22 (NKJV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, - The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
Prayer is attitude as well as activity. The attitude of devotion to God can be without ceasing, if the activity cannot. Paul illustrates his own command, for his letters are scented with the fragrance of prayer. Everything. All circumstances, even hardships and affliction. This, though singular, seems to embrace the three commands of 5:16, 17, 18, (rejoice, pray, give thanks). God's will includes constant joy, ceaseless prayer, and boundless thanks, attitudes made both necessary and possible in Christ Jesus. - The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.
The following are Excerpts from “Keys to the Kingdom” by Betty Miller)
“Our prayers should be in an attitude of praise even in the midst of our trials. We should lift our voices and praise the Lord like this, "Father, I praise You and love You, and no matter what the devil is doing to me I know that You shall bring me through victoriously! Show me what I need to do, Lord. Show me the door that I have opened to the enemy. I resist him in the name of Jesus, and I command him to leave with all of his oppression and attacks. Jesus, You are the Lord of my life, and I submit to You and will never deny You no matter what happens. Praise God!"
Psalm 34:1-4 (NKJV)1 I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.2 My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.4 I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.
We are to bless God at all times, not just when things go smoothly. We are to bless Him when things go wrong, too. We are to boast in the Lord even when all looks bleak. Our prayer should be similar to David's or one like this, "Father, I love and appreciate You. I know You are going to bring the answer I need because You are a good God, and You care for me. I trust You, Lord, no matter what I see with my natural eyes. I am looking through the eyes of faith, and I believe You are sending my answer. I love You, Lord, no matter what happens." When we keep this attitude of praise in the midst of our trials, we come through victoriously.”
None of these things are possible if you are trying to do it on your own. The only way to rejoice, pray, and give thanks amidst tragedy is with the help of God’s Spirit, The Holy Spirit.
John 14:15-18 (NKJV)15 "If you love Me, keep My commandments.16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:25-27 (NKJV)25 "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.
26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Being thankful at all times helps us to focus on the fact that God is in control and working all things together for good regardless of how they may seem to us. Our perspective is limited by time and space and God’s perspective has no limits. Because we are thankful and know that God is in control of everything and that He has no limitations we can say with conviction;
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
I don't mean that all your problems go away when you give thanks, but they stop being such a problem. What goes on around you no longer controls what’s going on within you. You start to live from the inside out.
Thanksgiving changes our mindset from that of a victim to that of a victor. You can't control the problems that come into your life but you can control how you respond.
Romans 8:31-39 (NKJV)31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Here’s an example of somebody being thankful in really tough times.
In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years’ War, German pastor Martin Rinkart is said to have buried 5,000 of his parishioners in one year, an average of 15 people a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this Thanksgiving table grace prayer for his children: “Now thank we all our God With heart and hands and voices Who wondrous things hath done, In whom His world rejoices. Who, from our mother’s arms, Hath led us on our way With countless gifts of love That still are ours today.”
Last year I battled feelings of confusion, anger, disillusionment, and a sadness that can suck the life out of you. There were certainly times that I didn’t feel very grateful. I told the folk in my Sunday morning Bible Study group that there were times that I doubted that God was willing to work on my behalf or the benefit of my wife, who went to be with the Lord because of cancer. My guess is that most if not all of you reading this post have been there. However we are told to be thankful even at those times.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NKJV)14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height--19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
A friend sent me this a few months ago.
Imagine the God of the universe speaking these words to you… ;
Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience—at times, blind obedience. To people who don’t know Me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank Me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.
Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity.
Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Yes, with the Holy Spirit who lives within us we can praise God even in tragedy.
This post is dedicated to the memory of the 49 people murdered in the terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL on Sunday morning June 12, 2016. I continue to pray for the comfort and peace of God for their friends and families.
This blog is for you! If you have any questions or topics you would like me to address please use the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.