rejoice, pray, give thanks

As Paul raced toward the conclusion of his first letter to the believers of Thessalonica, he wanted to give a final list of bullet-point exhortations. He says in verse 12, “give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you.” In verse 14: “warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Verse 15: “See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” And then, in verse 16: “Rejoice always!” What’s interesting about this particular appearance of joy is the next two verses: “Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that? Read it again: “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I wonder how often I’ve fallen down on these points. As I look upon my life, I know that there are moments where I’ve failed on each of these commands. However, what interests me is that I believe there have been more times that I missed the rejoicing and giving thanks than I have the praying.

Let me explain. The fact that Paul sandwiches constant prayer between rejoicing and giving thanks would seem to imply that he thought there was a relationship between the three. Indeed, if joy truly comes from the certainty that better things are coming, it is logical that such an expectation would inspire me to pray more often, for more stuff. Furthermore, if I’m praying more often, for more stuff, it would seem that I would be compelled to give thanks in a whole lot more. And what impresses me today is that the opposite would also seem to be true. If I’m giving thanks more often, it would encourage me to trust God with more. Thus, I would pray more. And as my faith builds by recognizing what God has done and looking forward to what He’s going to do, my joy should swell as well.

Yes, I think there must be a symbiotic relationship between joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. And so, if I’m lacking in any one area of this triangle, it would probably be fitting to check on the other areas to see where I’m lacking. For instance, if I’m struggling to be joyful, am I praying? Am I giving thanks? If I’m having a hard time with praying, am I giving thanks? Am I rejoicing?

This may be the clearest prescription for increasing joy that I have found thus far in my two-year study of the thing. In fact, as a leader, this may be one of my favorite types of tips because it is immediately actionable: I can do something about it right now. I love it when I find this sort of thing in Scripture.

And now, I think I shall go and do exactly what Paul recommends so that my joy may increase: I’m going to pray and give thanks!

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