Bible Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
God’s will is not for you to be happy but rather to equip you to choose joy! Join us as we talk about how to live out His will in your life. #1Thessalonians #ThisIsLiving #DareToVenture
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Life Group Discussion Guide: God’s Will for Your Life
Stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, bitter, jealous, cynical, negative: Grumpy Old Man Disease.
For some people, life has just been brutal so you understand why those words describe their demeanor and attitude. However, it’s funny how those words can begin to describe all of us even when we don’t have a logical reason for why!
I’m a case in point. There have been highly stressful times in my life where circumstances made it explainable. But then there have been to many other times in my life where there was no explanation!
Now before we go beating ourselves up about this you need to know that the Bible has much to say on this subject. Countless times throughout the Bible we are either encouraged to be positive in some way or just flat out told to! If it’s in there that much it must be because we have a hard time with it.
So, today’s passage is one of those where we are just flat out told to live in a positive way. Not just in some generic humanistic way based on philosophy, religion, or good intentions, but in a very specific way that is totally found in the Gospel. That is, if you want to truly experience living, if you don’t want your life characterized as a grumpy old man who is always stressed out, anxious, depressed, frustrated, bitter, jealous, cynical, or negative then you need to do this.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Now there are three very clear commands on how we can have a truly positive life experience both for ourselves and everybody around us. But I want to start with what separates these commands from every world religion and philosophy that has recommend similar things. You see Paul doesn’t just give three basic commands but he places those commands in a VERY SPECIFIC context.
Paul says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
These are not just three commands by Paul to the church but literally, God’s will for us! It is God’s WILL that we live this way. But even deeper, these are what came to us as a gift to us in Christ. It is GOD’s design for living which means they are more than what He wants for us or commands for us.
What do I mean by that?
God’s will for you to truly experience living is made known and empowered by all that Christ is, has done, and will do.
This principle is not just to understand what the commands are but more importantly to actually have a chance to do them!
The gift that God has given us in Christ includes very clear commands for living. They are made possible by the very person that Christ is, what he has done, and what he will do!
So what are these commands?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 gives three commands concerning God’s will for us to truly live life!
It’s God’s will that we choose attitudes and actions that are positive, optimistic, and happy!
16 Rejoice always, … for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (5:16-18)
This is a command for the kind of attitude and actions we are to have. Its God’s will that we choose to live this way.
To rejoice means we choose to live with a positive attitude. It is a choice to be optimistic and happy, not upset, frustrated, negative, down, depressed, and cynical. We have to
- CHOOSE to be POSITIVE,
- CHOOSE to be OPTIMISTIC, and
- CHOOSE to be HAPPY
We choose that attitude and choose those actions.
Now some may say, “That is going to require me to act sometimes because sometimes I don’t feel positive, I don’t feel optimistic, and certainly don’t feel happy.”
That’s correct! Sometime it is an acting job. Here’s why.
Feelings follow our thoughts and actions and vice versa. It goes round and round. Paul is speaking here not to feelings but to the actions of our attitude and life. And yes, our attitude is an action. It’s a way of outwardly expressing how we feel without doing or saying anything. But it affects how we do or say everything.
So Paul says in all that, attitudes, actions, and obviously, words, choose to obey God and rejoice. Let your life be described as joy and watch how it also becomes true of how you feel.
Remember, this is the will of God in Christ for you. Christ didn’t die for you to mope or walk around angry or depressed. He died to give you life!
So Paul says to take the gift of life that’s he’s given you and use it. Act on it. Let it define you!
It’s why he said this in Philippians 4:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
But here’s what happens in life. I’ve noticed the older I get the more tempted I get towards grumpy old man syndrome.
The longer you live the more opportunities you miss, the more things have gone wrong. A guy who has played baseball for 10 years has struck out far more than a rookie. He’s missed far more opportunities to make the big play than the guy who just got started.
So as we grow older, the things that haven’t gone right (whether because of our failures or just life) have formed a noticeable hill or even a mountain for some. We’re tempted to look at the size of that mountain, even if it’s smaller than the mountain of all the things that have worked out, all the successes you have had. The fact is the longer you live the bigger the mountain of things that weren’t good, fun, enjoyable or were just flat out failures gets bigger and bigger.
The mountain you focus on will dictate your attitude and actions in life. It will dictate your experience in life. As we choose to keep focusing on that negative mountain, we develop an ever-increasing addiction to being upset, cynical, frustrated, angry, down. As we act on negativity, as we speak it and let our actions reflect it, our negative attitude continues to grow and GROW!
So what if you primarily focused on a different Hill: the one where Christ died? What if we focus on all we have in Christ, all that He is, all that He has done, all that He is doing and is going to do? If that’s where your eyes are fixed then you will choose to rejoice. Your attitude and actions will grow in joy, positivity, optimism, and happiness.
Does this mean it’s against God’s will to grieve and to be sorrowful? Because that’s certainly not happy.
No. Not at all!
Paul told us not to grieve as those who have no hope but he did not say not to grieve. He pointed to having real and actual grief that is still filled with hope.
This command simply moves that to a broader context. We can choose to be positive, optimistic, and happy even in the deepest pain and grief because we have life in Christ.
G.L. Green summed this up perfectly.
“The apostles never encourage believers to deny that adversity brings sadness and grief (see 4:13; 1 Pet. 1:6; Rom. 12:15), but they recognize that in the midst of the most agonizing situations the presence of God through his Spirit can infuse the soul with hope and the heart with joy. This joy is rooted deeply in the gospel (Luke 2:10–11) and became one of the primary distinctives of the Christian community.”
– Green, G. L., The Letters to the Thessalonians
The 2nd command concerning God’s will for us to truly live life is that…
It is God’s will that we live out a praying life.
17 pray without ceasing, … for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (5:17-18)
So what does it mean to “pray without ceasing?” What do I mean that its God’s will that we have a praying life?
Well, let me begin by saying I worded this point this way because I want you to remember to go buy a book called “A Praying Life.” It’s by a guy named Paul E. Miller. I agree with Paul Tripp’s evaluation of this book. It’s the first book on prayer that took me a long time to read because I kept putting it down wanting to pray.
Imagine that. A book about prayer in the Bible that makes you want to stop reading the book so you can pray. Awesome!
Here are a couple of quotes from the book.
“You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly … For example, a husband and wife who only talk in snippets to one another throughout the day would have a shallow relationship. You’d be business partners, not lovers. You can’t build a relationship by sound bites.” (Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p. 35, 37)
I underlined and highlighted stuff all over his book. Bet this quote nails what we are talking about here in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
“Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not God. Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of family mealtime. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center. (Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p. 8)
When he says to pray without ceasing, prayer is actually NOT the focus. Loving, trusting, and knowing God is.
Prayer is the conversation of a relationship with GOD. It’s this relationship that is the will of God. It’s why Christ came. It’s what we have in Christ.
Prayer is not the point nor the focus of His coming, but rather what takes place because of our prayer. It’s how we by faith live in that which Christ bought.
To pray without ceasing is to make prayer a consistent part of your life. It means to make fellowship with God, talking to God, and seeking to hear from God a normal part of what describes you. And thus God is what describes you.
“This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” He literally died so that this could actually become a reality for us. For God to abide in us and us in Him.
The 3rd command concerning God’s will for us is…
It’s God’s will that we give thanks no matter our circumstance because what we have in Christ is incredibly awesome!
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (5:18)
Not give thanks for every circumstance, but give thanks in all circumstances.
How? Well, let me tell first how not to.
It’s sad that sometimes to be grateful I have to look at how much better off I am than others. The day I got my latest left shoulder diagnosis, it was somebody else who is suffering 1,000 times more than me that made me realize I needed to start giving thanks!
Here’s the problem. When that happens, it makes me feel better off than them and thankful. But, the moment you move your vision just a little bit from that person you will likely see somebody better off than you. Somebody in a situation that I’m unable to have. This gets me feeling as if life has cheated me or I’ve blown my chance to experience life to its fullest. I start thinking God just took something from me because He wants to punish me. Now I’ll never be able to truly live the life that I deserved or should have had.
When I look at others worse off at me and thank God that’s not happening to me, I’m only inches away from seeing something that will lead me to the opposite experience.
So that is not the way to express consistent, sincere thankfulness in every circumstance in life. That’s a guaranteed way to end up totally self-centered and bi-polar.
The context of giving thanks is given to us by all Jesus is, has done and will do.
As a Christian, I always have all that Christ is and has given me to be grateful for. This includes a promise that no matter the circumstance I will have something to be thankful for. Listen to what Paul said to the church in Rome.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 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 gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
“This exhortation, however, is not the same as calling the church to give thanks for everything that comes their way, as if they were Stoics who believed that fate brought them what was destined to be their lot. That philosophy embraced the notion that the universe was rational and moved according to good purposes. Therefore whatever happened was precisely what was supposed to happen. The Stoic response was resignation to every situation that came their way. But the Christian approach is decidedly different since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good (Rom. 8:28) and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance (Rom. 8:31–39).”
No matter what our circumstance, we have something eternally huge to give thanks for. All that Christ is, has done, is doing, and will do gives us something to truly be grateful for if we understand at all what it is. Plus, we know that whatever horrible and tragic circumstance we are in, we can have faith that God is going to produce something through it that is eternally considered good. We can always be thankful for whatever is good.
So let me pull this all together with a challenge.
Are you making room in your life to actually know God so that you can rejoice and be thankful?
John of Landsburg, a 16th-century Catholic monk… imagined Jesus speaking personally to us: ‘As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief.’ (Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p. 46)
Even more alarming to me is what I read on page 37 of Miller’s book.
“If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life.” (Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p. 37)
So, do you trust in Jesus? Or do you trust in your own ability to create experiences, control circumstances, and perform to supply all you need to live life with joy and thankfulness. AKA: enjoy LIFE!
Do you say that you find strength in God but have nothing really to do with Him? Your life experience is getting ready to become a mess if that’s the case.
God built within us a need for a daily and weekly sabbath. To actually take time to pray. To talk with God, which means to read and meditate on God’s Word and pour our hearts out to Him. He wants us to rejoice in knowing Him. To be so grateful that He knows us and sought us out so we can seek Him that we make room to spend quality time with Him.
If you want the power to live filled with a genuine attitude of joy, to truly live with genuine joyful actions, to live as one who can genuinely give thanks in the most difficult situations, then you have to truly connect to the one who gives that kind of life.
If you’ve never given your life to Christ you need to start there. If you have given your life to Christ, but you’ve been busy trying to take it back, it’s time to start receiving the life He gives.
Eternal life is one that’s truly living. The one where I can say This is Living!
If you’d like to know more about life in Christ, click here to take your next step.