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“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
The lives of those who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ are filled with both victory and defeat. With success and failure. With prosperity and hardships. With joy and suffering. Paul describes what a servant of God may expect as a result of his obedience to Christ in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. Some, however, are misguided and believe that the life of a Christian in this world is free of pain and full of comfort. But, Jesus never promised a life of comfort and easy-living for His disciples. Instead, He told them to take up their cross every day and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus also warns them that “in this world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, ESV).
And so all Christians will go through tough times and endure hardships. Are you going through difficult times now? Is it from:
Anxiety or stress in your marriage?
Problems with the kids?
Personal illness? Illness in the family?
Out of a job?
The list can go on and on. While a typical response, perhaps even a natural response, to these difficulties could be depression, fear, anger, and hopelessness, should this be the response of a follower of Jesus? 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice it doesn’t say to be “joyful only when things are going your way,” but rather “in all circumstances.” Indeed, this is not by any means an easy thing to do. It is hard and seems downright impossible at times. But it is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is His will that you be joyful in your good times and bad times. To give Him glory for who He is regardless of your current situation.
Take a step back for your situation for a minute. Have you reminded yourself that you are loved and accepted as you are by the Creator of the universe? That you are intimately and personally loved by your Lord and Savior? That you were created in His image, handcrafted to do good works that He has prepared for you in advance (Ephesians 2:10)? That He in His infinite wisdom and power will work all things for good for those who love Him, which includes you, remember (Romans 8:28)? Did you forget that you are His sheep and He is your Shepherd? Did you forget that He laid down His life for His sheep? Don’t you remember that you are His beloved? That He calls you His friend (John 15:15)? Have you reminded yourself that He is your provider? Protector? Healer? That He is your strength and shield? That He is the mighty rock on which you can stand? A mighty warrior that fights for you? That intercedes for you? Did you forget that He rejoices and delights over you (Zephaniah 3:17)? Do you remember that He is your all in all? Your everything?
Have you forgotten that He came and died for you personally so that you can be reconciled back to God and experience the joy, love, and grace of God? Did you forget that you are loved unconditionally, relentlessly, and completely by your Lord and Savior and you have done nothing to deserve it?
Whatever situation you are in, these truths should bring joy to your heart. Perhaps even a longing for the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It is in remembering the free gift of His love and grace for you that you will have the ability to “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
I think it comes down to a matter of perspective. One of my good friends has this way of helping me realign my perspective back to the Lord. If I am stressing or anxious about something, he puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eyes, and tells me, “Jimmy, don’t worry. You are going to Heaven.” Such a simple thing, but it always calms me down. It refocuses my sights back on Jesus as opposed to the worries and concerns of the world. It does not free me of my responsibility, but it gives me comfort and joy to remind myself of my ultimate and eternal destination.
When it comes to our suffering, I feel how we respond depends on our perspective. If we focus on worldly things, then we run the risk of becoming more stressed or anxious, more depressed, more lonely, more hopeless. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus and His infinite love for us, we can find joy in the midst of our suffering. We can find freedom from the prison that anxiety, stress, despair, depression, loneliness, and hopelessness can put us in. By fixing our eyes on Him, we have hope that, with His help and strength, we can endure the hardship and grow closer and more dependent on Him through the process. And this hope is more than mere wishful thinking, but rather a guarantee, for He who guides you is faithful and loves you.
Even though it is hard, do not let suffering and hardships shift your perspective off of Jesus. Do not give the enemy a chance to sway you with self-pity and despair to stop praising God. And don’t let arrogance and pride move your gaze from Him to yourself during joyful, “easy” times, either. Rather, in all circumstances, be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks for this is God’s will for you. I pray that we may all fight ferociously to keep our eyes fixed on our Lord and Savior, no matter what our situation is.
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