During this time of year, especially here in the United States, our thoughts often turn homeward as families eagerly anticipate gathering together to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday—a special time to thank God for the blessings of the year, spend time with dear ones, and help those less fortunate.
As we all know, however, this year is very different. Due to the coronavirus, life has been disrupted in so many ways. Families and friends are discouraged from gathering together, many church congregations no longer meet in person, economic challenges are affecting people everywhere, and tragically, more than 1 million lives around the world have been lost to this deadly disease.
As we look back on the year 2020, it doesn’t seem as if there is much for which to be thankful! Nevertheless, we are urged in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Amazing! Right here in this short passage of Scripture, we are given a clear description of what God’s will is for each of us. It is to:
1. Rejoice always.
2. Pray without ceasing.
3. Give thanks in everything.
Why would God ask us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks, even in difficult circumstances?
In the Bible, we are given several examples of people who did just that. Perhaps one of the most powerful is found in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas were in the city of Philippi, preaching the gospel, when a demon-possessed girl began following them, crying out and causing a disturbance everywhere they went. We read about in Acts 16, beginning in verses 18 and 19: And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
False witnesses were brought in to testify against the two missionaries, who were then beaten mercilessly and thrown into the deepest, darkest part of the prison, with their bare feet locked tightly in the cruel stocks.
As they lay on the cold stone floor, bruised and bleeding, were Paul and Silas complaining about their terrible circumstances and the completely unfair treatment that put them there? No! Inverse 25 we read, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Amazing! They were praying and singing hymns to God! And notice the very important last part of this verse—the prisoners were listening to them.
Perhaps this gives us a clue as to at least one reason God invites us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances—because others are listening, watching how we deal with situations—and this provides a wonderful opportunity for the Lord to work through us as His witnesses.
In the case of Paul and Silas, God worked in a remarkable way. In verse 26 we read, “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”
Nevertheless, none of the prisoners escaped, and through the testimonies of Paul and Silas, many people were saved.
Commenting on this Biblical account, Ellen White wrote, “The apostles suffered extreme torture because of the painful position in which they were left, but they did not murmur. Instead, in the utter darkness and desolation of the dungeon, they encouraged each other by words of prayer and sang praises to God because they were found worthy to suffer shame for His sake. Their hearts were cheered by a deep and earnest love for the cause of their Redeemer. . . . With astonishment the other prisoners heard the sound of prayer and singing issuing from the inner prison. They had been accustomed to hear shrieks and moans, cursing and swearing . . . but never before had they heard words of prayer and praise ascending from that gloomy cell. Guards and prisoners marveled and asked themselves who these men could be, who, cold, hungry, and tortured, could yet rejoice” (Acts of the Apostles, pp. 213, 214).
Friends, what an incredible, beautiful example this is. No matter what difficulties we may face, with God as our Savior, we have every reason to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Let’s Pray Together
Father in heaven, we thank you that you have brought us thus far. We know that many people around the world are facing unusual situations, illness and economic decline and challenges in the family. Lord, please come close to each one, help them to remember, that even in some of the most serious situations, even religious persecution and all kinds of difficulties that are faced by your church. We, as you are believers, your followers, your children, we can pray, singing, rejoice because we're connected with you. Thank you for hearing us and bless individuals in the most dire circumstances, help them to keep their eyes focused upon you.
And as we look to the future, we know that challenges will come to all of us because the end of the world is approaching. But we thank you for the hope we have in Jesus soon return, and the fact He will be with us to the very end of time in Jesus name, we ask it. Amen.