WE’RE hunting for the Good Life, something that should be an ongoing pursuit of every Christ-follower. It’s out there, and it’s ours for the living!
This week we continue to explore Paul’s Good Life list in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers, those living and worshiping at the start-up congregation in the city of Thessalonica, Greece. It was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads. One, called Ignatia Way, came from Italy and extended eastward. The other road came from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea. As a major port it was a busy city. The modern city of Thessaloniki—capital of Greek Macedonia—sits atop the remains of old Thessalonica and is considered the second most important city in Greece. It's in Paul’s letter to these believers that we find a recipe for The Good Life.
Last week we found ourselves ending the discussion with rejoicing, something we should do with exuberance and joy. (If you want a really good picture of rejoicing, watch a crowd of sports fans go nuts at their team’s success!) Even if all in our lives looks hopeless and dark, we can still lift our eyes to the heavens, like David did when holed up in a cave while running from Saul, and rejoice over the promises of God and the eternal future He has planned for us. The house He is building for us to inhabit one day.
After rejoicing always, Paul tells the believers to “pray without ceasing.” That seems to be pretty straightforward—we are to pray…all of the time! When we're doing mundane tasks, vacationing, exercising, working. When we’re standing up, lying down, walking along the way. There is never a time when our hearts and minds should be slanted toward the Creator who knows our hearts and reads our thoughts. We pray about the good stuff and the bad stuff, the small and the big.
Some time ago, a family member of mine remarked, with more than a little cynicism and disgust, that a couple down the street commented that they “would pray for her.” My incensed family member said something along the lines that that was ridiculous, that God wasn’t interested hearing you talk to him about the little stuff. You should only pray to him when there’s something monumental going on in your life. We had a little chat about it, and I assured her that God is interested in everything going on in our lives, and since it’s all “little stuff to God anyway” then we should be talking to him about it all. She wrinkled up her nose. That was a new concept to her.
If it’s true that we should be praying without ceasing, that dispenses with the belief that there is a preferred attitude of prayer. One that makes your prayers more holy, zips them right to heaven faster than the other guy who isn’t on his knees, head to the ground, lying prone, or standing with his arms raised to heaven, eyes closed. How often has a pastor or leader said, “Let’s assume an attitude of prayer,” to the group you’re in? While I can understand closing our eyes and lowering our heads can help keep us from being distracted, there certainly must be those times when we can’t do anything else but tilt our eyes to heaven and cry out for help, thank God for his blessings, or talk to Him.
Then Paul says, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
I think this is a tough one. It’s hard to give thanks in everything. Some things just don’t seem to warrant a thank you. I know you can make your own list of life events where the last thing you felt like doing was giving thanks. But there it is. That’s what God wants us to do. Be thankful for everything that happens in our lives. I wonder if that’s because we really only see what’s happening from our perspective and not from God’s, the BIG picture that we can’t see or know. We can be thankful because we know He’s faithful and we can concentrate on Him, His faithfulness, and His truths. His promises.
We can be grateful as we recognize that we are not alone in our pain or suffering. That God is always with us. We might rejoice that this event is a time to grow, change, deepen our faith. We might choose to lean into the problem or illness, instead of trying to run from it. We can practice being intentional about our living. So often something happens that throws up a big red warning sign that we’re just running through life, ignoring the important things, ignoring people. Living sequestered in our own little worlds and jobs and taking people and things for granted. We might rejoice that this is an opportunity to change paths, turn corners, get a second chance.
It’s certainly not easy, but it is a skill we can deliberately practice and improve upon. I think there’s a good reason Paul emphasizes the rejoicing and the thanking. Life is tough. Real tough for some. When you smile and rejoice and give thanks, it does something to you mentally, through brain chemicals, and that in turn does something positive to you physically. It’s great advice.
Funny how the Creator knows exactly what we need.
Since the next post is the day before Valentine’s Day here in the U.S. I’ll be focusing on love next week. We’ll conclude The Good Life list the week after.
May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).