Rejoice and Give Thanks
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Go to any book store and you will find shelves of “Self-Help” books. Everyone seems to have advice on how to live a “happy” life. Of course, our faith offers much advice on how to live happy, blessed lives. St. Paul shares his advice on how to live a truly happy and meaningful life when he wrote to the Christians in Thessalonika, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.”
It sounds like an easy three-step program, and yet how difficult it is to practice. Why does it seem easier to complain than to rejoice, or to grumble about what we don’t have instead of turning to God with gratitude for all that we do have?
Every year I take a group of students to Albania, and we spend a night with Metropolitan John of Korca. Inevitably, he always shares with my students that one of the secrets to an authentic spiritual journey, living under the reign of God, is to live with joy and gratitude each and every day. We must learn to continuously thank God for all that He has given us, and rejoice always!
Unfortunately, it seems that the more we have, the more we expect. This rise of our expectation level leads us to complaining. Instead of living with contentment, we grumble when we see all that others have, and think we lack something.
“This is a spiritual issue,” Metropolitan John says. “It takes discipline and effort to stay focused on the positive, and not give in to the negative. We must learn to not only be content, but to truly be grateful for all we have.”
Metropolitan John has a unique perspective, having lived and suffered under the totalitarian and atheistic communist regime in Albania. He expressed his gratitude for living under such conditions, though, because it gave him a different worldview through which to understand and appreciate life.
His words and experience remind me of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian dissident and literary genius who suffered in a Siberian prison as a disgruntled communist and atheist, yet walked out eight years later as a believer. He described that as he walked past the prison gates, tasting freedom for the first time in almost a decade, he gratefully turned around to face the prison, made the sign of the cross, and thanked God for teaching him the essential principles of life in that
miserable prison. It was through the torture, hunger, and unimaginable conditions of that prison that he came to realize how blessed he was to have the basic elements of life! Only when his freedom was taken away did he come to understand what true freedom actually is. In some ways, he expressed the truth that sometimes we need to be deprived of certain things in order to truly appreciate them!
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. This is practical advice for each of us to try to live by this month, and always.
Rejoice always. Wake up each day rejoicing in the new day. “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the psalmist says. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Make it a point to discover the joy of life in each relationship that you cherish, in every conversation in which you partake, in any unexpected event that may come your way!
Pray without ceasing. Although it may be hard to rejoice always, the way we learn is by turning to God throughout the day. We have a loving Father who yearns for us to communicate with him not only daily, but at every moment throughout the day. Our Lord hears our prayers, and by talking with him unceasingly, we enter into deeper communion with Him. Walking with Him will fill us with joy. Ultimately, He is the source of our joy and the fountain of our life!
Give thanks in all circumstances. This sounds tricky, because too many of us don’t want to be grateful “in all circumstances,” especially when things don’t go our way. And yet, this is precisely the most important time when we must turn to God in gratitude.
If we believe that God is truly a loving Father who watches over us, then we can rest assured that He will not allow anything to happen to us that can’t turn out for our own spiritual benefit. We may not understand or appreciate something the moment that it occurs, and yet, if we accept it with gratitude and prayerfully strive to understand what lessons of life God is trying to teach through that experience, we will discover a host of things for which to be grateful.
I pray that we all can try this month to “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! And give thanks in all circumstances!”
With joy and gratitude in Christ Jesus,
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