Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Let us pray.
Today is the 364th day of the year. I thought that I would look back, and contemplate our lot, and compare what life has been, to what this short passage has to say. Life has been tough for some, even tougher for others. We have had a number of the generation older than me, aunts, and Lorraine’s Dad, old friends, and younger friends die in the last 12 months, or as we say - promoted to glory. It is a bitter sweet time, but sadness still abounds. Jobs have been difficult; mine is being looked to see if it is surplus to health’s needs, whilst we built a huge new temple to the great gods of cricket and football. People including children have been violently killed, Syria is imploding, Egypt is on the brink, Israel and Palestine cannot keep from throwing bombs at each other, the earth is warmer, but electricity cost more to cool the home. Bodies are failing, some with hearts that are not working like they were in 2011, other their joints, some have had cancer invade their bodies. But, the verse today reads, in everything give thanks. What does God want from us; a smile and happiness? I don’t think so. Somehow these are deep verses, relating to the deep and meaningful relationship we can have with God, through all aspects of life, good or bad.
The three words (in this version) before this statement is very telling. Pray without ceasing. We can look at other verses to help with this, including Romans 15:30-32;
"Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you"
Prayer can be of two types. Vain repetitions, as mentioned about the Pharisees and how they prayed, and so easily described visually by the Buddhist prayer wheel or the hail Mary’s the Catholic church promoted, or this striving and agonising in prayer found here in Romans. This form of prayer is a deep and meaningful conversation with God, using every depth of emotion. This prayer is selfless, note this is prayer for Paul, not themselves, and prayer for something Godly - to enable Paul to continue his work, not a prayer for a bigger house or nicer car. Note also the spinoff for this type of prayer. Paul wants prayer to help him to be delivered from disobedient Jews, but also to that his service is acceptable, and that he can come to the Romans in joy.
There is that word, joy. It is a word that Paul links to the will of God, and it is then linked into the personal joy of refreshment and rest in the company of these his Christian Roman friends. We will find this link everywhere today, thankfulness, joy, being in the will of God, there is no separation between these thoughts.
I found the following quote regarding this Thessalonian verse of praying without ceasing. MacArthur writes: Praying without ceasing. What does that mean? The Greek adialeiptōs (ἀδιαλείπτως) is an adverb that means unceasing, without ceasing or constantly, for those of you who are interested in that. It simply means continually. It doesn't mean non-stop. It means recurring. It is that which is, as I said, flows from a settled dependence. It's just a constant kind of running open conversation that never really has a period. It's sort of like prayer is just your Christian life and community with God with a series of commas and semicolons.
Note how MacArthur views this prayer. We have the conversations and thoughts related to whatever it is we are doing, we also have the prayer that goes to God as we think upon these other things. He also says that it is not repetitious, as mentioned earlier, stating that when you tell God something, he then knows, he is not like the Luke 11:5 man who at first refuses to listen to, or act for his friend late at night, who came knocking on the door wanting bread. That man got up to get the person off his doorstep. God, in contrast, hears the prayer, and puts into place actions. Unfortunately for us, we always want now action, God often puts it into the later action box, we then do not believe that God is listening, when really it is us that is not listening to God, and [hearing] what His will is about.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:16-18.
Here we see a couple of prayer examples. Prayer must have the right attitude, in this case, the fervent prayer of a righteous man. Righteousness only comes from God. It is not what we think of as being right, as in I have the right answer, my ways are right. It is being right with God, a righteousness that only comes from confessing sins, walking with God, and allowing God to work in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Note too that Elijah stopped the rain for over three years through just one prayer. He had God’s will at heart, and God heard and provided him with this incredible drought to enable him to do more of God’s work. See that God’s work at times can only be achieved during dry times. That is another thought, but one worthwhile thinking about.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:18-20.
Here we see why we need to have righteousness. Without being right with God, the Holy Spirit cannot do the work that it needs to do in our lives. This work by the Holy Spirit includes being our prayer partner, or leader in our own prayer life. Note too the passage talks of what this prayer of Paul’s is about, that to preach the gospel, to do God’s work, spread the Word boldly. You don’t see here anything about us using our abilities to do God’s work. That is called ego, and I find this the easiest trap to fall into. No, this passage says that through the Spirit, we can speak God’s words boldly, making the mystery of the gospel open to ears of those who need to hear it.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now Philippians 1:3-5.
Here is another part of ones’ prayer life - that of thanking God. Note that God gets the thanks for remembrance of you (that is Paul), by those that are praying for him, and his work, and the fellowship other Christians are giving Paul. In this, he thanks them, but directs his thanks towards the one that really counts - God.
Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.
Note these interesting thoughts. The first can be stated as ‘be anxious for nothing’ (NKJV). Nothing in the world should ever make as anxious. It does and we do, but we should not. Next in this text is the word - ‘but’. ‘But’ tells us that if we do everything, yes everything in prayer and supplication, that is, telling God about everything - and the only way to do this is to pray without ceasing, we will have the peace of God in our hearts, and what does that peace do? It allows us to be anxious for nothing as our hearts and minds are kept through our Saviour, brother, friend, advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. This brings us to the next part of our Thessalonian verse: In everything give thanks.
What is God on about here? Again is the word ‘Everything’. Thanks for the bad deal? For bad leadership? For bad service? For other drivers, all who are bad? Surely being the Bible, this is talking about spiritual things only - be thankful for the great service we had, for the commentary that I read, for the Christian hospitality shown to me? No, there is no parenthesis in this verse. It is a simple four word statement: In everything give thanks.
Let us look at scripture and find more on what this all means. We can start with Psalm 24:
The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.
Note the similarities in these verses, and what we have heard already from Scripture. For a start, clean hands and a pure heart is needed. We noted this was also needed for prayer to reach the ears of God. Here we need to to stand in His Holy Place. What has this to do with giving thanks? Again, we must have our hearts right with God. We won’t be able to give thanks for everything if we don’t.
The other point from these opening lines in this Psalm that caught my eye when I read this the other day, is the opening verse. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. God owns the earth, all things that are good on the earth, and as well, all of us who dwells here. Some have rejected God, but until the very last moment, the door of Grace is open to anyone who comes to Him. If this is all so, why would we not want to be giving thanks to God for all things? After, He is in control, it is His universe, we are His people, His ways are perfect. But we don’t, or I don’t!! Maybe this is my lesson to learn. I feel though I need to share with you, what I must learn, where my struggles are, my failing, because I do not allow the Holy Spirit to direct my every breath, my every footstep.
R. C. Chapman, a man who lived through the 19th century once noted: ‘To reform the Church of God we should always begin with self-reform. Schisms and divisions will increase so long as we begin with reforming others. Wisdom is only with the lowly.’ This is a curious statement, written over a hundred years ago. However, so often in life, it is easier to criticise that to be part of God’s solution to problems, especially in the church. Politics is a classic example; the two sides criticise, and insult each other and each other’s ideas. There is no compromise and assistance amongst these people to come to a solution, just blame the others when something fails. However, is Chapman being Biblical here, after all, should not we tell the church where it is going wrong? Or, should we be reforming ourselves (biblically) so that we can lift our hands up and be part of the solution, God’s solution? Does wisdom really lie only with the lowly? Even more so, can we hold our critical tongues, pointing out the error, until we either have it right - without pride; and are willing to assist in getting it right, with all humbleness, before we speak? When we do speak should we say, (rather than - ‘that is wrong’, say, ‘have you thought about doing it this way’ it may have better outcomes’, and ‘can I help you that is, if you want me to help?’ Yes, that is the Biblical way I think, and as usual completely contrary to my own failing human nature.
There are many verses that provide some guidance in answering these questions. One is: And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Matthew 7:3-4.
Harsh though this may sound, it is right there in your Holy Bible. I find it so much easier to sort someone else’s problems than my own! A gentler approach is found in Colossians (3:12-17):
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.“
Note the two thoughts running together in these verses. Paul certainly had them in mind in Thessalonians, and here too in Colossians - my attitude must be right, including being merciful, humble, long-suffering, plus always showing forgiveness towards others, showing love instead of grumbling or accusation against others, and, see how he finishes, be thankful. But Lord, my brother has sinned against me…, but Lord, the team are incompetent…, but Lord, he started the quarrel. Not buts, no ifs. Ecclesiastes 7: 21-22 tells us: ‘Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For many times, also, your own heart has known That even you have cursed others.’ How true it is, the things we can be most offended over are the things we do ourselves - and we don’t like it in ourselves, so we do the splinter stuff because it is easier. Paul however, states so categorically what we should be doing in our lives, he says, and I repeat, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. That my dear brothers and sisters is how we can rejoice no matter the circumstances, by doing all things, including reformation of a problem, in the name of the Lord Jesus. Following this pattern, we will never go wrong. So, I think that Chapman was right when he said: To reform the Church of God we should always begin with self-reform. Schisms and divisions will increase so long as we begin with reforming others. Wisdom is only with the lowly. Self-reform, through the work of the Holy Spirit will bring into our lives love, joy, and peace, as well as a greater fullness of Christ indwelling.
So, where am I going wrong? I fall into the same holes each time. I open my mouth and pull out someone’s splinter, rather than reforming myself. I lack grace, forgiveness, and love, even though the Lord Jesus has showered me with all of these things, to the point of rich embarrassment. You may have guessed it. I have no answers, God has many answers. We can turn to Psalm 119:97-105:
O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
No matter how good the author, no matter how readable the commentary, no matter the words of the speaker, or the elocution of those words, or the credentials of that Bible school, God’s Word is the bottom line, the Holy Spirit the best teacher. God’s Word is where we need to spend most of our time, not that using other’s commentary or going to Bible school is a bad thing, but we need to remember where the light comes from. It comes from God’s Word. Meditation on His Word in great quantities, through the teaching of the Holy Spirit will keep us from error; will enable us to know more than the ancients as well and keep us from false ways - as the path before our feet is lit.
I read a comment the other day, and it was about religion. Beware the religion; believe only in Christ and Scripture. I have seen many a Bible scholar, some who are professors, who have the religion, but have not God. They search God’s Word to solely discredit Christianity, by pointing out through their own foolish wisdom, the ‘myths’ as they call it of the Bible. Psalm 119 gives us the door way for thankfulness in all things. Living, breathing, and doing the Word, makes life joyous, even though it may be painful.
What does pain mean, the stuff that knocks us of our feet, and makes us doubt, or even turn away from God? Some believe that it is God teaching us lessons, to get us back on track, and sure, this is Biblical in thought, but not for the one who follows the teaching of Psalm 119. Why did Dr Don take weeks to die, suffering in his last days. Why do some have cancer and pain for years, some have wayward children causing grief, others a different problem. Their devotion to God may even be described as saintly, or Godly, humble, meek and loving, shining forth with a special light that only emanates from one in God’s arms; they dwell in His holy place, despite being here on this earth. They are the ones who do rejoice, and have praise on their lips, despite the suffering they are going through. Maybe we have the wrong end of the stick? However, Scripture always has examples that provides the understanding and in this example we can see that pain and suffering has been occurring to the Christian for 2000 years:
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11: 32-40)
And we grumble about some other driver, or the boss, or even our fellow Christian who has offended us in some way (in our minds eye at least)!! Paul tells is in Philippians 4:11-12 this great example with which to follow: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Or as we find from Peter, the reason one hopes, the reason we all feel the fire, is that of God’s refinement, not because we have sinned and need bringing back to God, but because God wants to rid us of all imperfections: Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)
So there you have it, In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. We can do these things, because God gives us His Word, and His Word is perfect and true - we just need to meditate on it, feed on it, and do it. We can have that love and wisdom if we are humble, holy and lowly. We can be part of the solution, rather the pointer out of problems, if we pray for every step of our lives and live them as God wants, and through this we will always be able to thank God for all things, including the purification of ourselves into fine gold. Let us remember the old year then with thankfulness, and look towards 2013, if God leaves us here that long, and support each other in what can be turbulent times, in order for each one of us to be able to be continually in thanks towards our God.
Let us finish, not from my words, or even the words of another commentator, rather God’s Word, that gives us the best summary we could ever find: Turn with me to Romans 12 verses 10-18 for the instructions of living in 2013:
Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.