As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 18, which is yet another short, simple phrase: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

But as we’ve been discovering, short verses can carry a great deal of depth and meaning.

Now as we look at the idea of gratitude, of course we realize that the way God looks at gratitude is different than the way the world looks at it. But that’s not to say the world doesn’t value gratitude. In fact, a secular journal once deemed gratitude the most important mental exercise you can do for psychological and emotional health!

But how are we as believers to look at gratitude — the act of giving thanks? First, let’s consider a definition: Gratitude is the outward expression of something going on deep inside you. Gratitude is what’s inside our hearts — thankfulness and appreciation and gratefulness are what comes out.

On that note, as we dig into this very short verse, we immediately see the importance of a single, small word: “in.” The verse reads “give thanks in all circumstances” — not “give thanks for all circumstances.” You see the difference? God would seem to understand that it’s difficult to give thanks for a trial or challenge or deep pain in our lives. However, as we continue to mature in our faith, we come to a place of depth where we can see God doing complex work in our souls and realize that IN a particular trial or hardship, we can experience amazing growth. And that is something to give thanks about!

As we grow from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, if we’ve experienced the challenge of dealing with limits, we get to learn how to see the good amid hard circumstances. Now, here’s another definition: Gratitude is a condition of the heart that fosters the tendency to focus on good. It’s actually something we can learn, improve upon, and even excel at!

So how do we get better at being grateful and giving thanks? Well, let’s look at three things that pull us away from and rob us of a state of gratitude — and three things that will bring us back.

The first distraction is complaining. We all are guilty of complaining to various degrees when things we lack loom large in our lives. As the Israelites found a way to complain about their desert circumstances despite all the necessities God was giving to them every day, we also find a way to complain. But how do we get rid of complaining? The key, according to Deuteronomy 8, is to remember the Lord and all the good he’s done in our lives. We must make it a habit and a practice to remember God’s goodness. And when we’ve gotten the hang of such a heart focus it becomes our “gratitude therapy.”

The second distraction is anxiety. Now whether anxiety is the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains or simply circumstances that have become overwhelming and continually cycle over and over, becoming scarier with each turn, the Lord has an answer when anxiety is threatening to undo us. It’s found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6 through 9:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learnedand received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

And do you know what’s interesting about the phrase “in everything” found in verse 6 of Philippians 4? It’s the same Greek phrase — “in all circumstances” — found in 1 Thessalonians 6:18! We’re looking at the same goals here

Now the key, according to Scripture, for moving from anxiety to gratitude is prayer. Because when we lift up our anxieties to the Lord, then the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And again, this is a spiritual practice that we can all improve upon and get better at in our own lives.

The third distraction is anger. When we allow anger to rule our hearts, we’re focusing on the bad and the pain in our lives. And like the other two distractions we’ve looked at, we’re all guilty of letting anger take hold of us to different degrees — but above all we can’t stay there. Otherwise we become people who don’t reflect God’s goodness at all.

So how do we move from anger to gratitude and giving thanks? The key, according to the Bible, is to become a giver! This is illustrated quite profoundly in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel when Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw a dinner in Jesus’ honor — and each of them gave something to the Lord. Martha gave to Jesus through her service; Lazarus gave to Jesus through his presence and intimacy as they conversed; and Mary gave to Jesus through her incredible generosity — perfume worth an entire year’s wages! And we also see in that passage that Judas’ attitude was diametrically opposed to Mary’s, as Judas wasn’t happy about the gift of perfume, saying the money could have been used as alms for the poor. But as he so often does, Judas completely misses the point, and we’re told that Judas said what he did “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’”

So, as you strive to live a Christian life that’s filled more and more with gratitude, don’t get discouraged when you fall short or if you have a bad day. Because it’s also true that even a little bit of gratefulness goes a long way. Therefore, put expressions of gratitude into practice — even if it’s only a little bit sometimes — and harness the truths of Scripture that will help you dispense with the distractions of complaining, anxiety, and anger and lead you to remember the Lord in all things, pray, and become a giver.

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When we attend a professional sporting event, before the game begins everyone rises to their feet as the national anthem plays over the stadium speakers. Some of us put our hands over our hearts, hats are taken off, and respect for the anthem is observed. Then after we sing out “and the home of the brave!” and fireworks light up the sky, we sit back down, continue eating our hot dogs, and the game commences — and we won’t usually think about the national anthem until the next time we’re at a sporting event.

Too often Christians view prayer the same way. Perhaps there are weeks that go by during which the only time we pray is at church. Just as we do with the national anthem, we stand with the rest of the congregation and “pay our respects” to God in prayer — and then we go home, and maybe we don’t think too much about God until the next time we gather with our brothers and sisters.

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 17, which says something very different about prayer. It’s reads, “pray continually.”

Now before we get to the notion of praying without ceasing, it’s a good idea to look at what prayer is. As usual, there’s no better example than the way Jesus prayed — and the Gospels tell us he gave specific instructions for how we are to pray. In Matthew 6, Jesus prefaces what’s commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” with the following instructions: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The time you spend in prayer is not an informational meeting for God. He knows what’s going on with you already. And more than that, the Lord already has the answers to our prayers as well. Isaiah 65:24 reads, “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” So why pray in the first place? Well, James in the fourth chapter of his epistle has something to say about that: “You do not have because you do not ask.” In other words, some of the answers to prayer you seek won’t come unless you ask God for them — which should motivate all of us to pray a lot more than we do at present.

Now let’s look at the first part of the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus prefaces by saying “pray then like this.” Indeed, Jesus is giving his disciples a model for prayer.

Then Jesus begins his prayer with “our Father in heaven.” Why does he use the word “our” instead of “my”? The answer is packed with meaning for all of us: No Christian is an only child. We’re surrounded by other children of God, other brothers and sisters in Christ. And that fact also reflects God’s design for us to live in community. And while living in community is hard at times, the beauty of it is underscored by the truth that there are things God wants to give us and have us experience that will only happen when we’re part of a community of believers.

Then Jesus uses the word “Father” to describe his relationship with him as the. Jesus uses the personal, intimate word “Father” all the time in the Gospels — except when he was suffering on the cross and quoting the Psalms in his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” During that one moment in history, Jesus referred to his Father as “God” to describe the position he was in as a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus then notes in his prayer that the Father is “in heaven.” That’s a great way of showing that God lives above the limitations we experience on earth — and that we need his power and love and presence down on earth with us.


“Hallowed be your name,” Jesus prays next. And what does “hallowed” mean? It’s another way of saying “holy” or to describe something as separate from us. While Jesus reflected the closeness and intimacy and love that God has for each of us, there is a balance with regard to our relationship with our heavenly Father: He’s a holy God — and we are not. So, acknowledging that important fact is necessary and wise for us all as we come before the Lord in prayer. It’s a way of reminding ourselves how sacred this opportunity is.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” Christ prays next. As we look at the will of God, it’s crucial to understand that there are two types of will: God’s unconditional will, and God’s conditional will. As for his unconditional will, it will be accomplished no matter what we do or don’t do. God will do what God will do, and there isn’t anything that will stand in his way. But then there is his conditional will — and that’s where we come in, particularly when it comes to prayer.

While God is sovereign and will do what he wants to do no matter what we do on earth, there are some things the Lord wants to bring about with his creation based on their behavior or decisions — in other words, it depends on us. So how do we know what God’s conditional will is? We can’t! Which is again more motivation for us to be in prayer continually, as sometimes God uses our prayers to accomplish his conditional will! How amazing is that?

So, don’t treat prayer any longer like singing the national anthem before you witness a baseball game; instead make it part of your daily life. Pour out your heart to God, hour by hour, minute by minute. Ask the Lord continually to work in your life and in the lives of others. Be in constant relationship with God and live out the truth of the Scriptures that Jesus is there with you always. And realize that we have no idea what joys and treasures the Lord is just waiting to bestow upon us and others — until we ask him.

Can you believe our entire study from this past Sunday’s teaching is based on just two words?

It’s true. The verse as we continue our look at various traits that define us as Christians is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. It reads, “Rejoice always.”

That’s it! It’s indeed as short a verse as you’ll find in all of Scripture — but it’s also as deep and wide and long in weight and meaning as any truth in the Bible as well.

Let’s start by looking at the Greek word for “joy,” which is “chara.” It’s a noun that denotes the awareness of God’s grace — or “grace recognized.” (Interesting that the primary definition of “joy” immediately flows to “grace,” isn’t it?) There’s a valuable reason for that stands front and center in the life of the Christian — and one that will change your entire disposition in life. Here it is: When you pursue pleasure as the ultimate goal, you will always come up empty. We weren’t designed that way. Life’s miniscule pleasures were never meant to give us ultimate fulfillment. Instead the Lord, our Creator, allowed only himself to be that source of fulfillment.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If God desperately wants a deep relationship with each of us, why would he allow us to be fulfilled by anything that takes the focus away from him? Which is why, rather than pursuing pleasure, we must instead pursue grace — and as the Greek word denotes, by recognizing grace, we will find joy.

And indeed, at the end of joy is the Lord himself — exactly the way God designed it!

Since the idea of grace has entered the picture so powerfully, let’s dig a little deeper into it. Here’s another jaw dropper: Turns out the Greek word for “grace” is “charis” — which as you no doubt will notice is very close to “chara,” the Greek word for “joy” we just discussed! (See how this is all fitting together? It’s no accident.)

It’s important to keep in mind that there are two types of grace: Our “salvation” grace and our “daily” grace. Let’s look at salvation grace first — the grace by which Christ saved us. This type of grace is a free gift; it’s nothing we deserve or have the ability to earn. And it follows that “recognizing” this grace — remember that word earlier in our discussion? — leads right to joy. And why wouldn’t it? Being the recipient of God’s saving grace is nothing less than joy that never ends.

Now let’s look at the grace we need every day — that we need each hour, each second, of our lives. This grace might strike a bit closer to home, simply because it relates directly to the things that have happened to you today — to the things that are happening right now as you read these words. If you’ve been in any kind of sustained pain, for example, you know exactly what this means. Let’s say you find yourself struggling to swallow normally or to breathe easily: You’d better believe that, even as a Christian — in our temporary, limited bodies — we require grace from the Lord on a minute-by-minute basis.

But the key here is to not stop — but rather to carry that awareness of needing the grace of God in every moment all the way to the ability to see grace everywhere.

We all know it’s easy to see God’s goodness and grace when things going well. If we see an accident on the road, it’s appropriate to thank the Lord that he spared us from that calamity. And if you received a promotion and a raise at work, of course you should thank God for the grace he bestowed upon you. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know from personal experience that it’s much harder to perceive grace in the hard times! When you find yourself a victim of that accident … when you don’t get the promotion or raise. And we naturally ask ourselves, Can I receive grace in those hard moments? The answer is, “Absolutely, yes you can.”

 How? Well, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 12, verse 9, that when he wanted the Lord to remove an affliction from him, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Are you able to see God’s grace right alongside the problems and trials you experience in life? Because your path to growth will likely run right alongside rejoicing always in God’s grace amid challenging times. Remember James’ words in his epistle: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Applying that truth to your life will lead you toward seeing God’s grace everywhere!

Another great way to think about joy to take a look at our physical health. When we go to the doctor, we’re quizzed on different risk factors in our lives — and rightfully so, as counteracting them is good for our health. Well, the spiritual life is much the same: Often there are risk factors that can derail our spiritual lives: Anger, materialism, greed, lust. You name it. All of these things, and more, can creep into our souls and send us in the wrong direction.

But the great thing about joy is that it can counteract the terrible, constant assaults those negative elements wage in our lives. Joy is like our “core strengthening exercise” that can ward off the disease of sin before it sets in and seeks to destroy us.

Make no mistake: Living the Christian life is no guarantee of painless living. In fact, anyone who tells you differently isn’t telling you the truth. Take it from the Apostle Paul, who describes in stirring detail in 2 Corinthians 6 what living the Christian life actually looks like when you allow God to have his way. Paul says he endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Does that sound like fun to you? But hang on — let him finish:

“… by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Possessing everything. Paul, of course, wasn’t talking about material possessions. He was communicating about true riches, treasures that thieves cannot steal, that moths cannot devour — the joy of eternal life. And that joy can start for all us, right now. Lay hold of it, brothers and sisters.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4

Listen to the Sermon here:

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:15

What does it mean to “do good”? That’s the big question we explored this past Sunday as we continued to look at various traits that define us as Christians.

To take a closer look at doing good, we should start in the first chapter of Genesis where the Hebrew word for “good” — transliterated as “TOB” — is used seven times! You know the story: God was creating the Earth, and the Lord saw that it was good. Not just that it looked good on the outside with wonderful things such as fruit-bearing trees — but also because the seeds from the fruit of those trees created more trees and more fruit. The trees worked. They provided food and nourishment and sustenance. The trees weren’t merely a wonder to behold, they also were good — down to their core.

Then God created man — and the Lord said this particular creation of his was very good. Imagine that: You and I are the height of God’s creation! But things took a really bad turn in Genesis 3 when man sinned, which precipitated our fall. Brokenness came into the world, and our “TOB” gave way to problems such as disease and racism and sexism and hurtful relationships. We began to experience pain and suffering. But God had a plan for redemption through his son Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and opened the door for us to enter God’s kingdom through trusting alone in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is indeed Good News as all things in our lives become new in that salvation moment.

OK — so how do we get to real goodness in our day to day lives?

Well, the process starts with pursuing holiness. A good way to put flesh and blood on that concept is to recall the story of Jesus encountering the rich young ruler in the Gospels. This young man had everything the world had to offer — but he also lacked one thing money couldn’t buy: Eternal life. So, he went right to Jesus, called him “good teacher,” and asked him what he needed to do about that problem. Jesus responded in a very interesting way (as Jesus typically does!) with a question of his own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

You see, Jesus didn’t want this rich young ruler to get the idea that he could earn his way to heaven with actions. And in the rest of this story, the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus replied that he needed to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor — and then to follow him. In that moment he didn’t want to do what he needed to do to inherit eternal life — to put aside the things of this world and trust Jesus by following him. And that’s where holiness starts.

And being in this relationship with Jesus also means that doing good and goodness takes on new meaning. Indeed, Scripture says the Lord long ago prepared good for us to do. Not goodness to earn God’s love (because the Lord loves us freely) but because goodness comes from God! As Christ’s workmanship we are prompted to do good as an outgrowth of our relationship with him (Ephesians 10:2). Again, goodness doesn’t equal actions or behavior to earn God’s love or acceptance, and it’s certainly not about being nice. Instead it’s a state of being deep down in our core.

Have you ever prayed and asked God to point out the ways he wants you to change so he can increase his goodness in your life? To shine his spotlight on sin he wants you to dismiss? If there’s any prayer we can pretty much guarantee God will answer in the affirmative, it’s that one! And responding to God’s nudging in these areas of change means choosing virtue. That’s the next step in figuring out goodness.

And the third step in that process? To champion generosity. That means sharing our lives with others, giving of ourselves, and exceeding what’s expected as we take on such challenges. We all know about the story of the Good Samaritan (again, that word “good”) — and what did the Good Samaritan do? He had compassion on a man who was beaten and robbed on a road, a man who was from a different place, a man who gave his time and his money to help this man. That’s a lot of what goodness looks like — and we can do the same thing.

We’ve also learned during our Sundays together that there are three types of people in the world: Takers (those who are out for themselves), “balance the scale” folks (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”), and givers.

But be forewarned: If you resolve to be a giver, eventually you’ll get hurt (if it hasn’t happened already). At some point you’ll be taken for granted and even mistreated. So, the question is: What will you do with that pain when you experience it? The answer has some theology behind it, but plenty of practicality, too: When you share your goodness with others, you must do it for God and not for others or yourself! Besides being of the correct spiritual mindset, doing good as unto the Lord goes a long way toward reducing the importance of how others react to the good we do for them. That’s because — unlike people who are imperfect — God will never hurt us or mistreat us, ever. Keep that attitude in mind as you “seek to do good to one another and to everyone,” as our latest verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 charges us.

Have you asked the Lord to give you opportunities to do good? With family members, friends, and even strangers? The kind of “TOB” goodness detailed at the dawn of creation is now ours to share freely with others because of Jesus being at work in our lives. And all we need to do is ask God to lead us toward that next moment — and he will provide it. And perhaps the most exciting part is that doing good things for others that the Lord gave us to do in advance, will draw to God those we’re reaching out to. How exciting to be a part of that adventure stretching toward eternity! Let us be about that kind of goodness this week — and for the rest of our days.

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This past Sunday we continued our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 — a special passage of Scripture that offers us 10 principles that characterize us as believers and help us know what it means to serve the Lord.

We’ve already looked at the principle of Christians living well under authority along with the idea of living peaceably. And this past Sunday we encountered our third principle: How to be wise people helpers. That principle is found in verse 14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Believe it or not, there are other very good reasons for us to come together as a church each Sunday besides singing songs, praying, and listening to a sermon. One is that simply being together enables us to stimulate each other to rise to the next level in our growth in Christ. That’s the idea expressed in Proverbs: “Like iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

In order for us to be wise people helpers — not only in church but also with our families and with those we encounter outside of church — this verse gives us three tools we should be using, along with one “secret weapon.” Let’s check them out.

In verse 14 Paul begins by telling his readers to “admonish to idle.” Being idle in this sense means not working, not doing one’s part, and taking advantage of others — in short, someone who’s out of order or out of step with the Lord. “Admonish” here means to bring the truth through changing someone’s mind. But when you consider the word “admonish,” you may have been conditioned to define it as being harsh with others or hitting them hard, but actually Paul is communicating the idea of gentleness — lovingly coming alongside our brothers and sisters and saying, “Hey, I think you need to consider this.” And again, being in the position of doing this is just one of the reasons we come together in person as a body of believers.

The second tool is “encourage the fainthearted.” And in the Greek, it’s the idea of comforting and consoling someone whose soul is diminished — someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by life. Certainly, we’ve all been there in one way or another. And when we’re hurting or down, isn’t it wonderful when a believer comes alongside us and offers encouragement? Also, remember that giving comfort isn’t necessarily about problem solving. Often it’s simply about being a listening ear. And when we can be that kind of encouragement to others, good things can happen in the body of Christ.

The third tool is “help the weak.” And by “help” Paul doesn’t mean drive-by assistance and then you’re off doing your next task on your list. It’s the idea of being a support in an ongoing basis — which implies commitment. If there are those who can’t walk by themselves easily right now, we must come along and support them for as long as they need so that they can enjoy this life.

And now for the “secret weapon.” And while it’s a very effective weapon, it’s not always easily practiced. The last part of verse 14 says “be patient with them all.” Patience. How many of us struggle with exercising patience? It’s a very common issue. But unless we can develop more patience in our lives, our relationships will suffer — because after all, patience is like a great shock absorber in our interactions with others. And it’s one of the fruits of the spirit.

So how do we come to a place where we’re consistently exercising patience? There are three things we can do: remain calm, extend time, and endure pain. All of three of these efforts will help you build up your ability to exercise patience as you come alongside others. One thing to keep in mind as we use these three tools — admonish, encourage, and help (along with deploying our secret weapon of patience) — is that we’re all made in the image of God…yet we’re all unique people. This means that when you encounter someone with a need, and one of the tools at your disposal isn’t working, you may need to change the tool you’re using! Different people may require that you use different tools at different times. And above all we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He is the ultimate Comforter, and He literally uses all of these tools to build up each of us.

Listen to the sermon here: