Friday, April 19, 2013

Rejoice – Pray – Give Thanks (a Freedom Friday post)

I hope you had the opportunity to join me last week for my first ever Freedom Friday post. If not, you can click here and check it out! For the rest of you, welcome back!

Having gone through a life long roller coaster ride…having experienced extreme highs and what appeared (at times) to be bottomless lows…I can say with all honesty there are 3 verses in scripture that I’ve struggled consistently to obey.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV) 

Rejoice always (v. 16), pray without ceasing (v. 17), give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (v. 18).

Rejoice. Always?

How do I rejoice over the suicidal death of my husband?

How do I rejoice when my dear friend contracts breast cancer?

How do I rejoice upon learning that I tore the meniscus in my knee while simply playing Wii with my daughter and would require surgery?

Pray without ceasing.

How do I continually pray as I struggle to balance the checkbook for the first time after becoming a single mom?

How do I pray without ceasing when I’m so exhausted from the 16 hour work day I just completed and now have an 8-year-old asleep on my office floor that needs to be carried home and put to bed?

How do I offer up continuous prayers when God seems so far away or non-existent at times?

Give thanks in all circumstances.

How do I give thanks while burying my husband on Mother’s Day?

How do I give thanks that my parents divorced and I’m now being whisked away, as a teenager, from the only support “place” I’ve ever known?

How do I give thanks while tears pour down my face following another heartbreaking conversation with someone I dearly love?

Seriously? Is God really asking me to do these things? Rejoice – pray – give thanks?

In short, yes. But, before you exit this post, because you just can’t listen to one more person telling you that God expects you to live up to something so seemingly impossible…please hear me out. Believe me, I know what you might be thinking…I’ve thought it too. I understand how often you’ve tried to be the person that does all three of these things so beautifully and failed time and time again. Yep – me too! But, will you walk with me for just a couple more minutes as I briefly unpack this? Because, maybe…maybe just maybe…God wants to impart a new nugget to you from some old verses that you’ve read time and time again.

REJOICE – always. Too often, we confuse joy with happiness. I know I’ve been guilty of this time and again, however joy for the Christian is something that is not dependent on our circumstances (which change all the time) but IS dependent on the unchanging character of God. I have learned, first-hand, that it is possible to be joyful even while experiencing hardship and sorrow. How can I do that? By focusing on those promises of God that are unchanging and knowing that I can find all-sufficiency in Christ Jesus alone. I rejoice in the future promises of God – eternal life with Him. The life we live on this earth is so brief compared to eternity. That’s so hard to comprehend, but when I pause to actually try and do that…I am able to rejoice that my eternity is secure. The hardships, the trials, the sorrow I may experience during my time on earth are only temporary…my security in my salvation and eternal home is permanent. I can REJOICE over that! The always part of this verse appears to mean the continual practice of a joyful attitude and spirit. What steals that joy from us? Focusing on our circumstances rather than the God over our circumstances.

PRAY – without ceasing. I love how one commentator puts it, “In the Christian life the act of prayer is intermittent but the spirit of prayer should be incessant. It is not in the moving of the lips, but in the elevation of the heart to God…” I love that. It’s not the very act…God doesn’t expect us to walk around uttering prayers all day long. That would be impossible. How would we pray as we sleep? Rather, God wants our spirit to be constantly devoted to a heart of prayer…a desire to walk in sweet communion with Him. Prayer is a way to develop and maintain an intimate relationship with God.

GIVE THANKS – in all circumstances. Oh boy…this is the one that seems to trip people up the most. Give thanks IN all circumstances. It’s that two-letter word – IN – that we tend to gloss over. God is not asking us to give thanks FOR all circumstances. He is simply instructing us to practice a heart of gratitude towards Him for His continual grace, mercy, and loving-kindness. No matter what we are experiencing at the moment…God is still gracious, merciful, and loving. No matter how deep our pain…God never changes. No matter how often we turn our back on Him…He never leaves us. How can we not offer thanks for all that He’s done for us even in the midst of life’s hardships? Much like I shared last in last week’s Freedom Friday post…Paul & Silas were in prison and yet offered up praise & thanksgiving to God, which ultimately resulted in their freedom. Hmmm…could that be key to the “freedom” we might be looking for as well?

I’m certainly no theologian, and I’ve only begun to understand the full meaning of these short verses, but God is not asking us to do something that we’re incapable of doing, or He would have never asked us to begin with. He sees my heart…He knows if I’m truly joyful and if I’m trying to maintain that intimate relationship with Him via prayer. And…He certainly knows if I have a heart of gratitude.

Whew! I don’t know about you, but when I examined these verses a little further, I recognized an ability (only through Christ) to be able to actually put these things into practice. Will it take away my pain? Probably not. Will it diminish it? Perhaps. Will it draw me closer to Him? Most definitely!

Heavenly Father, Please help me to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Help me to be focused on You, the One I know but can’t physically see rather than on those things that I can see and yet do not understand. In Jesus’ precious name I ask and pray, Amen!

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  1. Sheila Austin says:

    Thank you for posting.

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      My pleasure Sheila! It was something I’ve had on my heart for quite awhile actually. Just hard to formulate into words sometimes.

  2. I’ve missed your writings. Thankful for your sharing with us. Only through Christ can I even deal with my circumstances and daily living! Much love to you and your family!

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Thank you Sara! It’s good to be back on a more consistent basis. I’m praying that God continues to heal your body. You are a blessing!

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