Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
It is through God's word that we not only learn what it means to be a follower of Christ and the truths about who we are and who's we are, but we also learn to know God. God is a God who wants to communicate with us. This is why prayer is so important, and why, for the last several years, we here at Unity have started each new year with an emphasis on prayer. And so, today I want to talk about the biblical posture for prayer.
I remember when I was growing up, I had a problem with slouching (maybe it was just my relaxed nature). My mom would sometimes come behind me and she'd pull my shoulders back and get me to stand up straight. I know that now there are even devices that you can wear and walk around with to help you stand up straight. We're familiar with the idea of physical posture, but there is also a spiritual posture. When it comes to our prayer life, we need to see what the Bible has to say about our spiritual posture. I believe that these short, concise three verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 can help us answer the question, "What is a biblical posture for prayer?" As born-again children of God, we know the general importance of prayer, but this morning we're going to make a point about the value of your private prayer life. The reason I want to emphasize private prayer is because the idea of prayer is so familiar to us.
We can offer up a prayer when we're looking for a good parking space in the rain. We can offer up a prayer whenever we're at work and we're thinking, Will this day ever end? Lord just get me through this day. If you were raised in a Christian home, you most likely asked the blessing before a meal because you were grateful for what God had provided (I pray this was your tradition). If you are a church attender, you know, prayer is a part of the church dynamic whenever we get together.
Our purpose in talking about the biblical posture for prayer is to really get at the foundation of our prayer lives; the root of sincerity.
In a little booklet called A Call to Prayer [link to download, link to buy physical copy], JC Ryle says - Unless your prayer is from the heart, you're not praying, you've just lipped a request. To really connect with God is a heartfelt, sincere cry out to God that puts you in a position to be heard and to receive.
I believe the apostle Paul was wanting to communicate that truth to the church at Thessalonica. There are a couple of observations I want us to make before we look at what I'm going to call "three pegs of the stool that props up biblical prayer."
Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3
When we talk about biblical prayer, we need to understand that this is something that the children of God do in Christ. We are the body of Christ, and because of that, we are in a communal relationship with God. We are His kids.
Our verse to contemplate (Galatians 4:6) talks about how The Spirit of God's Son has been given to us so that we are able to cry out "Abba Father", not just as our God, but as our Father in heaven.
Last week we talked about the Lord's prayer (Luke 11). When Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Lord, teach us how to pray" Jesus teaches them how to pray saying, "When you pray,
pray like this: Our Father," And so, I agree with a lot of the old divines when they say that God's kids will be people of prayer if they're really God's kids. We need to make prayer a priority. Notice in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 Paul says he always mentions them [the Thessalonians] in his prayers (although, this group of Christ-followers were not necessarily unique in that regard) and he's constantly being reminded of their fruit, their work. In other words, he's hearing about their testimony. Notice what this testimony entails; he says they are a people who work a "work of faith". They are a people who live by their faith! It's real!
Prayer in our lives should be real. Not a religious rote. Not a thing we need to do to make us feel good before we eat. Not something to just turn to in our time of need.
The apostle Paul was going to bring us to the awareness that prayer is a mindset, just like our relationship with our Father in heaven is a constant mindset. We are to live our faith like our brothers and sisters of old in Thessalonica.
Notice that the Thessalonians were not just engaged in a "work of faith", but also a "labor of love". They were known by their love. They were motivated by sincere, God-like, Agape Love for one another and for God.
They were sincere in their worship. They were sincere in everything they did. So when the text says that they did something "in the name of the Lord", or they "made much of the name of the Lord", it was evident that this was motivated by love and not religion. It wasn't some manipulative effort on their part to try to get God to do something for them. It was a genuine familial relationship between a child and their heavenly Father.
Because of this, they were "steadfast of hope" [1 Thessalonians 1:3]; "of hope", not "in hope", but, "of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the presence of our God and Father." They were people known as "a people of hope."
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
The church in Thessalonica demonstrated what it means to "be anxious for nothing" [Philippians 4:6]! Even though they may have shown some concern, they always had hope because they knew Jesus. They knew their savior. They knew who He was. They knew, because of who He is, there's nothing on this earth that could shake them.
So we need to see all of this little introduction here [in 1 Thessalonians 1] because it sets us up to understand the three commands; the imperatives that the apostle Paul gives the church in Thessalonica, and that, I believe, the Holy Spirit relates to us even today to show us a biblical posture for prayer.
Why such a focus on prayer? I believe in God. I voice prayers on occasion. Why do we need to be worried about our prayer lives? Because we could be missing out on so much that is available to the children of God as they commune with Him through prayer!
The point I want to make is that:
This is a reality that we can see in our kids' Sunday School. When mom and dad go to pick up their kids, do the parents need to be introduced to their child? No! They see mom and dad, and they know mom and dad, and they know who to run to. They knew who to cry out to when they're in need. They know that relationship. Men like Ryle, Henry, and McLean spoke about our prayer life as an indication that we've been born again because we know our Father who is in heaven. Here's what I want us to see, here is the first leg of this stool:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The apostle Paul exhorts them [the Thessalonians], commands them to "rejoice always." As we look at this verse, we ask the question, How? How can I rejoice always and what do you mean by "rejoice"?
Well, the word literally is χαίρω (chairó | khah'-ee-ro) in Greek and its literal meaning is "to be glad". The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is telling the children of God to be glad always!
How is that possible? By knowing your God. Knowing that, despite the circumstances going on around you, God is indeed above those circumstances. He is so far removed and so sovereign over what we see as the influential powers of the world today that we have no reason to worry.
Like our brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, we are steadfast in our hope. And that hope doesn't come unless you know Him. That's why, at the beginning of the year, we take a moment and consider how well we know our Father who art in heaven.
If you're hearing this and you've yet to confess your sin and to repent of your sin, that sin is separating you from Him. But here we are, like many other Christ-centered, Bible-believing communities of faith, proclaiming to you that Jesus came to pay your sin debt so that your sin debt could be removed and completely paid for, and that you may be declared as righteous in Christ so that what separated you now provides you with an opportunity to commune with your Father who now, in Christ, wants to commune with you. But that's only the beginning of the journey. The journey continues with you getting to know Him.
This relationship is more like a father and child than a mother and child. When a child is born and the mother and child are brought together and that child is laid on the chest of a new mother there's a beautiful picture of that connection; it's not a new connection because that mom has carried that baby in her womb for months. But when the child is handed over to dad, sometimes there's cooing (I'm talking about from the baby, not the daddy) and sometimes that baby cries because he or she only knows mama.
Who is this man? He says he's my father. That child now starts a journey of getting to know their biological father. They didn't have that special bond they had with mama. Daddy and that child now bond over time, sharing experiences together, spending time together with the goal of getting to know each other and building their relationship.
Some of you may have had dads that didn't do that. You don't have a relationship with your father. You may not even know who your father is and when you hear the title "father" negative feelings and barriers come up inside you.
If you don't know what it means to have a good father, get in the word of God. Get to know God the Father and you will see what fatherhood should be. Even the best of dads strive to be as good as He is.
We've got to get into God's word to know Him. If you aren't in God's word, it's not going to happen. You're going build up ideas about Him. You may hear bits and pieces around you. Surely you've got your own opinion, but you don't have a biblical revelation. God gave us His Word so that we could know Him. He sent His son to take care of our sin debt so that we can know Him. This is why, in the old Testament, Israel was called to continue hearing about the works of God over and over. So that in those times of crisis they would remember who He is.
"God is (Our God is not, "maybe, can be") our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (He's never late!) Therefore, we (the people of God) will not fear. Though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam though the mountains quake at its swelling pride"
He's saying we will not fear! Even if the world seems to be having an apocalyptic downfall, we will not fear. Why? Because we know God. He's above what's going on and we know, as the Bible declares, He is a sovereign God and that means that nothing happens in this life that God does not have a hand on or over. Nothing!
This raises a lot of questions that we don't have the opportunity to deal with right now, but that's why we are in God's Word. That's why we're in Life Groups as we do life together, learning who God is. The more we know Him, the better we will be able to rejoice always.
Another New Testament example of this concept is the apostle Paul himself. After he wrote this letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote a letter we call the book of Philippians.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4
Paul wrote this while he's inside a prison. What is he saying? Rejoice! Be glad in the Lord in who He is and who you are; you're one of His kids! How could the apostle Paul rejoice knowing that he would soon be given a death sentence? Because he had a clear realization of the person of God. It wasn't an idea. He [God] wasn't a faithful wish. He was a person he [Paul] had a relationship with, in Christ.
If our prayer life is going to be biblical, it has got to start with a biblical understanding of who God is.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you've got to reach a certain level before your prayers become effective. No, I'm talking about sincerely knowing, and desiring to know, God. In that journey, and through that measure of faith, you will know Who you're talking to. You may only know Him limitedly, but you'll know Who you're talking to and that will generate the sincerity in your heart.
You may say, Pastor, where do you get that from?
17 pray without ceasing; 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Now, if you grew up in church, you are familiar with this scripture, you've heard this many times. But have you ever stopped to ask the question, "How can you pray without ceasing?" Am I supposed to walk around on my knees all the time? No. I've often heard it explained that we are to have a mindset of prayer. I like how Brother Lawrence describes this as The Practice of the Presence of God.
We pray without ceasing because we're communing with God daily. We're consciously aware of His presence. This can be rather challenging, I'll be honest with you. Especially if you're sitting watching a movie and everything is ungodly and you're trying to remember Jesus.
We should be striving to be in a mindset where there's not a place or a time that we aren't consciously aware of the presence of God. Prayer does not merely link us to God's resources. It allows us to experience His presence. When we are praying without ceasing we have a prayerful mindset, but more importantly, we have a conscious awareness of the presence of God. I want to step back for a moment and think about this.
"The Lord of hosts (Yahweh) is with us (He's here right now, Church). The God of Jacob is our stronghold." That's the reason we aren't anxious and we don't fear (in the context of that same chapter) because He is with us.
I can remember when my family and I were in business for ourselves for a season before I entered the ministry. Whenever I had the responsibility on a commercial job, all the weight was on me. But every time I would see my dad driving up to the job site in that blue Plymouth Volare, it was like a relief came off my shoulders because now he's the main man, I'm no longer the man. I can step aside and he can take over. The Psalmist is saying, Realize this, child of God, no matter where you go, no matter what time you are in, God is present. Your heavenly father, the creator of everything, the One who brought Israel through the red sea, the One who turned your spiritual blindness to light so that you could see you're a sinner who needs a savior. The God who loved you enough to give His son to die for your sin so that you could be in a relationship with Him. The One who took your stony, lifeless heart and gave you a new heart that now has the ability to love beyond comprehension. God, who takes someone that is in bondage to addiction, frees them from their addiction simply by His presence, and sets them on their feet as new creatures in Christ with their addiction gone and with a new perspective on life. He is with us. We are consciously aware of that truth. The more we know Him, the more we become comforted by the awareness of His presence.
Our Savior Jesus, miraculous in His incarnation and powerful in His resurrection, the one who spoke to death so that death would no longer reign but life [Romans 6, Revelation 20, John 11]. This same Jesus, in His glorified state, told His first followers to go and proclaim who He is and then He ascended into glory and two angelic beings told those first followers "this Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” [Acts 1:9-11]. And ever since that day, the church has anticipated the return of our risen savior.
But Jesus says here [Matthew 28:20] that He is with us always. If He ascended into heaven how can He be with us? John explained this through Jesus' teaching:
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; John 14:16
"He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." Who's he talking about? The Holy spirit, God dwelling in us. When we are aware of who God is, how we became His children through His Son, and how we now have, by Jesus' request, the presence of God living in us, the command and exhortation to pray without ceasing is really not that difficult.
Our challenge is that we don't think about these things that remind us of who we are and help us to see the correct, biblical posture we should have in our prayer life.
“Prayer is our approach to God and we have access in it. We may come boldly ... to speak all our mind. We may come with freedom ... We have access to His ear, tis always open to the voice of our supplications. We have access in all places, at all times.” Matthew Henry
Yes, we can have a conscious mindset of prayer. Yes, we can voice a prayer at any time -and we should! If we're the children of God and we know that God is in the room and there's no place or time that we can be away from Him, shouldn't we be like the little toddlers who know when mom and dad are in the room? Shouldn't that bring peace and comfort for us, as the children of God? Let us not forget that we should constantly be communing with Him.
One should constantly endeavor to honor and please God in our time awake, every waking moment of our lives.
18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
I believe this latter phrase of verse 18 is what ties in verses 16 and 17 into a complete statement. God's will is for you to be His child in Christ and because you know that, and you know who He is, you will rejoice always. You will be glad! You'll think, I am a child of the living God!
When I look outside and I wonder at creation I stand amazed. I really get worked up in my spirit when I think, I'm His child. I'm His child! I can call the creator of the universe Father!
Because of that, I live in a constant state of conscious communion and prayer. I'm not walking around on my knees, but whatever I'm doing in life, I'm aware of His presence through God the Holy spirit. It makes me aware of God the Son and the omniscience (ever-presence) of God the Father. In everything we give thanks.
You say, Well pastor, I hear you. The Bible says that and it's good, but it's really hard for me to give thanks in everything. I would agree with you. But when we stop and think that our God is a sovereign God (as the Bible reveals Him to be), and our God is love (as the Bible also reveals Him to be), then we know that whatever is happening to us, God has either brought it or allowed it.
You say, Well, then did God allow me to sin and to cause this mess that I'm in? He allowed it with the beautiful end of using it for your betterment.
You may think, Come on Pastor, the pain that I've suffered, the hurt that I've suffered, how can that be good? Look here at Romans 8
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
"All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." What's his purpose? For you to be His child!
Sometimes we act like we are self-sufficient in our humanity and sometimes God allows things into our life so we can see that we need to run to daddy. This is one of the challenges we have in the church today. It's not that we're dealing with shortness of belief, we're dealing with belief apathy! What do I need God for? I've got insurance to cover me; I've got a little money saved up in case there's a rainy day; I've got good credit; I can go get food; I can go get a car; I can go buy a house; I can get clothes. What do I need God for? The relationship with your Creator can only come by what God and only God, alone, can provide. You can't buy what He has to give you: His love, His forgiveness, and the relationship that mankind started with before the fall; the relationship we will have in our glorification (both in glory and in the interim).
Once we have tasted the goodness of God, we realize that we should live life in such a way that will honor Him in all that we do.
What makes this possible is knowing that God is working in our lives by providing for us through the Son, and through His presence in God the Holy Spirit.
"for through Him (Jesus) we (the children of God) both have access in one Spirit to the Father." What we have in this one verse is what we refer to in theological circles as the Trinity. God has provided us the avenue by which we have access to Him.
Often times, the hardest part of fixing a problem is not finding the person that can help you, it's getting to that person. You can call and leave a message and hope that the message gets to them. You can go in person or try to make an appointment. You can go to somebody that knows that person to see if, maybe, through a second-hand acquaintance, you may be able to get to that person. But then there are certain persons in the world that you'll never have access to because of who you are and who they are.
God's word is saying that:
Out of His love for you and His desire, His will to have a relationship with you, He has given you access to Himself. He allows things in our life so that we will exercise that privilege.
In J.C. Ryle's essay Sickness [Link to download PDF, Link to buy physical copy] ,he presents an idea that is so counter to our humanistic survival mode: Sickness is better than health because it drives us to God. Sickness is better than health? If you preach that, people are going to say you're nuts!
We spend millions and billions of dollars to preserve our health, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but we should have a perspective that asks the question, "is there anything good that can come out of this sickness?" I know we've seen a lot of people suffer. I've seen a lot of people suffer. I've seen death come quick and leave everybody wondering "why?" I've seen the tragedy of instant grief.
My dad survived a lung transplant. He was unable to do ministry, unable to do hardly anything until he got that lung transplant and then he was able to preach again. He was able to baptize again because he physically had the strength. But then, after that, he had an aortic aneurysm and died!
Lord, what's up with that?
Do you know what it did? It pushed me closer to my Father who art in heaven. I didn't lose my dad, he passed on. Do I grieve over the loss of my dad? Do I miss him? Absolutely! But I can look back with the perspective to give thanks that my daddy didn't suffer. As soon as it happened, it was over and now he's home. For me personally, it pushed me into the arms of my heavenly Father because, up to that point in my spiritual journey, I still was leaning a lot on daddy. But when he passed, my earthly father was gone and now I had to turn to my heavenly Father.
So I can agree with JC Ryle's bold claim. I still have moments when I wrestle with "in everything give thanks" [1 Thessalonians 5:18], but I want us to remember this last phrase of the verse that ties all this together.
18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
The will of the Father, in Christ Jesus, is that we will be in a communing relationship with Him, and our prayers will be as they should be: giving evidence that we are His kids; we've been born again; we now have eyes to see and a heart to receive and love rightly. When we cry out "Abba Father", the Creator of everything hears us and He is, indeed, drawing us closer to Him. To quote Matthew Henry again (by the way, I encourage you to use matthewhenry.org as a resource in your daily prayer life):
This life of communion with God, and constant attendance with upon Him, is a heaven upon earth. Matthew Henry, Daily Communion with God (1712)
He [Henry] was a man that suffered. He died because he fell off a horse at (what we would consider) a young age. Yet, in his short years, he grew in his faith, through his prayer life, to understand the importance of praying and communing with God daily. He described the benefits as a heaven on earth.
Most of you have heard me say this many times - "heaven is heaven because God's there". When we commune with Him, we're communing in His presence and it drives us. It causes us to lean in more so that we can know Him by getting into His word; fellowshipping with Him in His word.
These are my challenges to my brothers and sisters in Christ, these three "legs":
1. To seek a clear realization of the person of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) so that you will have a biblical posture for prayer,
2. Continually practice the presence of God, realizing that you, literally, cannot get away from Him. You can push back, but He's still there. If you're a born again child of God, He is there living within you, representing you before the Father and the Son. We know the scripture says God is omniscience and ever present.
3. Seek to live for Him, to honor Him, to give Him praise, to give Him thanks for what He's doing in our life, even in the hard times.
Pastor, I cannot bring myself to thank God for my sickness. Then do this: Thank him for the grace to get you through that sickness. You may not be able to embrace the sickness. Like I've said, I've wrestled with this, but you can always be thankful for the faithfulness of God to give you the grace to get you through the season that you're in. For our God is faithful. Amen.