“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18
The terms are pretty demanding, aren’t they? Always — without ceasing — everything. How could anyone rejoice, pray, and give thanks in every circumstance, every minute of the day?
Yet that seems to be what God through the apostle Paul is requiring of believers. And in context, these exhortations are among other verses that also use absolute terms: “be patient with all…always pursue what is good…test all things…abstain from every form of evil.”
From what we read in Acts 17 about their early history, this young church in Thessalonica was undergoing some heavy persecution because of their faith. Yet Paul praised them at the beginning of his letter for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.”
In light of their situation, we might understand why they were told to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. They needed to be reminded that no matter what their circumstances, 1) they could rejoice because they had salvation through Jesus; 2) they had constant access to their heavenly Father through prayer; and 3) they could be thankful even during hardships, knowing that trials produce patience, and patience leads to perfection (James 1:2-5).
What does that mean for Christians today? It means that in all circumstances, God asks us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. It means we replace our complaining with rejoicing. It means we overcome anxiety and despair through prayer. It means that in our prayers we not only ask God to bless and help us, but we remember to thank him for all things physical and spiritual with which we have been so richly blessed.