If you participated in our VBS program: Road Rally: Jesus is the Way! or were at church on July 24th, you would have heard these four letters explained and understood why there is an exclamation point after each one. For those who were not able to be there, these four letters remind us of the Lord’s call to:
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
(1 Thess. 5:16-18 ESV)
Each day the “pit crews” (the kids were organized according to grades) would share with their leaders things that corresponded to each letter. So I thought that would be an excellent exercise for all of us in the sweltering heat of Maryland’s month of August.
These godly exhortations are imperatives, that is, they are commands, not suggestions! Yet how often are our lives characterized by the opposite attitudes. We are “always” grumbling or complaining; we pray infrequently and often without much thought or emotion1, and we find it difficult, nigh impossible, to “give thanks in all circumstances”! Ought we not take seriously that these very normal reactions to life in a fallen world reveal hearts that are not following (or caring about?) God’s will for us in Christ Jesus? So please use these four letters as a helpful daily heart exercise and if we endeavor to do this for one month, may God be pleased to help us make this our daily habit!
R = rejoice! This command does not mean that we are not aware of the many sins and miseries of this life; nor does it mean that there is no place for weeping or sober reflection on suffering and sorrow. Rather, this wonderful word with its accompanying adverb “always”, reminds us that we are united to Jesus Christ the risen, reigning King who ever lives to intercede for His own (see Rom. 8:34 & Heb. 7:25). The ability to obey this is also part of the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy . . . (Gal. 5:22); this joy comes from the inside, from the reality of whose we are (loved by God, saved from our sin, and being sanctified by His Word (Jn. 17:17) and Spirit).
Can you list one or more things to rejoice over? Would you write it down and do it again tomorrow and the day after that? Maybe you could share your joy with someone else and ask them what makes them rejoice!
P = pray! What a good and gracious command this is for us—how we should rejoice that we can speak to and with our Heavenly Father! We are taught that because of Jesus Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the office of our Great High Priest, we should “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 ESV). But what does it mean to “pray without ceasing”? We certainly know that whatever else, it excludes “vain repetition” (see Mt. 6:7); rather we hear Jesus teaching his disciples through a parable that “they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1-8). So we are taught that we need to persistently pray!2 Does this characterize your intercessory prayers? How do you remember for whom you are praying? How do you acknowledge answered prayers? How shall we keep a kingdom focus in our prayer life and not only pray for those urgent physical or material needs we have and hear about?
Will you commit to write down your prayer requests this month and then see how the Lord answers them? Won’t we engage in Kingdom-focused intercession for God’s gospel work going on around the world? Shouldn’t we spend more time in earnest prayer for our church, and every other true church? I’d certainly encourage all of you who are able to join our prayer meeting (weekly on Tuesday afternoons and every other week on Thursday evenings via conference call); or meet one on one or in a small group to prayer regularly without ceasing for God to be glorified in us as we share and show the love of Jesus and the truth of the Gospel to those near and far.
g T = give thanks! Knowing our guilt and experiencing God’s grace in our salvation should lead to lives characterized by gratitude. We are not commanded here to give thanks for every circumstance, but in every circumstance. We can only do that when we believe and trust that our Lord is sovereign over all things and “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Let me give one example from the life of Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) which comes from his journal after he was mugged and his wallet stolen:
Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
How might we give thanks in all circumstances? Will we think differently about our sufferings and celebra-tions than the world around us does? How do you include giving thanks in your everyday prayers?
I do pray that those children who spent a week with us will remember what they learned and that when they see certain road signs will be reminded of Gospel truth. And I pray that we as a congregation will put into practice this month God’s Word to his people found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
1Contrast how the Westminster Larger Catechism instructs us in Q. 185: “How are we to pray?” A. “We are to pray with an awe-inspiring understanding of the majesty of God, and a deep sense of our own unworthiness, needs, and sins; with repentant, thankful, and open hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, emotion, love, and perseverance, waiting for Him with humble submission to His will.” (Fortress Edition)
2See Persistent Prayer by Guy Richard in the wonderful new series “Blessings of the Faith” published by P&R. The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 448.