(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
Turning everything over to God and letting Him control the situation is humanly impossible—and a fun experience.
“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, NKJV
Many years ago, I renewed a commitment to serve the Lord as my top priority. I was reading Psalm 1 and the first word, blessed, caught my attention. What does that mean? The concordances and dictionaries that I consulted said that blessed means “cheerful, calmly happy, or well off.” I knew I was a candidate for that. Verse 2 gave one characteristic of this blessed person:
His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Psalm 1:2, KJV
That struck me as a very tall order in that the law of the Lord is contained in a very thick book called the Bible. And how does one meditate day and night?
At the time, it was basketball season and I loved basketball. I read about the game; I watched it, talked about it, and followed the careers of certain players. Basketball was well ingrained in the background of my thinking.
It was also very satisfying to play the game in my younger days. I memorized all the rules of basketball because I couldn’t play successfully if they were not part of my subconscious thinking. I didn’t have time in the middle of a game to say, “Now, what was that rule about standing in the key too long?”
Living is like that also. If we wait until the actual event, God’s laws governing that situation in life will not be part of our background thinking and we will often end up making a wrong decision. We need to be ready with God’s law in our subconscious so we don’t end up with regrets after the fact. If the law is to be in the background of our thinking, we must first of all have portions of it in our minds.
Since memorizing is not one of my strengths, I looked for an easy verse to get started with. “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). My goal was to spend two weeks with this verse in the background of my thinking. This meant that “joy, delight, great gladness, emotion of keen or lively pleasure arising from present or expected good” needed to be in me always.
Always? These were my first responses: You’ve got to be kidding. Who wants to be that joyful? Should anyone be that joyful? Is it even appropriate? What about a death in the family? Discovery that a child is on drugs? Your partner is in an adulterous relationship? Job loss? Investment wiped out? Addressed rudely? Injured in an accident? Neglected or criticized? Beaten or abused?
You can add to this list. Life doesn’t happen the way you want it to.
While thinking about this verse over a period of two weeks, I did not succeed once in rejoicing for a full twenty-four hour period. One day during this period, I was disgusted and dreading the day even before I got out of bed. (Have you ever awakened in the morning saying, “Oh no, I woke up! Must I get out of bed?”)
Can one enjoy facing a crisis? I’ve often thought that joy is on the other side of a difficult problem and that joy only comes with a solution. This verse suggested, however, that one can joyfully work toward a solution.
I concluded that this is not humanly possible. To rejoice always requires a miracle: not just an ordinary one, but a full-blown, supernatural miracle.
The Bible says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22). This is a condition of the heart that occurs at any given time when one consciously recognizes the impossibility of human achievement of joy, and as an act of the will, yields to the joy of the Lord. The miracle then follows.
My friend Sue lived in Nairobi, East Africa, when she received word that her brother had died suddenly. She decided to go to California to be with her sister-in-law and attend a memorial service for him. The trip from Nairobi to Los Angeles was a long, demanding journey and she realized that if she ever needed peace and joy, it was now.
As she started out on her long journey, she prayed for the fruit of the Spirit, peace and joy, to be her companion.
It was an uneventful trip until she arrived in Dallas. The flight from Dallas to Los Angeles was overbooked and she found herself on the waiting list. One by one names were called and she watched the passengers go on board.
It occurred to her that she might not get on this flight, which meant she would miss the memorial service. Because she had prayed that she would get there in time for the service, it never occurred to her that she would miss it after traveling ten thousand miles. The thought crept into her mind that if she were to enjoy this moment, it would have to be in Dallas, wait-listed, and likely to miss the plane.
In fact, she did miss the plane. Only a miracle could give her joy in her heart in this situation, and she needed it now more than ever. At this point she could enjoy making the best of the predicament, or she could be unhappy and bitter. Either way, she was stuck in Dallas.
She chose to ask the Lord to fill her with His joy and God responded to her request. She has the same option every day. We all do.
The second verse I chose to work on was a bit more difficult—three words:
Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV