1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
My late father-in-law, Bill Patrick, was a man of deep faith and conviction. Often, if a friend or family member talked to him about a problem they were having or a concern they felt, he would respond by saying, “Have you prayed about it? If not, pray about it and then come talk to me.” He believed that any and all concerns in life, no matter how small, should be viewed through the lens of prayer.
Paul tells us something similar in the text that we read today from Thessalonians. He reminds us that as believers in God and followers of Christ, prayer is to be our constant activity. “Pray without ceasing” he says, along with the recommendation that we also rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances.
If we are honest, we admit that this can be a challenge at times. In our churches and in our world, we have had a bit of a difficult week. In the Greene Street Church, we come to our voting day having experienced more than our share of illness recently among our members, with some facing some pretty serious physical challenges right now. Main Street experienced the death of one of its oldest and most beloved members this past week, and even as we celebrate her life, legacy, and eternal inheritance, we also mourn her passing.
In our nation and in the world, we continue to live under circumstances controlled by the virus and the threat of the virus. We learned that the President and the First Lady have tested positive for COVID and we are praying for a full and quick recovery for them. We pray for full health for them, their family, and staff, and we pray for recovery for all those who currently have the virus.
So now is the time for us to pray without ceasing. Now is the time to not just ask God for protection, healing, and guidance. Now is also the time for us to give thanks to God and, yes, to even rejoice for all that God has blessed us with.
In his book “The Way of the Heart”, Henri Nouwen writes about the difference between what he calls ‘prayers of the mind’ and ‘prayers of the heart.’ He writes, “For many of us, prayer simply means talking to God. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response.” That is the definition of prayers of the mind.
On the other hand, “The prayer of the heart is a prayer that does not allow us to limit our relationship with God to interesting words or pious emotions. By its very nature such prayer transforms our whole being into Christ precisely because it opens the eyes of our soul to the truth of ourselves as well as to the truth of God. In our heart we come to see ourselves as sinners embraced by the mercy of God.”
Although we look around us and we see a world where right now there is violence, famine, suffering, and the pandemic, we are not discouraged. In the time of the pandemic there are heightened levels of turmoil and uncertainty, and fear over the long term changes that will result. However, we remain faithful and live in the hope and certainty of God’s promises.
And so, for us prayer is not only our constant duty but also our constant opportunity. Paul says “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” for us - to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances. To do so is not living in denial or avoidance of the reality of what is happening around us. It is to seek God first, to trust God, and to rely on God to give us the peace which passes all understanding.
A hymn that speaks to this is “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.” The words say:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sign, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
Prayer is the Christians vital breath, the Christians native air; their watchword at the gates of death; they enter heaven with prayer.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Thanks be to God. Amen.