By Liana Berrus
Originally Published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 15
This year has brought a steady stream of trials. My younger brother died very unexpectedly in January, caught in a rip tide while on vacation. Three days after his funeral, I was in the operating room having surgery. In February, my husband was laid off from his ministry position in a way that caused an incredible amount of hurt and grief. Then in March, I once again found myself on an operating table having major hip surgery that required me to be off my feet for five weeks, limiting the amount of care I could provide to my two special needs children. The trials have poured upon us like a raging flood, and their surging has left me gasping for breath and scrambling to find solid footing.
As these trials continued to pile up around us, the Holy Spirit regularly brought 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to my mind: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I wrestled with the Lord about these particular verses. I cried out to Him, “How can I rejoice and give thanks in these circumstances? How can I rejoice and give thanks when my brother is dead, my husband doesn’t have a job, I can’t walk, and we are burdened with medical bills that we can’t pay?”
Quite frankly, I didn’t want to rejoice, pray, or be thankful. Darkness pressed around me from every side, threatening to consume me. But as the Lord continued to put these verses on my heart, I began asking Him what He wanted me to learn through this incredibly difficult season of life. He faithfully met me and began to change my heart as I considered the four truths of this passage.
This admonition almost seems cruel when we are weighed down by various trials and difficulties. Yet Scripture is replete with this command to choose joy. Under the agony of affliction, many of us have probably raised the question, “How can I rejoice?” Rejoicing in the face of trials does not mean that we shove our emotions down, slap on a happy face, and say in a sing-song voice that we are joyful in Jesus. True rejoicing goes much deeper than that.
As those who are redeemed by Christ, we can rejoice because He has raised our souls from death to life and bestowed upon us the favor of the Father. Even when everything around us looks dark and our souls are weighed down by the brokenness of this world, we can rejoice in the God of our salvation. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you (Galatians 3:20). So rejoice today, sweet sister. Rejoice greatly that you have been set apart for so great a salvation, purchased by the precious blood of Christ. Preach the truth of the gospel to yourself and allow the depth of its message to fill you with joy in believing.
Gospel rejoicing also looks ahead to what is coming. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” that awaits us (Romans 5:2). Even as trials and burdens strike us down, we can rejoice in confidence knowing that we will not be destroyed. The Father guards His children to the end, and the trials that we experience on this earth are preparing an eternal weight of glory that is beyond anything we could ever think or imagine (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Even in the midst of hardship, we can lift our hands in worship as we rejoice in the promise of what is to come.
This hope allows us to be a people who are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). When we walk through times of difficulty, it is appropriate to be sorrowful. Our spirits should cry out under the weight of sin that binds this world as we will long for deliverance. Yet even in the midst of our sorrow, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we are the most blessed of people. Our sins are forgiven, our hope is certain, and our future is sure. It is this hope that allows us to sing songs of worship with rejoicing hearts even while the tears of sorrow roll hot down our faces. This is a paradox of the Christian life. In the midst of great sorrow, we can rejoice. Even as we walk through darkness, our hearts can soar in praise and worship as we ponder the truth of who we are in Christ.
Pray Without Ceasing
God invites us into conversation with Him. He desires for His children to come to Him with the deepest burdens of their hearts. In Luke 16:1-8, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate what it looks like to pray without ceasing. In this parable, He recounts the story of a widow who persistently came to an unrighteous judge asking for justice. The judge was annoyed with her and didn’t want to listen to her request. But after a while, he got so tired of hearing from her that he decided to give her what she wanted and granted her plea. Jesus tells us that God is the righteous judge who gives justice to those who cry out to Him day and night. Like the widow, we should be persistent in our prayers and not give up.
Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t hear us or that He is choosing to ignore our requests. Yet we are called to continual, persistent prayer. God delights in hearing the requests of His children, and our prayers rise before Him like a pleasing fragrance. God does not ignore our requests but listens to them in love, compassion, mercy, and favor. We can cry out to Him day and night knowing that He will hear and act on behalf of His children.
Prayer reminds us that while we are weak, God is infinitely and incomprehensibly strong. The act of prayer takes our eyes off of our earthly circumstances and reorients them upward to the great God who is enthroned above the earth. We are invited to pour out our hearts to God as we freely tell Him of our deepest troubles and darkest distress (Psalm 62:8). Christ Himself provides us with an example in our prayers. While He walked upon this earth in human form, He “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus, God in the flesh, prayed to God with loud cries and tears. As He experienced the depths of human emotion, He carried His distress and sorrow to the Father. We can do the same. God invites us to boldly come into His presence so that we will find grace and help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
God meets you in your prayers. Even when you feel like your prayers are not getting through, don’t give up praying. Keep bringing your requests boldly before the throne of grace. Cry out to God with honest expressions of your thoughts, fears, sorrows, and joys. He wants to hear your cries and reaches down to you in love and mercy. Don’t stop praying. Those who are faithful in prayer will find ample cause for rejoicing. It is through prayer that we access the fullness of joy found only in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11). A life that lacks prayer will also lack joy. We must faithfully talk to God, be honest with him about our troubled thoughts, place our trust in Him, and praise His great name. If you are finding it difficult to rejoice, pursue the Lord in prayer.
This admonition to give thanks has been difficult for me to practice this year. As I feel the weight of our present trials, discontentment and anger often begin to creep into my soul. But God does not call me to give thanks only during days of plenty. He also calls me to thank Him through the days of deepest darkness. So how do we do this? How do we give thanks to God when it feels like there is nothing for which we are thankful?
My Bible falls open to Psalm 103 all by itself. I began every morning of last year by reading this Psalm to orient my heart and focus in the right direction. Psalm 103:1-6 exhorts us to bless the Lord and not forget his benefits. The benefits that are listed in this Psalm do not depend upon our circumstances but reveal to us the character of God and what he has done for us. When we walk through days of difficulty, this Psalm becomes a beautiful template of what it looks like to give thanks to God. Even when our circumstances feel thankless, we can look to the promises of God with rejoicing and thankful hearts.
God has forgiven our iniquity and offered us redemption (Psalm 103:3-4). He has reached down to us in love and cancelled out the debt of sin that stood against us. This is a spiritual benefit that will never be taken away from the people of God. Even when everything else around you looks bleak, give thanks for the forgiveness of sin. Give thanks to God that He does not treat us as our sins deserve but instead bestows favor upon us, reaches down to us in love, redeems us, and freely offers us forgiveness.
God crowns us with steadfast love and mercy (Psalm 103:4). This idea of steadfast love refers to God’s covenant love toward us. God reaches down to us and crowns us with his promise-keeping love. This love will never fail, give up, perish, or fade. This love is eternal. Even on the most difficult day in the most bleak circumstance, we wear God’s steadfast love like a crown. We are a kingdom of kings and priests because of this love and mercy that He has freely bestowed upon us (1 Peter 2:9-10). So give thanks today, sister, that God has crowned you with His promise-keeping, eternal love.
God satisfies our souls with good and renews us. Even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances, our hearts can be satisfied in the goodness of God Himself. This satisfaction doesn’t mean that our trials magically disappear and our hearts once again beam with happiness. But as we place our trust unswervingly in God’s goodness, we find the empty places filled and the sorrowful places redeemed. God is fully good, and He freely bestows His goodness upon His children. This is good news that provides the satisfaction our souls so desperately need. Give thanks today for God’s goodness. Thank Him that He always acts in good ways toward His children. Thank God that He offers your soul renewal and strength through His Spirit.
This Is God’s Will
Most of us wonder at various points in our lives, “What is God’s will for my life? What does God want me to do?” God clearly spells out His will for us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. His will for you is that you would rejoice, pray, and give thanks. His will for you is that your life would be transformed from the inside out to look less like your sinful self and more like Christ who has redeemed you. God desires your growth in holiness and godliness. As you cultivate the practice of always rejoicing, praying continually, and giving thanks in all things, your heart will be transformed.
If you are finding it difficult to rejoice, begin your day by recounting the gospel. Remind yourself that you have been saved by grace through faith to a glorious inheritance and a future that is certain. Praise God that He has reached down to you in love and made you His own. Praise God that He will one day restore all things that are broken and sorrowful. Look forward to the hope of future glory and rejoice.
Make it a practice to talk to God. Set aside intentional time for prayer, and then continue to cry out to Him throughout your day. If you aren’t sure how to start praying, begin in the Psalms. They provide a beautiful model for our prayers as they express the depths of human emotion and the confidence that we can find in God’s promises. The prayers of the Psalms can become the prayers of your own heart as you speak the words of Scripture back to God.
Look for things to be thankful for. It is easy to fall into the trap of ingratitude and miss opportunities for thankfulness. So begin to practice gratitude by writing down things you are thankful for. This could be as simple as keeping a notepad out on the counter or a piece of paper on your fridge. As you go through your day, add to the list. You could write out evidences of God’s grace throughout the day, simple joys, and acts of kindness. You will probably be surprised by how many things you have to be grateful for each day.
Don’t Give Up
When trials and suffering come our way, it is easy to give up on these disciplines. It is easy to walk away from rejoicing, prayer, and gratitude and instead allow ourselves to be swept away by the difficulties surrounding us. But don’t give up. Persevere in the hard work of godliness. Rejoice in the God of your salvation who has graciously reached down to you and granted you life. Pray without ceasing as you honestly and humbly take your burdens before the throne of grace. Give thanks to God for the rich spiritual benefits that will always belong to you through Christ. Don’t lose heart, sisters. The best is yet to come.