Joy, Presence, and Gratitude...
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
For whatever reason, I have seen what my sullen spirit has done to cripple people along the way. Sure, I’m an artist with a thespian spirit, so I’m given a pass by some to be melancholy…it makes for better art, so they say. But something inside of me has felt unwilling to let this rationale become my reality. Something has been whispering to me and pestering me to be positive. Even saying the word ‘positive’ feels shallow or trite or new age or prosperity gospelish to me. But that’s the word that keeps surfacing lately in my heart.
I saw this passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians recently and was moved by his vision-casting. Here’s a man who was beat down asking the church to live upbeat.
I’m not sure if there is a holy grail I hunt for more than joy. I want my life to be joyful even in trial. When Paul says, “always”, I think he means all the time. Obviously, joy isn’t happiness or smiles or laughter…it’s much deeper. It certainly produces those things in time, but sometimes joy is staying in the middle of a disaster when everyone ese is fleeing and showing up in life when it’s become unpopular to do so. It’s maintaining and sustaining a spirit of hope when all seems lost. I feel like rejoicing isn’t something I see much and haven’t been good at modeling over the years. It’s almost like we don’t trust positive people or happy people, like they are optimists and we are realists which makes us right and them naïve. But I want to bring joy into my day, distributing it to others in generous portions. I want to tap into the wellspring of life where there is no shortage of supply spilling and splashing joy on anyone who happens to be in my presence. Always. God, give me a faithful joy.
Prayer is the weakest of my spiritual disciplines, especially if I think about it in terms of formal intercession where you’re in a closet or on your knees, etc. I say that to my shame. I want to get better at breaking away and spending time in the presence of God in a posture of prayer. But to pray continually must mean something more than verbal petitions and repetitions in a secret place, it must be a lifestyle that one learns…a life lived prayerfully moment to moment consciously aware of the close presence of God and the constant interaction of God in every motion and emotion of my daily experiences. Brother Lawrence called it “practicing the presence of God”…even in the most menial and mundane details of life there is an ability to do them for the glory of God as spiritual acts of worship. To have unbroken fellowship with God’s Spirit. To walk in step with Him throughout the day listening for his voice, guided by his nudges. As life hits I want my head to tilt to the heavens longing to live out his emotions and actions, to say with Paul “let this mind be in me that was also in Christ Jesus”. To have his thoughts and feelings no matter the circumstances…continually. To be able to think upon Christ in the middle of chaos…what would this do to rock my world and alter my reality?
GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
My mom used to call it an ‘attitude of gratitude’…it used to grate me to hear her say those words. I’ve come to love that little phrase knowing how critical it is to thriving in this cruel word of ingrates. Lately, I’ve been trying to wake up solely focused on soul alignment. To speak out words of life and hope and truth in spite of feelings of fatigue and fright. To shout down any negative voices seeking to take my soft heart and petrify it. Mostly this happens by “counting my blessings, naming them one by one.”…aka – being grateful for the good instead of bent out of shape by the bad. It takes concentrated energy to be thankful in all circumstances. It’s not hard to be thankful in pleasant situations, but to live thankful when puke hits the fan…well, that takes a herculean discipline. Like joy, being grateful doesn’t seem to be in right now. People seem to be drawn to people who identify with them, even commiserate with them. They want to hear, “Me, too”. They don’t want to hear, “But there is so much to be thankful for.” Grateful people can often make others feel guilty. But I think over time, thankful and thoughtful people are magnetic because we’re all longing for a positive presence in a world teeming with negativity. It gets old pointing out how much everything sucks…I can tell I wasn’t made to do that. I don’t respect myself very much if that is my greatest contribution to life, trouble-shooting. I want to live thankful for the burgeoning goodness around me all the while being mindful of the presence of pain, disappointment, and loss. Somewhere in between these two worlds stands a person who is close to the heart of God and the heart of man…I want to be found in that place. The place of gratitude and grace.
Let it be, Lord.