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Jul 31, 2022

God's Will--Our Praying

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: 1 Thessalonians

Keywords: prayer, joy, gratitude, rejoicing


This passage contains a trinity of commands that all relate one to another and revolve around prayer.


God’s Will—Our Praying

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

July 31, 2022


Ever wanted to know God’s will for your life? The first 1/3 of my Christian life seemed to be spent trying to determine what God’s will for my life was—education, career, spouse, parenting, places of ministry, finances, etc.  The last 2/3rds of my life has been spent trying to obey what I know to be God’s will for my life in everything from what I think to how I live.  Actually the latter has proven more difficult than the former. 

What’s the difference between the will of a loving parent for their 10-year old child and the will of a human trafficker for that 10-year-old?

  • What’s the difference between the will of God for your life and the will of Satan for you?

The will of one person for another is only as good as the goodness of the person willing it. 

  • Hitler’s will for the Jews was utterly evil because he was evil. But David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the modern state of Israel, his will for the Jewish people was that they would have their own nation in 1948 because he loved the Jews.

The will of someone for someone else is only as good as the nature of the person doing the willing.  When that person is good, kind and loving, their will for you will be good, kind and loving.  When they are not, watch out!

So, when we come to the will of God for our lives, what can we be confident of God’s desires for us?  What will His will bring to our daily lives…and conversely, what will failing to do His will probably bring to our human experience?

This is precisely why those of us who know and love the Living God want to know and DO His will.  We know that doing so will lead to blessing and failing to live out His will will lead us into pain and misery

We’re in two verses of Scripture today that contain 3 commands that Paul expressly tells us are “the will of God” for Christ-followers.  They are in 1 Thess. 5:16-17.  Now Paul has already told us back in 4:3-5 that “bodily holiness” as we’ve been calling it, is God’s will for His children.  The biblical term he used was “sanctification” and he applied it specifically to bodily holiness in the sexual arena of our lives. 

But in this passage today, Paul is pointing out God’s will for us in terms of our mental/emotional/soul-state of being.  Not surprisingly, it has everything to do with the state of our connection and communication with God, in a word, praying.  So, let’s look at the three commands God gives us here that express his clear and good desires for our lives.  Then we’ll look at HOW to obey them.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17-- Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

These 3 short commands are so concise that I hope by the time we are done today that you will have them memorized.  I pray that we will all have mastered them… by the time we die.

            Let’s begin with the end of these two verses, “…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  The way these three commands are constructed leads commentators to agree that this phrase about the will of God is to be applied to all three of the commands, not just the last one about “giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances.” 

That leads me to believe that these three commands are a sort of package deal.  They belong together and go together.  It’s like a square-dance that requires partners.  Take a partner out and the dance doesn’t really work very well.  So, with these three commands.  They are knit together, meant to be interwoven into the fabric of our lives.  Fail to rejoice and it will impact your prayer life.  Fail to pray and it will impact your gratitude.  Fail to be grateful and it will impact both your level of joy and your communication with God. 

So, let’s figure out what these commands are calling for as well as what they don’t mean.  Then we can talk about HOW to make them a consistent part of our lives. 

“Rejoice always.”  It’s probably not the command to “rejoice” that trips most of us up.  It’s the adverb “always” that leaves us scratching our heads.  Does Paul mean we are never to mourn or grieve, weep or struggle with negative emotions?  If that’s the case, then you won’t be seeing much of me at certain times in life like when someone I love dies or I’m deeply disappointed in life. 

            This command doesn’t seem to square very well with another one of God’s commands through Paul in Romans 12:15 that tells us toWeep with those who weep [and] rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Since I’m not anywhere close to God’s capacity to rejoice and grieve, I can do one or the other at any point in time. But never both fully at the same time.  

This is, according to Greek scholars, THE shortest verse in Greek in the whole N.T.  [5:16  Πάντοτε χαίρετε, literally “always rejoice.”]  Interestingly, the shortest verse in the English New Testament is just the opposite, “Jesus wept, (John 11:35). As He faced the cross, Jesus prayed “with loud crying and tears” (Heb. 5:7). In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul described himself, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” 

            God isn’t calling us to deny negative emotions or sadness.  He’s not advocating that we try to continually be emotionally bi-polar— one moment dancing and the next weeping.  The “always” is referring to our chosen state of being, the consistent, general flow of life.  Rejoicing is an action more than a feeling and as such it can coexist with less than happy feelings.  But it is a chosen thing.

So “rejoice always” does not mean, “Deny your feelings, put on a happy face, and never feel sad.” Regarding the trials that God brings into our lives to train us as His children, the Bible acknowledges (Heb. 12:11), “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

So, what does Paul mean when he commands, “Rejoice always”? First, it’s important to remember that he wrote this to new believers who were suffering persecution because of their faith (1 Thess. 3:3-4). And the command follows Paul’s exhortation that we should not get even when someone mistreats us. Probably Paul had taught them Jesus’ words (Matt. 5:11-12):

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Biblical rejoicing has to do with a forward anticipation of something better. 

ILL:  When I was first in pastoral ministry, I would often have difficult Elder Board meetings on Monday nights.  There were plenty of reasons to be discouraged or disappointed after a 3-hour wrangling over something draining.  But in those days, when our children were in grade school and middle school, I used to take one of them out for breakfast every Tuesday morning.  I can’t tell you the number of times I would drive home and start thinking about what I would get to wake up to in just a few hours—a special, meaningful and delightful time with one of my kids.  And I would just start to smile on the way home. 

            Biblical rejoicing has to do with a forward anticipation of a future experience with God—shared forever with God!

Future Character:

James (1:2-3) adds another element of biblical rejoicing: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Biblical rejoicing keeps growing character in view.  I don’t know about you, but stagnating in personal growth of character is discouraging to me.  But God promises that every trial in my life has the potential of producing something better, something good in my soul.  That is reason to choose rejoicing even in the midst of the hardest of times. 

Paul reinforces this in Romans 5:3-5, where he wrote, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

So, given their difficult circumstances, this command to rejoice always has to be viewed not primarily as a matter of feelings, but rather of obedience. When we are in difficult trials or if people have mistreated us because of our faith, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity. Or we can turn our focus to gratitude for the development that can take place in our character and the future difference the present pain promises in eternity.

One more observation about biblical rejoicing.  As Paul commanded the Philippians (4:4), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” That little phrase, “in the Lord” is the key. Our joy cannot be totally oblivious to circumstances, but neither should it be governed by them.  Rejoicing is to be governed by our relationship with the Lord.  Life may be very painful.  Paul wrote this command from a Roman prison or house arrest.  Yet the entire book of Philippians is about joy.  Because joy is connected with the person and presence of God, not the problems and persecutions of this world.  Taking joy in the God who always walks with us through life and is THE most joy-filled and joy-giving Being in existence, can change us.  It is very possible to have large segments of life that are painful and hard while having a relationship with someone in the middle of that pain that is very joy-provoking. 

ILL:  Isn’t this why so many even people without faith in God endure work for a week so they can enjoy partying with friends on the weekend?  Isn’t this why so many even non-Christian people endure less-than-wonderful jobs all week so they can enjoy life with their sweetheart of family at the end of the day or the weekend?  WHO we delight in can deeply impact how much pain we put up with.  Just ask any mother in labor!

ILLActs 16—Paul and Silas in prison. At midnight, he and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God (Acts 16:25). The same was true of the apostles. After the Jewish leaders flogged them for preaching the resurrection of Jesus, we read (Acts 5:41), “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

            This is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism  says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God [and at this point Pastor John Piper changes the preposition rightly from “and” to “by”] BY enjoying Him forever.”  Saints through the ages have always learned that the greatest and surest joy in life is always God himself, not people or anything else in this entire creation.

To “rejoice always” means that we must make this deliberate choice to focus on the Lord, on the character development that comes through trials, and on the future blessings both will bring for all eternity.   

How can we develop a habit of rejoicing always?

  1. Set regular times…like mealtimes, bedtime and alarm-clock time…to remind you to rejoice.
  2. Use every frustration as a reminder that God is calling you to find Him in life through the frustrations. Granted, this usually takes us longer to remember because the frustration is clouding our view, but when we recognize we are disappointed in life or a person or an event, that can be our reminder to refocus and ask God to give us more of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22—joy). 
  3. Make rejoicing a regular, consistent part of your prayer experience with God. See Ephesians 1:3-14 for Paul’s prayer focusing on the forever spiritual riches we have in Christ.  This is a great prayer to make every day of our lives. 

Let’s move on to vs. 17—“Pray without ceasing.”

Here again we are confronted with a conundrum.  Praying isn’t the impossible part here; it’s doing it “without ceasing.”  Interestingly, this little adverb “ceaselessly” or “without intermission or interruption” is only used 4 times in the N.T., all of them having to do with prayer and 3 of them here in 1 Thessalonians:

  • 1 Thess. 1:3Constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Thess. 2:13And we also thank God constantlyfor this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
  • Here in 5:17
  • Only other time is also in a context of prayer in Romans 1:9,10For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.

This Greek term (euchoma) is one of the most common terms in the N.T. for prayer.  It encompasses just about any kind of praying you can think of but focuses on things that aren’t reality yet.  That are still needed.  It can mean to ask, make request, wish for something, beseech or entreat a superior for something.  Essentially Paul is saying that whenever we have a need as humans, prayer should be our reflexive reaction. 

ILL:  We experience reflexes our entire life—blinking, recoiling from a burn from a hot pan/stove, ducking when we see some object coming at us, swerving while driving when an animal runs out in front of our car.   Numerous diseases can attack our reflexes and cause major problems:  certain heart diseases, including, cervical spine or spinal cord disorders, lesions on the brain (like MS), certain infections, invasive surgery, even repetitive motion disorders leading to ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In a way, crying to God is a spiritual reflex that even non-Christians have.  Just ask anyone who’s been in war or the line of live-fire.  But most of us suffer from a disease that affects our spiritual prayer reflex:  it’s called sin.  We think something has to rise to the level of life-threatening to pray about it.  We think we have enough wisdom without asking God for decisions we make from our social and entertainment life to our work and thought life.

            Prayer is a never-ending conversation we can and should be having with God.  That doesn’t mean we need to always be thinking or saying a verbal conversation with God.  Like riding in the car with my wife, we may go some time without speaking out something to each other.  But when I’m thinking of things that may help her know more about what I’ve been doing or thinking or anything that impacts our relationship, I’ll comment.  And when she is in any way part of the solution to a need or challenge I have, conversation is certainly in order. 

            This is why Paul calls us to “pray without ceasing” or interruption.

  • God is the unseen occupant of not just our car but our life.
  • So much of what we do impacts Him and our relationship with him.
  • So much of our life needs the wisdom and guidance of God.

This is why prayer needs to be a sort of uninterrupted and no-intermissions experience for us.  Whether it is praise and thanksgiving or crying out in pain and grief, conversation with God is the way life with God was designed to be handled. 

ILLJesus modeled this best, being still 100% God as well as the only perfect human being to walk this earth.  If this is what the only perfect human relationship with God in history looked like, surely we as needy sinners need the same…if not more.

            This is why Jesus often got up before sunrise to spend time in secluded conversation with the Father.  This is why He was so passionate that the Temple be a place of prayer, not commerce.  This is why His disciples were so curious about His prayer life that they asked him boldly to teach them to pray.  His very lifestyle challenged and convicted them that their prayer life was not up to snuff.  This is why Jesus could say, “I do what I see my Father doing,” (Jn. 5:30), and “I say only what I hear my Father saying” (Jn. 8:26, 38, 40; 15:15).

            This is why Paul exhorts us to “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is, above all else, a relationship-builder with God. 

ILL:  any marriage problems and solutions have to do with communication.  That’s why communication is something any marriage book or conference will spend time addressing.  That’s why family and marriage therapists are so desperately needed:  our communication patterns naturally break-down in marriage. We need outside help. 

            This is what Paul is addressing in our life with God.  We need to hear this truth that one of the most important truths about life that works is a prayer life that works

ILL:  conversation with one of our young adults recently about prayer.  They are heading up a prayer ministry group on their college campus.  A fellow believer from another country had come to their prayer group and, after a few minutes of listening to them praying, gently exhorted them to pray a bit differently from what they were doing. They clearly weren’t praying contrary to God’s will.  But he thought he had a better way they should follow. 

            I’ll be the first to admit that Christians in other parts of the world have a TON to teach us about praying.  I’m happy to get pointers and suggestions from anyone whose walk with God I respect.  But this young man’s question about what I thought of this man’ advice to pray in a certain way cause me to wonder if these students may not have been put to questioning HOW they should pray when they actually got to praying.  It may have planted seeds of doubt that could cause them to hesitate to pray like they had been doing. 

            So, I told this brother that I thought it was sometimes a tool of the Enemy to get us to question HOW we are praying in a way that could shut down or discourage praying itself, imperfect though we may be in it. 

I doubt I’ve prayed a completely perfect prayer my entire life.  Between less-than-perfect motives and outright imperfect requests and styles of praying, I doubt I sound to God like someone he is thinking, “Wow, that eloquence really moved me.  I think I’ll respond to that prayer.” 

Friends, we are all like little children learning to talk the Father’s language.  If you’ve been around 2-5 year-old children, they mispronounce words, butcher sentences and basically destroy about any language they try to learn.  But what any parent loves to hear is not silence or constant crying or moaning.  They want to just see their child come to them, try to communicate with them or just reach out to them.  God is far more pleased, moved and engaged with us when we pray than when we do not. That is why Paul challenges us, “Pray without ceasing…without interruption.”



  • What are you doing presently to increase your prayer connection with God? Part of a group prayer-time regularly?  Developing a prayer closet in your home and life? 
  • Learn how to identify and implement a variety of prayer-prompters in your daily schedule. ILL: One of my many faults is bad posture. So, when Joanna was running for Lilac Queen, she wanted to be sure not to imitate that poor parental habit.  She started posting post-it-notes all around the house that simply had one word on them: “POSTURE!”  I’d go into the bathroom and there would be one on the mirror.  I’d be doing dishes in the kitchen and see one on the window sill in front of the sink.  I’d find them on the coat closet door, or the door to the garage before getting into the car.  It felt like my parents were back living in my house because they were always telling me, “Stand up straight, John!” 
  • Anything that is a part of our daily routine can become a prayer-prompter: meals, stop-lights, drive time, phone reminders, troublesome news bulletins. 

But if we are to pray more and more frequently, we must have some plan we’re working. Just as I marvel at how people in troubled marriages find time for everything else but can’t seem to find time to sit and communicate daily or weekly with their spouse, so I marvel at how we as Christ’s followers can find tie for everyone and everything else but not for constant prayer-conversation with God.  Let’s “just DO IT!”


Lastly, Paul commands us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” 

What does this command mean?

It means that in every situation we are to give thanks to our sovereign and good God and Savior.  Sometimes that will come more spontaneously as we’re just deeply grateful for God’s blessing over us in life.  Other times it will be we will have to cultivate thankfulness—stop and think, “What am I grateful for right now, genuinely, even though life is really hard right now?”   

In Ephesians 5:20, Paul puts it, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Giving thanks in every situation does not mean that we must be happy with every situation or resigned to accept matters without praying and working for change. 

The prepositions are really critical in these stereophonic commands.  The original of 1 Thess 5:17 uses this preposition translated here “foreverything.  It’s a preposition that literally means “over, on behalf of, for the sake of.” 

God clearly wants to redeem every situation in our lives.  Thanksgiving to Him is the means by which we can experience that divine redemption.  God is calling us to declare thanksgiving OVER every event and experience of life. 

God is NOT calling us to be thankful for evil or evil people.  But He does want us to declare truth over both evil and evil people that is impacting us.  This is the consistent wonder of the work of God in an evil world.  We’re not declaring that evil is good; we’re declaring through thanksgiving in Jesus Christ that we worship and serve the only God who can turn evil into something good for us. 

This is why Paul can say in Romans 8:28, “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to His purposes.” 

This is why Joseph, having suffered slavery and separation from his family for years as the result of the betrayal of his own brothers, having experienced unjust imprisonment in a foreign land for being a man of integrity and refusing to sleep with his master’s seductress wife, could say to his brothers and everyone who had ever used and abused him in Egypt, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” (Gen 5:20).

            This is why Jesus could say in John 12:27, while facing the cruelty, suffering, injustice and evil of the crucifixion, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this 

hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

If you’ve walked with Christ any time, you can probably point to hard and even evil things/people that God has used to perform very good things in our lives.

  • In the face of possible martyrdom, God’s people have been able to say, “Father, I thank you for that if my beheading is the means by which you want me to enter eternity, I thank you for the blessings that will come to me in and through martyrdom or the fellowship I will have with Christ if it is suffering you are allowing for me now.”
  • If we’re facing illness or disease of any kind, we can thank God for a host of things He may accomplish through it—from witnessing opportunities to others to deepened prayer life to weaning our souls from loving this life more than the next.

Imagine how different the national experience of the Israelites, just rescued and redeemed from 430 years of slavery in Egypt, they had met their hunger and thirst in the desert (Ex. 15) with thanksgiving to God for past and future deliverance.  Instead, their grumbling, like ours, decreased their faith and increased their criticism of God. 

            The same can be true of everyone of the situations you and I face where our natural tendency is to grumble against life, people and God.  The choice, the obedience of thanksgiving will move us from being UNDER the pile of our circumstances to being OVER them in gratitude to God.  Thanksgiving will move us from backing away from God to leaning into Him.  This is certainly the opposite of what our flesh wants to do.  But it is exactly what the Spirit of God is moving in us to do.

APP:  Think of a difficult issue, person or problem in your life at present. 

  • When was the last time you thanked God for anything in your life? For this particular issue, person or problem?
  • Take 30 seconds to tell God some things you can be thankful for that may come into your life as a result of this thing or person.


Let’s either quote or read these three verses in closing:

Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.