Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rejoice - Pray - Thank

I think we could all agree that bumper sticker Christianity doesn't cut it.  So many people get handed bits and pieces of scripture, taken totally out of context and told they are commands, or measurements or goals of their faith.  Or they get turned into stupid puns that don't make anyone like Jesus, let alone feel loved by him. This scripture, I think is, one of them.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in every circumstance"  When I look at this scripture, apart from its context, and try to apply it to myself (which we often tend to do because sin makes us self-center so we assume every word was written specifically to us as individuals), I instantly think, well that must be for those super holy Christians (even though I've never really met one of those).  Confession; I do not rejoice always, pray all the time or give thanks when things are crappy, especially if it's something I'm trying to face on my own.  This statement will come as no surprise to those who've encountered me before 10:00am and 2 to 3 cups of coffee. I can't handle anything before that and trying to be a rejoicing/praying/thankful Christian doesn't seem to be helping me at all.
In it's context however, this scripture is perfectly fitting as a marker of Christians, the key being Christians (plural).  Paul wrote this statement to the church at Thessolonica, not a guy named Thessalonious the Monk. It is smack in the middle of Paul giving advice on how to deal with one and other.  Paraphrasing Paul, he said things like, tell people who are lazy to get off their butts and help out (lovingly).  Encourage people who are timid to get some guts (gently), Help people who are weaker than you.  Be patient.  Stop seeking revenge. You see we're all a mess of self-centeredness and Jesus takes us through a process of changing that by sticking us together with a bunch of other people who are just the same so they he can show us what love really looks like.  So when you get to this statement to rejoice/pray/give thanks, it turns into a picture, not of your individual journey, but your piece of the pie in your community/family/church.

Something amazing happens when this is lived out in the context of two or three or more; Jesus shows up. He promised he would so we shouldn't be surprised.  Quiet (or loud) alone time with Jesus is important - to worship him, to pray, to be thankful, just to enjoy him - but something quite different happens when we do it together.  Suddenly things start to happen that can only be explained by the Holy Spirit getting to work. Our freedom increases, our sense of belonging increases, we know we're loved by Him and the people we're with because suddenly the focus has shifted off myself and onto him and onto others.  If we're in a place like that, in a community like that, for more than a day or two we don't walk in on edge, on eggshells, on guard each time thinking that I have to measure up, I have to be acceptable, I have to be good, in order to be loved by Jesus and loved by others.  Our instinct changes from defensive to vulnerable.  We can instantly (or almost instantly) bypass all those fears and lies and half-truths we've been lead to believe and get right to the rejoicing with Him and with others.  Rejoice always is a picture of the church when we've decided to let go of most of the nonsense that holds us back and instead just celebrate that Jesus did everything we couldn't do and will keep on doing everything we'll never be able to do in order to give me life.
Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet in Matthew 22.  I don't know about you but a wedding banquet where I know the bride and groom, and most of the people there are friends and family, is much more fun than going to your wife's 3rd cousin's wedding where you know one other person and you're not sure you like them that much.  Not much rejoicing is going to happen for me there.  Jesus tells us that our church should be celebrating, like a wedding banquet.  In a lot of churches, things have turned more into the the 3rd cousin's wedding. People are there out of obligation, people are there to show off there new dress, people are there because they might get a free party favor. Some people show up and think, this seems more like a funeral than a wedding banquet and never bother to go back (some churches need a reminder that Jesus rose from the dead).  Some have turned into a bad episode of bridezilla where they've gotten so wrapped up in the details they forget the real reason to celebrate altogether.  The place settings and decorations, the song choices and scripture readings overshadow the fact that a new creation is being formed by God when he joins a couple together.  Jesus calls us his bride and we can get so off track that we forget he's standing there waiting to make us into something new.  I'm not interested in being part of any 'celebrations' that look like that.  But a community that rejoices in what Jesus has done, that sounds like a place I want to be.  Romans 5 says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Chris has made us friends of God."  So get with some people who love Jesus and know how to rejoice, you'll thank me for it in the morning.

Then when you're done celebrating, or maybe even right in the middle of celebrating (I don't think the order is that important), prayer happens.  The Holy Spirit reveals things to us like, how much we love the people around us, how much they love us, how big the struggles are that some people are facing, how we can share their burdens.  In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed for us that people would see God's glory because we would be one with him and one with each other (he's still praying that right now and he always will be by the way). That happens in the context of prayer for one and other when we share our burdens with each other and we take them to Jesus together and say Jesus there is nothing we can do about this without you, we need you to help us love each other, we need you to help us carry each other.  The amazing thing is, this is how he shows us who he is, this simple sharing life together and with him.  He just keeps on revealing his love to us through other people.  He does miracles, he shows us answers in real concrete ways, and everyone feels loved all the more because of it.  I know I can't pray without ceasing on my own, but I know that I have a church who will drop everything at a moments notice when I really need them to pray.  I know that if I bring what seems like the most trivial or insignificant thing or the most desperate and hopeless thing, there are people who love me that will put their whole heart into praying until Jesus breaks through.  Jesus said in John 15 that when we love each other and ask God for anything in his name (that is in the Spirit and authority and love that he carries) then God will answer.  That's something worth rejoicing about.
Rejoicing and prayer always leaves us in the 3rd position, giving thanks in every circumstances.  Believe it or not, following Jesus doesn't mean everything all of a sudden turns peachy.  But here's what happens; the more time you spend with people who are rejoicing about what Jesus has done, and praying for the things we need him to do, the more we see him come through, reveal himself and show us that he really loves us a lot. Our posture becomes one of thanksgiving.  I am so thankful that I have a lot of people who love me and pray for me and celebrate with me and encourage me to follow Jesus - and who I get to return that to.  On my own, I can be... whatever the most opposite of thankful is... my own worst enemy I might say.  But I would have to work really hard to not be thankful when I'm in a context where I know there are people who love me just the way I am, somewhere in the middle of this journey with Jesus.  Certainly not having it all figured out, certainly not having all the right answers, certainly not having it all together.  Because I've been surrounded for this long - by people I know rejoice in all that Jesus is and pray for all that Jesus will be in every circumstance - when the failures come, when the difficulties come, when the doubts and fears come, they look less and less like mountains and more and more like speed bumps.  In fact the more we're in this context with others and become more like Jesus, (laying our life down for others) the more we'll take on his attitude of preemptive Thanksgiving.  Jesus often gave thanks before he saw the miracle.  Jesus gave thanks before the suffering of the cross got to him.  He knew even though he was going to go through some brutal stuff, his Father, and the people who loved him, would be waiting on the other side to carry on the celebration.  We'll get to know that too. We'll see the mountains-made-speed bumps coming and we'll give thanks for what Jesus did, before the bump, what he's going to do as we bounce over it and for the smooth road on the other side.
And the big kicker, "this is God's will for you in Jesus".  If you're like me, you've spent a lot of valuable time trying to figure out God's will, worrying about whether I was doing what he expected of me.  Turns out, God's will is simpler than that.  What he really wants is for us to part of a church/family/community that is connected to him and loving one and other.  In the midst of that, he makes us into what he's going to make us into: His church, His bride, His disciples, His flock, His glory. HIS.

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