To the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Later in the same letter, he writes again urging them; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
And to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote that having been filled with the Holy Spirit they were to be those who were; “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Expressing thanks to God is a theme woven throughout the New Testament letters. Whether the writer is thanking God for salvation, encouraging believers in prayer or urging them to stand steadfast under trials – gratitude is the consistent thread and exhortation. These verses bring three things into focus for us believers;
1. Believers in Christ Jesus are to have a thankful predisposition, ‘be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)
Christ-Followers are called to be characterised by thankfulness. Think about that for a moment, is thankfulness your predisposition, your default setting?
Or if you’re honest, do you find living in a state of thanksgiving a continual struggle?
The challenge in this verse is that the imperative is not conditional on something else being present. The context makes being thankful one of the things Christ-Followers are to ‘put-on’ since we are God’s chosen & beloved children (see vs12).
2. Believers in Christ Jesus are to pray prayers filled with thanksgiving continuously (Colossians 4:2)
If you did a quick ‘prayer-audit’ what would characterise your prayers the most? Are your prayers filled continuously with thanksgiving? Or might they be more characterised by complaints & requests for felt needs to be met or circumstances to change? Biblical prayer is filled with thanksgiving; it’s the way into God’s presence, always being grateful for Jesus and our salvation through our faith in Him. Psalm 100 as a helpful reminder as to how we ought to come to God in prayer.
3. Believers in Christ Jesus are to give thanks always and to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
We find it relatively easy to thank God (if we remember to give thanks at all) when something has turned out well, or God has answered something we asked God for. But this passage challenges Christ-Followers to reach another level of thanksgiving entirely. The appeal is to give thanks ‘always’ and ‘for everything’! Those two words make this verse a challenging one.
The context of the passage gives us the key to understanding this verse. The context here is what the life of a Holy Spirit-filled believer will look like. John Stott says the following about Ephesians 5:20;
“The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.” – John Stott
In the coming days of a state of lockdown (in South Africa due to COVID-19) may we be those who filled with the Holy Spirit have a general attitude of thanksgiving and not murmuring.
May our prayers be seasoned with thanksgiving to God because of the enabling power of God’s Spirit, helping us even amid human tragedy on a massive scale – to be still thankful.
One of the main ways God’s Spirit helps us with this is to remind us of our great salvation! We can always thank God the Father for giving us Jesus the ‘indescribable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Holy Spirit also reminds us that Scripture teaches us that regardless of the hardships we endure in this present life, they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And the Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace so that we may abound in the hope that is eternal and not limited to this short life (Romans 15:13)
- What can you be thankful to God for? Take time to consider this question and begin to express your thanks to God in prayer.
- Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit so that your predisposition will be one of thanksgiving nor murmuring.
- Come to God in prayer starting with thanksgiving and with thanks shot through all your praying.
- Ask God to help you in the coming days that will most likely be incredibly challenging to be still thankful always confident that God is sovereign in all things.
1 Timothy 2 is a fairly controversial book in the bible (as we will see in the days ahead), and yet it starts out with a relatively simple purpose. Paul says that people that have been changed by the gospel should be characterized by prayer and faith in the god who saves. This section flows from verse one, so lets unpack this a little:
Paul starts by saying “First of all, then…” This means that Paul is referring to all that he said in chapter 1, especially the contrast in character between the false teachers and those whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel. We must bare this contrast in mind when reading chapter 2.
“First of all, then, I urge that …” Just as in chapter one, Paul isn’t wasting time or mincing his words. Remember, this is wartime for the believers. The word ‘urge’ is the same Greek word that we find in 1 Tim 1:3 & 5. It is a command of urgency and importance. Furthermore, his use of the phrase “first of all” suggests that, whatever Paul is going to mention next, it is the most fundamental thing that we should focus on.
“First of all, then, I urge that “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made…” The urgent command, of first importance to those who have put their faith in Jesus, is that they should pray. We must be a people of prayer. We should bend our knees and orientate our hearts to the one who gave us eternal life. Our lives should be characterized by our devotion to prayer. Paul’s purpose in mentioning different types of prayer is to highlight its importance and how often it should be a feature of our lives. At different times, as we are praying for different things or people, we should be praying different types of prayers.
I find this to be incredibly challenging, and I don’t think I am alone here! I think most of us will read about the importance and preeminence that prayer should have in our lives, and we will feel a sense of guilt or condemnation. We will say things like “I should be praying more” or “I should know what to pray for”, and too easily our prayers become about our performance rather than God’s grace. We can start to focus on our words rather than His glory. We forget that prayer is about experiencing the God who inclines His ear, and instead we try to strife and earn our way into the presence of God.
If this is you (which means you are like me!) then don’t miss the effect of prayer on the believer in 1 Timothy 2. Prayer should be an all-encompassing reality for the believer, but as we see in the passage, prayers from believers with a sincere faith will look a certain way. In verse two, we read that as we pray, we will be progressively transformed into quiet, peaceful, godly and dignified lives. In every way! So the cycle is that our prayers affect our lives, and our lives then affect our prayers. Our prayers will become peaceful – not condemning. Our prayers will become dignified – not self-deprecating. Our prayers focus on God and his marvelous grace – not our performance.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think that prayer is so important to Paul?
- Who does Paul urgently instruct us to pray for?
- What parts of your life might you need to change to be obedient to God’s Word regarding prayer?
This section is especially important for leaders to consider and apply to their lives. Leaders can be so easily shaped by the performance culture that is all around us – rather than be transformed by the humbling habit of regular prayer. If leaders do not regularly bend their knees in private, they should not open their mouths in public.
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)
What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)
Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).
Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).
Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.
Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!
And why does Yahweh act in such a way?
“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)
What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.
I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;
Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.
Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).
LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.
And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)
Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers; he prayed that God would enable them to live a life that would be worthy of the call of God on their lives, worthy of the Gospel.
He prayed that God would give them the power that they would need to accomplish all the good works God had planned for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), good deeds that would be prompted by their faith in God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Paul knew that these believers needed;
- God’s enabling power to live holy lives worthy of God
- God’s enabling power to live purposefully fulfilling the call of God on their lives
And so he prayed continually for them so that the name of Jesus would be glorified in the way that they lived their lives.
Amazingly, God has connected our lives and His glory! What this means is that how we live our lives whether we waste our lives on self-centred trivialities or focus on weighty eternal things matters.
And because our lived-out response to the Gospel matters, Paul continually prays for these believers that they would live out a response that would glorify God.
Because Paul prays continually for them, he prays that they would live out a response to the Gospel that is worthy of the Gospel. Because he prays this way, we know therefore that it is quite possible for our lives not to be worthy of the call we have received.
So, what would such a life look like in a believer?
- God and God’s glory not being at the centre but rather self-centredness & worldly thinking dominating their thoughts.
- A lack of a pattern of daily worship and devotion to God (prayer, God’s word, listening to the Holy Spirit)
- God’s church and God’s purposes not being at the centre of their lives, their rhythms and decisions
- Compromise and sin
Paul kept on praying for these new believers in Thessalonica because he didn’t want their lives to look like this list above. He was diligent, even urgent in praying for them no doubt because it was a real threat that they could potentially drift away into lukewarmness and compromise and so he contended for them in prayer.
Having accepted Jesus as our Saviour, we know that we will enter into eternal life with Jesus because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
However, what is not guaranteed is how we will live out our response to the Gospel! Hence Paul’s continual prayers for these believers.
Brothers and sisters, it is not guaranteed whether or not we will live a life worthy of the call we have received. What is needed is intentionality, devotion, continually choosing to make Jesus the centre of our lives, our thinking, our priorities & decisions. What is required is a continual reliance on and obedience to the Holy Spirit so that our lives will glorify God and fulfil His plans for us.
And then, when our lives do glorify God, somehow this passage says that we will be honoured together with Jesus in some way (see vs12).
“All of this is made possible because of the grace of our God and LORD, Jesus Christ.” (Vs12 in NLT)
May we, may I live lives worthy of You Jesus! Fill me, fill us with your enabling power, help me, help us Holy Spirit to listen and obey You always so that You would be glorified and we would be honoured to along with You. Amen.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!
In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.
And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?
I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.
No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.
Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.
To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.
How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.
Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.
These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.
It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.
Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)
Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.
So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!
God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.
Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!
When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)
His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).
We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).
Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.
God was angry with Moses and said;
Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)
It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.
Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.
Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.
Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.
Numbers 13-14 are a sombre moment in the story of the Bible. A moment that the book of Hebrews reflects on over and over again, warning believers in Jesus to not be like these Israelites.
Israel’s unbelief and grumbling against God, so provoked God that eventually, God said; “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)
In His righteous anger, God declared that He would blot out His people and start again.
However, fortunately, God’s people had a leader who knew how to pray! And because He prayed, God relented. God didn’t wipe out the whole nation in an instant. Instead, God punished the 10 spies who brought a false report and then also punished the generation that didn’t believe – so that they never entered into their inheritance.
But in the midst of all of this, God also made a promise that wicked generation’s children – they would inherit the Promised Land.
So how did it come to pass that God relented, changing His mind by not instantly wiping out this generation? Moses prayed, and in his prayer, we can learn some things that we can imitate in our prayers;
- Moses Prayed for God to the Glorified: Moses prayed that God would protect the glory of His name, His glory. Moses urged God not to destroy His people because if He did, that would be misunderstood or derided, by the onlooking nations (Numbers 14:13-16). Moses called on God to act for the sake of the fame of His name.
- Moses Prayed based on who God is: As Moses prays, he recalls the encounter he had with God. When God revealed Himself by passing before him speaking the words that Moses now quotes in his prayer (see Exodus 34:6-7). God is the one who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, who forgives sin yet remains just and righteous as the judge of the earth.
- Moses Prayed appealing to the Immutability of God: When Moses prayed; “As You have promised”(vs17) he was appealing to the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God. Moses knew that He could stand on the promises of God since God could not lie and would not change. And then in vs19 when Moses asks God to pardon His people, He asks God to merely continue being gracious to the people of Israel just as He had been consistently from their deliverance from Egypt to the present. Moses’ prayer is founded on the confidence of who God is, how God has acted in the past and in that God can not change (God is immutable).
- Moses Prayed that God would Forgive: On the back of these prayers for God’s name to be glorified, these prayers that appeal to the nature of who God is & how God has acted in the past Moses then makes his appeal and asks God to be gracious and merciful, Moses asks God to pardon His people (vs19).
And because Moses prayed, God changed His mind. Our Father God loves it when we pray when we come to Him, confident in the relationship that we have with Him through faith in Jesus. God loves it when we pray asking with confidence because of what we know about Him, WHO He is and HOW He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture and through our very own encounters of Him.
Why not use this structure that Moses prayed with to help form some of your prayers?
- How can you pray for God to be glorified in this situation?
- How does WHO God is, connect with this need/prayer?
- How does God being immutable help you pray with confidence now?
- Bring your request to God on the basis of these three things.