Have you ever wondered if God was disappointed in you? The ESV Study Bible suggests that the church of Thessalonica may have wondered as much following unabated persecution and unexpected deaths among their own. Those men and women may have shared that same emptiness we have experienced sitting at a Thanksgiving table during a season of grief. But Paul, a man who knew persecution, imprisonment and hardship, encourages the disheartened Thessalonians with these words:
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
Those words are for us too. Jesus desires that I always know joy. The King of kings wants me to come to him in prayer continually throughout my day. And his longing for me is to give thanks in ALL of my circumstances. To be honest, that is all beyond my mortal capability.
So before we return to Paul’s letter, consider Luke 17:11-19:
On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Leprosy is an infectious disease that affects the skin and peripheral nerves, and in Jesus’ time on Earth, cases would advance to the point of disfigurement. Men and women showing any sign of skin disease were considered “unclean” and forced to live on the margins of the community. They could not return to their homes, their families or their work until a priest examined them and pronounced them “clean.”
So this group of ten had nothing to lose. Their desperate circumstances deposited them in the presence of Jesus, who responded to their plea as though they had already been healed. Along the road, as they obediently journeyed to see the priests, one of them stopped when he noticed the miracle.
His limbs were free from lesions; his face was whole again.
Luke, who was a physician, describes how the man rejoiced, and the outpouring of his gratitude sent him back to Jesus, who notes that this Samaritan’s faith made him well (Jesus’ reference to him as a foreigner is not disrespectful, but it is noteworthy; we just don’t have time to dig into that today).
What about the other nine? Undoubtedly, they celebrated their healing too. But gratitude isn’t a fleeting emotion; it is a posture. The one fell at the feet of the Son of God, while the nine went on their way — perhaps to complacency.
It’s true that often the miracles we seek don’t come on this side of eternity. We can find some comfort in that our circumstances are temporary. But more than that, the miracle we can rely on is the gift of faith in Christ to experience exactly what Paul shared with the Thessalonians.
Rejoice. Always. My joy is in Jesus because I trust that his sacrifice on the cross counted for me. And it counted for you too.
Pray. Without ceasing. When I cry out to Jesus, he responds.
Give thanks. In ALL circumstances. They may be desperate, but they will bring me closer to my Savior.
Consider a time when you were desperate. Did that circumstance draw you closer to God?
How do you pray? How can you spend more time in prayer?