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Posts Tagged ‘daily prayers’

Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

Paul mosaic

We are in the fifth and final section of the teaching portion of 1 Thessalonians, which Paul began in chapter 4. And so we have looked at relationships with one another in the church, respecting Christian leaders, living in peace with one another, and helping those who struggle in various ways. We have also looked at relationships with everyone, inside and outside the church. And here Paul taught us not to return harm for harm, but to be patient with all, and to do good to everyone.

Today we look at vs. 16-22, focused on our relationship with God. There are eight statements which are held together by two themes:

– vs. 16-18 have to do with speaking to God in praise and prayer

– vs. 19-22 have to do with God speaking to us by means of prophecy (Ben Witherington)

  Let’s begin with vs. 16-18.

Talking to God: Praise and prayer

 “16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Rejoicing has to do with expressing our joy. This is quite similar to giving thanks (Psalm 97:12; Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:9), which is the expression of appreciation for benefits and blessings. Given that there is a prayer focus here (prayer comes right between them) these expressions of joy and thanks are given to God. I am calling this praise to God.

Now, rejoicing and giving thanks are a kind of prayer, but here Pau distinguishes prayer from these, so the focus in on petitionary prayer, or making our requests known to God.

  The phrase, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” applies to all three of these things. It is God’s will for us to rejoice, give thanks and offer up our requests to him. God wants us to be in relationship with him; for us to communicate with him our praises and our concerns.

But how can we do these thing always? How can we rejoice always? How can we pray without ceasing?

If we take this literally, it doesn’t make sense. We have to sleep for one thing. But more to the point, you can’t both talk to God and also to someone else – at the same time. Or again, you can’t both rejoice with those who rejoice and also weep with those who weep, as Paul says (Romans 12:15) – at the same time

Rather, Paul is referring here to set times of daily prayer according to the biblical pattern. That is, morning and evening prayers, or perhaps also afternoon prayers. We see this all throughout the Old Testament in the Psalms and in Daniel for instance, as well as in the New Testament. In fact, there is a reference to this in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 – “we pray most earnestly night and day . . ..” This was a common Jewish way of talking about daily prayers in the evening and the morning.

Paul is saying, keep to your daily prayers, continue day and night; morning and evening. Always rejoice by coming before God constantly morning and evening. Unceasingly pray by coming before God morning and evening. And, of course, we can also pray and rejoice as we are able throughout each day. 

But there’s another part to this. Paul is saying keep praying even when things are hard. They were going through persecution, so the message is:

  • Keep on rejoicing, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are good, but when things are hard. This echoes Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12. When you are persecuted “rejoice and be glad.”
  • Keep on praying, as individuals and as a group, not just when things are easy, but when you have difficulty after difficulty. This echoes Jesus in Luke 18:1. “And he told them . . . that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

This also fits with v. 18 – give thanks “in all circumstances.” It’s easy to give thanks when things are just fine, but we are also to do this when things are not good – that’s what “in all circumstances” means.

But how can we rejoice and give thanks in bad times? Well, it’s certainly not based on our feelings or that we’re having a good day. It’s based on understanding what God is doing in our lives, and the bigger picture of the hope that we have, which is far greater than whatever temporary suffering we may have in this world. And we can do this because the Holy Spirit within us is the source of our joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Some questions to consider . . . How is your prayer and praise life? Rate yourself:

  • Do you only come to God in an emergency?
  • Do you only pray and give thank on Sundays at church?
  • Do you have a private prayer life?
  • Are you constant in your prayer life?

Paul is teaching us here to be in this last category. Think about it. God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. He created us, bore with us, gave his only Son. But often we make little or no effort to spend time in relationship with God. This helps put things in perspective.

Are you overwhelmed by hard times? Paul calls the Thessalonians not to give up in persecution. And his word to us is don’t lose heart. When you have difficulty after difficulty piling up on you and it seems like praying is useless – keep at it. Press through. God will take care of you.

God talking to us: Prophecy

“19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Keep away from every evil kind.” I want us to look first at what is the key to understanding these verses, prophesy. And so I ask what is prophesy? We have to turn to 1 Corinthians since it is just mentioned here in 1 Thessalonians.

  • It consists of words the Spirit prompts you to say. It is a manifestation of the Spirit, like all spiritual gifts, which in this case comes in words – 1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12. It might be a word of encouragement, insight or even challenge.
  • It is directed “to people,” in contrast to speaking to God – 1 Corinthians 14:3.
  • It is intended for “their strengthening and encouragement and comfort” – 1 Corinthians 14:3.

So prophecy is simply speaking out a word from the Spirit in your own words. It’s a part of the promise of Joel 2:28-29 that all believers will have the Spirit and prophesy. Although some are classified as prophets since they have a specific ministry in this, God can speak through any of his children to say a word of encouragement, insight or challenge.

Prophecy was a completely normal part of the life of the New Testament church. We see references to it throughout the New Testament. And it happens among us as well – from the pulpit, from Sunday school teachers, in our Sunday school classes and small groups and in our praise time. We don’t call it this necessarily, but it happens.

I wanted to give you a specific example today and so I asked God to give me a word for us today. I have actually already said it as a part of my teaching. If I were to say it as a prophecy in the congregation I would say it like this, “I believe the Spirit is asking us today – God spared nothing to be in relationship with us. So why do we make such little effort to be in relationship with him in prayer?”

Now let’s break down these verses and see how they fit together. “19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies.” These two phrases basically say the same thing. For it is the activity of the Spirit that animates prophecy. And so to quench the Spirit is to despise prophecies.

Quench is a fire metaphor. It is when you put out a fire. The Holy Spirit is compared to fire in several places (e.g. Matthew 3:11). And so to quench the Spirit is to suppress or restrain the movement of the Spirit among us.

To despise prophecies is to look down on them, reject them, to treat them with contempt. So both of these phrases are about restricting prophecy.

Why restrict prophecy? The answer is simple – it’s easy to abuse. I have seen this and perhaps you have as well. People can speak out their own opinions as if they were God’s, or mix the two together. People can speak out wrong teaching (see 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). People can speak out things that come from the flesh, from the world, from the evil one – and not from the Spirit.

  So there is certainly a temptation, perhaps especially by leaders, to suppress it; to look down on it. But Paul’s word to us is don’t quench it or despise it because of abuses, rather the answer is test prophecies (also 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1-3).

He doesn’t’ say anything here about how to do this but certainly testing it against the apostolic message, now written down in the New Testament is foundational (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Once we test what is said, we are to “hold fast what is good.” That is, receive what is truly from the Spirit. But if it is not of the Spirit we are to “keep away from every evil kind” of prophecy – that is, keep distance from receiving bad or evil prophecies. (Notice the spatial language hold on to the good, keep away from the bad) (Gordon Fee’s discussion of these verses is very helpful).

So any prophecy has to be tested. Any if you want to share I encourage you to test it yourself before you share. It might be a bit embarrassing for me or the Elders to have to correct you in front of the whole group. But I will if necessary.

Some questions to consider . . . Are we OK with people speaking out by the Spirit? (Maybe we are more comfortable when we don’t call it prophecy). We will find out because I want to give you a chance to do this next week during the praise time. Think about this. Can we expect the Spirit to move among us, which is what we pray for and desperately need, but only on our terms and in ways that we dictate? “Oh Spirit come and do your work; give us revival; transform lives among us; bring people into your kingdom. But don’t do anything that we are not comfortable with; don’t use any spiritual gifts; don’t let our routines get messed up. We want you, but only on our terms.” Do you think God hears this prayer?

Finally, do you quench the Spirit in other ways? Do you restrain the work of the Spirit in ways beyond the topic of prophecy. When the Spirit speaks to you, but you don’t like what you are hearing – do you suppress the Spirit? When the Spirit seeks to lead you but you don’t want to go – do you quench the Spirit?

I will tell you plainly – we need the renewal and transformation of the Spirit among us as individuals and as a congregation. But we will only receive this when we open ourselves up fully to the Spirit – no strings attached.

William Higgins

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