Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit.
–1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 NET
I read a blog the other day remarking on the irony that during the holiday season people talk a lot about joy and, at the same time, that very thing seems hardest to find. With Thanksgiving Day clean up, Black Friday madness, and all the blitz and bling associated with Christmas, it’s no wonder that so many find themselves wanting to withdraw from the frenzy and just cuddle up with a cuppa (this, for my British friends) and listen to Kenny G.
Joy is a deep work and gift of the Spirit, which means there is a joy that is simply “there” for every believer. The cool thing is that this joy is resident within regardless of the circumstance, though not often seen. We know from Paul that this joy is present (though maybe not effervescent) in sorrow, trials, and affliction. Most starkly put, Paul references his struggles in life in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and points out that while feeling sorrow, he rejoices continually (6:10). In the next chapter, he talks about overflowing joy in the midst of all his troubles (2 Corinthians 7:4). James invites us to “consider it nothing but joy (a gift) when suddenly surrounded by all sorts of distresses from every side” (James 1:2, my paraphrase).
And then there’s Jesus who sets Himself as a model for us to follow by willingly enduring the cross (the joy set before him)—even though in the moment He asked His Father if there was another way, in the end He prayed, “not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). His connection with the Father guided everything He said and did, and it’s in this loving connection joy resides. He wants that for us. John, catching that very vision, invites his own disciples into the same union. And we are drawn into that union of love and joy as well.
So, what are we to make of all this? Rest in the deep work of the Spirit even in the midst of significant struggle and sorrow. Look to Jesus, and say “thank you.” It’s a recurring theme in Paul’s epistles. According to one theologian, “No other NT writer gives such a sustained emphasis on thanksgiving.”
You can hear Paul exclaim to the Thessalonian church, “Delight in God’s grace, enjoy it; commune with God regularly; and in all circumstances, express your fullness of wellbeing.” Joy, connection with our Lord, and gratitude just go hand in hand in Paul’s mind. In fact, this outworking of joy, connection, and gratitude is such a deep work of the Spirit, Paul encourages us not to squelch His work in us (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
ACTION: Maybe with COVID, the holiday rush is not so rushed for you this year. Take the win and breathe a bit more deeply. Take the time to ponder God’s goodness in you and reflect that back to him in prayer wrapped in thanksgiving. Maybe even invite another into your moment of joy and wonder.