1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 contains three short verses with three simple — not easy — but three simple decisions that can change your life and grow your faith.
These are not suggestions. They’re directives. They’re straightforward commands. Again, they’re very simple, but incredibly profound and powerful. Here’s the passage:
“Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJ
Let’s unpack the passage one decision at a time.
1. REJOICE always!
According to Paul, regardless of our situation or circumstances, for the child of God, joy is always an option. Always.
It’s important to point out that when the Bible talks about joy and happiness, it almost always uses a noun or a verb, not an adjective. In other words, joy and happiness aren’t necessarily something we feel, but something we do or choose. That’s important.
If joy wasn’t a choice, Paul couldn’t command believers to “Rejoice always” in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 and “Rejoice in the Lord always” in Philippians 4:4.
If joy wasn’t a choice, Isaiah couldn’t command the barren woman to sing in Isaiah 54:1-3.
If joy wasn’t a choice, James couldn’t challenge believers to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials…”
As one writer indicated, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.” 
What is joy? In this dark, broken, completely messed-up world, joy is an act of defiance.
Joy is an act of defiance.
Borrowing from a couple of authors, this is my best attempt at a definition.
Joy is a deep, abiding sense and the confident expectation that
God is with me, that God is for me, and that our sovereign God is
working everything together for my ultimate good and His great glory.
This is why the first of three decisions we can make to grow our faith is to “rejoice always!”
2. PRAY without ceasing.
Paul’s second challenge has to do with our prayer life. He challenges believers to “pray without ceasing.”
That doesn’t mean that believers are to constantly walk around talking to God out loud, non-stop, 24-7, 365 days a year. But it means that we are to live
- with an attitude of prayerfulness,
- in a state of continual relationship and fellowship with the Lord,
- and with an awareness of His presence permeating every aspect of our life.
One of the core values of the church I led for 14 years was prayer. We said it like this:
“Prayer: is our language. Prayer is constant communion with God that helps us know God, understand His heart, align ourselves with His purpose, and access His power. Prayer not only changes things, it changes us.”
According to Paul it’s possible to live in a state of continual, sustained and unceasing communion, fellowship and relationship with God. This may be more a function of attitude and mindset than it is actions and methods.
God invites us to “pray without ceasing.” To live in a state of “constant communion” with our Creator. That’s a second decision all of us can make.
3. In everything GIVE THANKS.
Paul’s third challenge is for believers to develop a lifestyle of thankfulness and gratitude.
Tim Keller once wrote:
“It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks.
Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” —Tim Keller
In other words, gratitude is the attitude. Thanksgiving is the action.
The writer of Psalm 119 was so serious in his pursuit of developing a lifestyle of praise that he prayed this prayer in the next to last verse of Psalm 119:175.
“Let me live that I may praise you…” —Psalm 119:175
Praise, gratitude and thankfulness flow out of a heart and mind that view all of life as a gift. By the way, the only alternative to cultivating a life of gratitude and thankfulness is to cultivate a heart and mind that are invariably pessimistic, chronically discontent, continually dissatisfied, habitually judgmental and constantly full of complaints.
Because of that, any situation we can’t rejoice or give thanks in reveals an area in our life where we’re losing the battle for a renewed mind.
Any situation we can’t rejoice of give thanks in reveals an area where we’re losing the battle for a renewed mind.
Unfortunately, complaining comes naturally for most. But it’s devastating to our spirit, soul, mind and even our body. When we continually complain, we allow the awareness of problems, difficulties and circumstances to exceed our awareness of the character and goodness of God! This makes for a faith that probably won’t go the distance.
According to Bill Johnson, thankfulness, on the other hand “attracts heaven.” It “agrees with heaven by acknowledging the truth that our lives are a gift from God, and that He is sovereign over all.”  Thankfulness is a statement that “God is extravagantly generous, and the life He has given us to experience on this planet is not a life of survival, but of abundance and blessing.” 
That kind of attitude and mindset will energize and inspire you for the long haul!
Ingratitude and a life lacking thankfulness will cause your heart to grow smaller, harder and colder day after day. It will cause your mind to be conformed to a worldly and hopeless pattern of thinking (Romans 12). It’s a miserable way to live.
There is an alternative. We can make a decision today that we will be people of praise, gratitude and thankfulness.
Notice, Paul didn’t say “for everything give thanks.” God would never expect us to give thanks for a painful loss, a horrible tragedy, an inexplicable evil or a tragic situation. Instead, Paul challenged us, “in everything give thanks.”
Even in the middle of significant loss, heartbreaking pain, or questions that lack answers, we can choose to give thanks when we’re convinced that our God is entirely sovereign, always faithful and forever good, and that He somehow causes everything to work together for our ultimate good and His great glory.
We can choose to give thanks in everything when we believe the words spoken by Joseph to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good, the saving of many lives…”
Perhaps we should paraphrase Joseph’s statement and begin looking at our situations in faith, declaring, “What the evil one meant for harm, God turned for good. Therefore, I choose to offer Him a sacrifice I may never have the chance to offer Him again.”
These are three decisions each of us can make that will change our life and grow our faith”
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
To explore the subjects of thanksgiving, praise and worship even more, check out the ISOW course, BIBLICAL WORSHIP 101 where instructors like Dr. Bryan Cutshall, Lindell Cooley, Judy Jacobs, and Jimmy Phillips dig deep into the importance and impact of praise and worship.
Managing Editor, ISOW
To view courses in Spanish, click here.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now, 1994
 Johnson, Bill. Strengthen Yourself in the Lord: How to Release the Hidden Power of God in Your Life (p. 53). Destiny Image. Kindle Edition.
 Johnson, Bill. Strengthen Yourself in the Lord: How to Release the Hidden Power of God in Y
our Life (p. 53). Destiny Image. Kindle Edition.