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)
My husband and I just recently returned from a trip to the UK where we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. There is something very special about England and Scotland for us, and we love to go whenever we can. One of our favorite things to do there is hike, taking advantage of all the public land and the numerous walking paths.
The Lord speaks continually on these walks and hikes—whether it is reminding me of my great dependence on Him as my Good Shepherd, as I gaze at the countless sheep we encounter, or His constancy, His unchanging faithfulness throughout history, as we walk through various ruins of what were once grand churches, abbeys, or castles. For whatever reason, maybe because the distractions of daily life are suspended, when He speaks or points something out during these times, I am more attentive, more able to listen and receive.
On this last trip, as we hiked through the Derbyshire area, I was much focused on the mud. Yep. Mud. Lots. Of. It. This part of England, even for the UK, had experienced an unusually wet December, hence, the mud. We had not packed wellies (they take up a lot of space on one’s suitcase), simply hiking shoes. So, much of the adventure of these hikes was in avoiding the mud. We found if we stayed off the main paths, we might skirt much of the wet, sloppy, sticky mess. We walked through mushy fields and meadows, went around trees, climbed over rocks, constantly eying the best path with the least resistance.
And for the most part, we avoided a lot of mud. However, it didn’t matter how skilled we became in our “Man vs. Mud” conflict, going through the mud was inevitable. You see, in order to continue down whatever path we were following there was always a gate, or a pass-through, or some other sort of transition from one area into the next. We could not go around these; we had to go through them. And guess what? They were muddy! Really muddy! So, bottom line, we learned we couldn’t avoid the mud. Every hike involved some sort of direct encounter with it.
So what does this have to do with joy?
In the midst of these hikes, I kept thinking about the mud in our lives, that we are promised in Scripture that suffering, trials, and hard times are not an “if,” but a “when.” We can try and avoid them, but inevitably, there will come times when we must walk through them. So, not because of the mud but in spite of it, how are we able to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances?”
We go back to what we know to be true—what we know to be true about God and who He is—and what we know to be true about who we are in Him. This is exactly what Paul does with the Thessalonians in this passage. Right before this encouragement to rejoice always, he reminds them what had been accomplished for them through Christ:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:9-11)
The Lord, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, comforts us with the truth that He will always be with us during the muddy times of life:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Lives of true joy are not dependent on circumstances. They well up from a deep abiding faith in the One who is completing our joy. And that deep abiding faith is a gift from Him, through His Spirit. We live in the tension as His people of trusting Him through the muddy times of our lives, all the while focused on Him and His promises. We rest in Him, our good and sovereign God, knowing that for whatever reason, He has allowed the mud, for His good purposes. And rejoice. And we pray. And we give thanks.
Deacon Lisa Schwandt serves as Dean of the College of Deacons in the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast. She also serves as one of the associate pastors at HopePointe Anglican Church in The Woodlands, TX. But her most important claim to fame is being “Lulu” to her grandchildren, Chip and Margaret.