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Obedience, Not Feelings

“Rejoice always.” —1 Thessalonians 5:16

In his epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul delivers three commands in rapid succession. They’re each very short verses, and indeed easy to memorize. But these commands are not easy to follow.

Consider the first of the three: “Rejoice always.” Had he said, “rejoice often” or simply “rejoice,” it would seem attainable.

We could on occasion, in and of our own strength, muster up some rejoicing. But always? Who can do this?

As you progress throughout your day, through this week, you will face several occasions in which rejoicing will feel difficult if not downright impossible. We live and move in a fallen world, surrounded by fallen people—in fact, one of those fallen people stares back at you every time you look into a mirror.

Can we really expect not to be disappointed, discouraged, depressed, sad, or angry from time to time?

Rejoicing always is not walking around with a permanent smile fixed on your face and “praise the Lord” rolling off your tongue. This verse, “rejoice always” is short. Remember another short verse, the shortest in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Jesus demonstrates that there are times when smiles turn to consternation, even tears. Rejoicing always, then, is something different than maintaining a happy countenance. Something deeper.

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to new believers who were being persecuted for their faith. This realization makes the command rejoice always all the more remarkable. This isn’t about feelings, but obedience.

When we suffer, when circumstances sour, when times are tough, we have a choice: we can focus on the strife or we can set our sights on things above. Rejoicing always is being “in Christ” and choosing to be content in hope and expectation.

My prayer for this week:

Almighty God, you know every thought and inclination of my heart. Reveal to me those things I allow to cloud out the hope and expectation I have in you. Help me get beyond feelings to obedience. Today and this week, please help me more clearly understand, embrace, and embody the command to rejoice always.