Each week, we look at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we continue our journey towards Christmas through Advent by looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. By the way, apologies for this coming out a day late. I had both boys at home by myself and my time was mainly spent making sure Liam did not take every ornament off of our Christmas tree.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise the words of prophets.
Test everything and hold fast to the good.
Abstain from every form of evil.
I wrestle with these things. There is an all-consuming totality to what Paul writes. And it should be. Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we are to love God with all of our being then it reasons that we should love God with all of our time and energy. I get that.
There are times that I find it hard to rejoice. I still struggle to pray without wondering what I'm going to have for lunch, much less ceasing. Even though my stress is often an extension of the ways in which I have been blessed, it's hard for me to give thanks when a car breaks down or one of our children is sick. The list can go on.
I believe I sometimes look at that list of mandates from Paul and envision them in the ideal. The rejoicing is someone who is just completely unshaken by any circumstances. Nothing that you throw at the person fazes them. They're like the Incredibly Joyful Hulk. Yet it is possible to rejoice even while you are barely hanging on. In fact, to rejoice used to mean to cause someone else joy. So I wonder if the idea is that we rejoice always, but when we cannot then someone else rejoices us.
Praying without ceasing is not having your eyes closed and head bowed 24/7, but it is being in an ongoing conversation with God. Though I admit that even that is something with which I struggle. The list goes on and there is value throughout. I especially like the idea of testing everything and holding to the good. We often dismiss insight from people with whom we do not agree and all too often uncritically accept it from those on our "side." But we should test everything and hold to the good. It gets us out of our little bubbles. It helps us to interact with a diverse world.
As far as liturgical seasons, we often think of Lent is the one in which we develop spiritual disciplines. We don't normally think of Advent in terms of discipline. Discipline is something for after Christmas; after we've received our gifts, spent hours at parties, and all of our time eating mountains of food. But Advent is also known is Winter Lent. It is a time of preparation. It is a time in which we need to reset: to attune ourselves to what God is doing in our lives and in the world.
So in the midst of all the festive busyness of this season, let us take time to consider this list that Paul gives us. May we cultivate lives of joy, prayer, thankfulness, Spirit-mindedness, and the life. And may we, with God's grace, do these things.