GRACE NOTES- PASTORAL LETTER 10.17.23

Monthly memory verse: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 3:16).

Dearly beloved saints of Covenant of Grace,

It was a blessing to worship with you this past Lord’s Day morning and evening.  I have been praying for you ever since, and it is my hope that, in contradistinction to the darkness of the world around us, as you daily seek to walk according to the will of our God, you are surrounded by His peace and filled with His joy.  Indeed, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the Lord tells us that this is His will for each of us who are in Christ Jesus.  It is a blessing to have a direct and succinct statement to help us understand what He desires for us, both instructing us in the sort of life we ought to be aiming to live and reminding us of the great love our God and Father has for us in desiring such a good life for us.

In the first place, the Lord says, through His apostle, that He wants us to rejoice at all times.  This is flatly stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, where He tells us to, “Rejoice always.”  That is, at all times, “be glad,” or, “be joyful.”  At first, it might seem like a call to an unattainable standard, and therefore a call to put on a display of superficial, skin-deep happiness that, in reality, consists in nothing more than a fake smile and substance-less words about how we’re, “doing great, thank you.”  But this couldn’t be further from the truth.  The truth is that this rejoicing to which we’re called isn’t fraudulently playing happy, nor does it stand in contradiction to sometimes feeling deeply saddened by everything from the remaining sin in our souls to the state of the church at large to the many difficulties we face in this life.  Rather, this rejoicing is deep-seated, all-pervasive joy in the unshifting reality of our reconciled, unbreakable relationship with the living God, who has become our Father and Savior in Christ Jesus, who promises to work all things for our good, who says He will finish the good work He has begun in us, and who assures us that in the end our faith will shine more brightly than refined gold and we will shine like the sun in His eternal kingdom.  In other words, it is the joy of eternity breaking in upon and coloring all the realities of this present life, such that, even when tears pour down, behind the veil they cast we still see the sun rising and find a place to smile the victory already won and sure to be consummated by Christ – the victory in which we share as those who have been made alive in Him.  Keeping this ever in view, the Lord tells us to rejoice always.

Second, the Lord says that He wants us to pray constantly.  As we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.”  Again, at first glance, this might seem highly impractical, indeed altogether unrealistic.  Are we ever to engage in a conversation because we’re already busy praying?  Are we to do no work that requires intellectual effort, because our minds are already engaged in prayer?  Are we to abuse amphetamines in order to stay awake, losing sanity but still praying?  Clearly, this isn’t what the Lord has in mind when He calls us to pray without ceasing.  Rather, this, like the call to rejoice always, is a call to a certain state of mind and pattern of life.  It is a state of mind that recognizes the constant access we have to the throne of grace through the torn veil of Christ’s flesh, that understands our continual reliance upon Him for everything from breath to strength to wisdom, and that therefore is quick to turn to Him in prayer, all through the day, every day.  Yes, this will include set times of prayer throughout the day.  But this is also something more.  It is a readiness, indeed eagerness, to maintain an open line of communication with our heavenly Father – quick to turn to Him as our first reaction when something goes well in order to offer praise, when something goes poorly in order to ask for help, when something overwhelms us in order to seek peace and wisdom to move forward, and so on.  Such that, all through the day, even more naturally than we grab our phones to begin scrolling, we bow down our souls in the presence of our God to pray.  In this way, the Lord calls us to pray without ceasing.

Third and finally, the Lord says that He wants us to give thanks in everything.  The ESV renders it, “give thanks in all circumstances,” though it is actually broader than that, saying to give thanks, “in all,” or, “in everything” (1 Thess 5:18).  Which is to say, in every circumstance, at all times, among whatever company we find ourselves, the Lord would have us to give Him thanks.  This might again seem difficult to grasp.  “Give thanks even when I have a terrible day?  Give thanks even when I receive a poor diagnosis?  Give thanks even when I’ve lost my job?”  It seems confusing, unless we insist on keeping in view both the absolute sovereignty and unchanging goodness of our God – unless we hold the cross continually before the yes of our faith, paired with His promise to work everything, yes everything, for our good in the end.  Keeping these grand realities before us, all present trials fall into their right place and are seen in proper perspective, allowing us to call them, along with Paul, “light” and “momentary” (2 Cor 4:17).  This also helps us to remember His many kindnesses to us, each one far more than we deserve.  Much more, it helps us to remember the glory that awaits us, and our Father’s promise that everything between now and then is working toward that end.  Knowing this, even when we don’t know exactly how, we can humble ourselves and magnify our God by giving Him thanks that every single thing that befalls us in this life is from His hand and for our good.  In this way, the Lord calls us to give thanks in everything.

“This,” says the inspired Apostle, “is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).  It is an attitude and way of life that will look very different from the surrounding world, because it isn’t of this world.  It will make you stand out from your complaining coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends.  And, in this case, that is a very good thing.  They may not recognize it immediately, but the strangeness they see is the work of God in you.  And this, Lord willing, paired with your faithful testimony to the Word of God, may just be used to draw them to Him.  And, even if not, it will please and glorify the One your soul loves, and this alone makes it worth pursuing with all your might!

In Christ,

Pastor Eric

P.S.

Join us for the prayer meeting each Wednesday in the Fellowship Hall – dinner is served at 6:00pm, followed by a brief lesson and a time of prayer at 6:30.  Or, join us for prayer each Thursday at 10:30am in the adult Sunday School room.

Please mark your calendars!  If you ever need to double-check dates, events are usually kept up to date on the chu