Rejoice, Pray, Praise
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
(16) Rejoice evermore.
(17) Pray without ceasing.
(18) In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
The Hiding Place is a 1971 book on the life of Corrie ten Boom, written by Corrie ten Boom along with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. It was later made into a film of the same name, along with a comic book adaptation. The title refers to both the physical hiding place where the ten Boom family hid Jews from the Nazis, and to the Scriptural message found in Psalm 119:114 which states, "Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word."
The book opens in 1937, with the ten Booms celebrating the 100th anniversary of the family watch and watch repair business, now run by Corrie's father, Casper. The business was on the ground floor of the family home (known as the Beje). Casper lived there with his unmarried daughters Corrie and Betsie.
Then, in 1940, the Nazis invaded Holland. Due to the family's strong Christian beliefs, they felt obligated to help their Jewish friends in every way possible. The Beje soon became the center for a major anti-Nazi operation. Corrie, who thought of herself as a middle-aged spinster, was suddenly involved in black market operations, stealing ration cards, and eventually, hiding Jews in her own home.
Inevitably the Gestapo discovered the Ten Boom network. The entire family was arrested, along with the shop employees, though the Jews managed to hide themselves in the secret room. The father Casper was well into his eighties by this time. He was shipped off prison and died ten days later. Corrie's brother Willem contracted jaundice in prison, and eventually died from his illness in 1946. Corrie's nephew, Kik, worked with the Dutch underground. He was killed, though the family did not learn of this until 1953.
After several months in a Dutch prison, Corrie and Betsie were transferred to a Dutch concentration camp for political prisoners. When a counter-offensive against the Nazis seemed imminent, the prisoners were shipped by train to Germany, where they were imprisoned at Ravensbrück, a notorious women's concentration camp.
Upon their arrival at the barracks, they realize that among other horrors of the camp, their barracks are infested with fleas.
I read the book when it came out in 1971, Let me read you a little bit from my copy. (p180-181).
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” [ ] “Here and here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen. In the feeble light I turned the pages. ”Here it is; ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes; ‘…to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus—‘”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip, “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she pleaded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for—“
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“’Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
End of quote.
I suspect that I could have never been grateful for being in a concentration camp--No not for fleas either. But 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.”
Now as most of you know, my family has been visited in the last month by a terrible catastrophe. I am not saying that I can put on a happy face and smile about it and give thanks. That would be just idiotic. But I am working on it. I am trying.
I think about the prophet Daniel. He heard that there was a new law in town, that praying to God was now a federal offense punishable by death. What did he do? He promptly went to his room, opened the window and proceeded to pray and give thanks to God, just as he was in the habit of doing.
I think about Jesus, standing up in front of a hungry crowd of people, with a measly 5 loaves and 2 fish, giving thanks to God for those measly provisions, and what he had proved to be enough and more than enough
I think about Job, who lost all his worldly goods and all his children in one day—who said, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
In spite of everything, Job is still praising God. In spite of everything, I am still praising God.
But the question remains--WHY? Why would God make such a crazy demand on us when we are undergoing the worst of times. Maybe the answer is that there are benefits and blessings in rejoicing and praying and praising, even in horrible circumstances.
The psalmist writes that we should call upon God in the day of trouble; and God will deliver us, and we will honor and glorify God. (Psalms 50:15). God's deliverance might not be instantaneous. It might be a slow process, but the promise we cling to is that God Delivers.
There is another verse in that same psalm that is interesting. It reads, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!" (v23). This refers to worship in the temple where people offered animal sacrifices. The psalmist says the best sacrifice is an offering of praise, then he says that “one who orders his way rightly” will receive help. If we want God's help, we must do our part.
If we want God's help in dealing with a hard situation, part of that is to do what we can to deal with that situation. That is what Paul is telling the Thessalonians.
Paul had founded the church in Thessalonica. Then for reasons unknown he left, he intended to return, but was unable to do so. Finally, when he was in Athens, he dispatched Timothy to Thessalonica to see what was going on. Meanwhile Paul moved on the Corinth. From there around AD 50 he wrote this letter.
The letter repeatedly offers encouragement to people who are facing difficult times It exhorts believers to be steadfast in the Lord. In our verses in chapter 5, Paul summarizes the Christian life in terms of rejoicing, praying, and praising.
Rejoice always. Look for things that will make you feel better. Yes bad things happen to good people. The world is not a perfect place, sometimes it is an awful place, but having said that as human beings we need to look for things to rejoice about; we need to look for things to laugh about. This is a deliberate way of living. Look for positive, uplifting things.
For example, an elder came to the preacher and said, “I have some good news and some bad news.” Pastor said, “Well what is the good news?” “Mrs. Jones is wild about your sermons.” Pastor said, “OK, that is pretty good, what about the bad news?” The elder replied, “Mrs. Jones is also wild about that movie Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”
That joke is not very uplifting, I guess, but hopefully it made you smile. Paul is saying look for things that make you smile. Look for things that make you feel better. This is part of living.
But that is not all--pray. More than that. Always pray. Have an attitude of prayer. In the quote I read from The Hiding Place, Corrie mentions that Betsie has so merged prayer and living that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. She has the habit of prayer. That is what Paul is talking about. “Always pray” does not mean that every second of your life you have your eyes closed and your hands clasped and you are on your knees before God. That is obviously impossible. Rather it means that prayer is such a major part of your life that no division exists between your life and your prayer life. You always have the attitude of prayer.
W. Graham Scroggie said, "Pray when you feel like it, pray when you don’t feel like it, pray until you do feel like it."
In Philippians 4:6, Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” He said, do not worry about anything, but “in everything” in every situation, in every circumstance, raise up your petitions to God. He says, “by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving.” “Supplications” is just another word for prayer, so he says, by prayer and more prayer with thanksgivng “make your requests known to God.” This is almost the same thing he says in Thessalonians. Make prayer a habit. Get rid of your anxiety and replace it with a lifestyle of prayer and praise. Then in Philppians 4:7, he tells us the result of that kind of lifestyle: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The word “guard” is a military term and Paul is thinking in first century military terms. The “peace of God” will be like a wall around your life. You will be like a fortified city, safe and secure. And in I Thessalonians 5:18 Paul assures us that “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This is what God wants for you. This is the kind of life God wants for you.
In Romans 8:28, we read, “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.” This is one of the incredible promises of the Bible. If you love God, God works for good in your life. Now this good might not be immediately forthcoming, but God is still there, God is still working.
But let me go back to the book The Hiding Place. You remember Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie, giving thanks even for the fleas in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck. Well actually Betsie was giving thanks and Corrie was reluctantly going along with her. You remember Corrie saying “This time I knew she was wrong!” A couple months later something happened that proved the use of fleas.
One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said [referring to the fact that they had been free to have Bible studies and even sing hymns in the barracks together in the evenings] “Well, I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for. (189-190)
Corrie Ten Boom learned to give thanks for fleas. We need to learn a thankful, praying, praising, rejoicing way of living. British researchers did a study on lifestyles. They found that people who believe in God are happier than agnostics or atheists. They become even happier the more they pray and go to church. The report found religious people were better able to cope with disappointments, such as unemployment or divorce, than non-believers. Believers also suffered less psychological damage from unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner. This research echoes academic studies that have found religion can improve our sense of well-being. This is what Paul is saying to us in Thessalonians. This is the way to live. This is what works to have an abundant peaceful life.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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