When it comes to loved ones passing away – leaving us as the living ones who need to keep on living and keep on loving – five thoughts come to mind, based on two scriptures. And like the five loaves and the two fish that Jesus miraculously multiplied, I trust God will multiply His Word and my handful of thoughts in ways that make sense in your life – in ways that translate into your unique reality.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes:
Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer.And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus. (TPT)
# Thought No. 1:
It may seem strange to talk about joy when you’ve just lost someone you love.
We don’t want to be those weird, manically cheerful Christians (‘I’ve just lost three of my limbs in a chainsaw accident but God is good!’) – but then, what does it look like to be continually feasting on joy even when life dishes up tragedy or piles our plates heavy with ordinary lousiness? How do we let joy be our continual feast?
We tend to divide our lives, all the time, into waiting to live – and then actually living. When really, it’s all living.
So, we spend big chunks of our lives just getting through stuff – so we can do what we really want. Just get through work – so we can go home and Netflix. Just get through the sleepless nights of the baby phase – so we can enjoy our kids. Just get through the teenage years – so our kids can enjoy us. Just get to the end of this queue – so we can buy what we came for. Just get through this service – so we can get to the snacks.
But really, all of life is living. Even the queues and the mundane days at work and the delays and the disappointments. And perhaps if we make that perspective shift – reminding ourselves, in every situation, ‘Even this, this is living!’ – we’ll be a lot more joyful. A lot more grateful.
So making joy our continual feast, even when there isn’t much to be super cheerful about, might look like us documenting a consistently rich devotional life. Record-keepers, readers, journalers, counters of blessings – these are the people who make joy their continual feast.
Feasting on joy may also look like us relaxing more into a moment – just experiencing it for what it is – and making the most of it by seeing if there’s some good we might do, in that moment. Even if it’s a long queue or a hard chapel pew bench. There’s probably something beautiful within sight or earshot. There’s probably something to be grateful about. Maybe God has ‘wasted your time’ – slowed you down in a particular moment – because there’s someone you need to notice, and pray for.
# Thought No. 2:
Paul writes, ‘Make your life a prayer.’
Which sounds pretty full-on. In fact, it’s impossible.
Or is it?
Some monks in the 5th century developed a tradition known as breath prayers – prayers short enough to be expressed in just one breath.
Help me God.
Please Lord, wisdom.
Thank You Jesus.
None of us is too busy to breathe out those kinds of breath prayers in all our doings and dealings.
Interestingly, our English word for prayer comes from the Latin word, precarious, which means, well, precarious. Nothing about us is invincible. Nothing about our lives is certain. Our lives are precarious – which meant, in Latin, obtained by entreaty – as in, ‘If You don’t grab hold of my hand I’m going to fall off this cliff; things are looking precarious!’ Hence, prayer.
Our lives are brief, and fragile, and the full extent of each of our lives on Earth is known only to God. We’re just a breath. Nothing more than a precarious breath. And God lends us every breath we take.
Also, we no sooner take a breath, than we need to release it. We give it away. It’s possible for our lives to be something of this constant breathing out – this constant giving – this constant prayer.
Andy Stanley says, ‘The value of a life is always measured in terms of how much of it was given away.’ Your precarious breath of a life is very, very valuable when you serve – humbly, unassumingly – giving in whatever ways you can to your immediate and wider communities.
And perhaps to make our lives a prayer means to live with that awareness that we’re just a breath. It gives us every reason to be dependent on God every moment for wisdom and courage to live well, to live meaningfully.
# Thought No. 3:
Paul goes on to say, ‘And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks…’
We needn’t wait until something is done and dusted, before we give thanks for it. We should be giving thanks before, during and after the goings-on of our lives. Perhaps before, in particular, because so often thanksgiving is the precursor of miracles.
In Luke 9 when the kid brings his loaves and fish to Jesus, Jesus first gives thanks – and then, the miracle. Then, the abundance. With leftovers. When we’re desperate – and we need a miracle – thanksgiving is always the best place to start.
# Thought No. 4:
If God tells us to be always giving thanks, then there must be always something for which to give thanks. Even in times of grief.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus knew He was about to be betrayed – by one of His closest friends. Yet He broke bread, and gave thanks. Again, He wasn’t being all Pollyanna about it. He didn’t give thanks for the betrayal. He just gave thanks for the bread. There’s always something.
# Thought No. 5:
Psalm 107:1-2 says –
Oh, thank God – He’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world! (MSG)
Death has the power to leave us feeling fearful and alone.
But really, all fear, all loneliness, comes from thinking that somewhere God’s love ends. And God’s love ends nowhere. It hasn’t ended for the loved ones we’ve lost. They’re understanding it in ways they never could have, this side of heaven. Their time wasn’t running out; it was running towards the arms of a Saviour, and it surely must’ve been an ‘At last!’ moment for them and for Jesus, when they arrived on eternity’s shore.
And so, we needn’t fear death. Also, we needn’t fear life.
The death of a loved one may have left you feeling lonely in your left-behind life. But give thanks today and every day that he or she is alive in your future. You’ll meet again, and it will be glorious. But until then –
Thank God – He’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world! Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.
. . .
If you’ve lost a loved one – mind if I pray for you?
Heavenly Father – today we choose to thank You for Your power, and Your perfect plans for each of our lives. Thank You for your great love for us, and for the joy and freedom that’s to be found when we fling ourselves upon Your mercy. Thank You for the lives of loved ones we’ve lost. Thank You for the way You used their lives to let Your Kingdom come in the lives of so many others. They wouldn’t want to hang on to any of that glory, and we place it all at Your feet with gratitude and joy. We praise You, our King, and we pray this in the matchless Name of Jesus, Amen.
Have a wonderfully restful weekend!
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