Joyful, Prayerful, and Thankful Communities

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t stifle the Spirit. Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–24 CSB)

What kinds of communities is God seeking to form? Today’s passage gives us a good idea of that. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul lays out some important qualities God is looking to shape in our communities. How do we become more joyful, prayerful, and thankful communities? We become more joyful, prayerful, and thankful by allowing the Spirit of God to work in us, by receiving the truth of God’s Word declared in our communities. By testing these, we will see where God is indeed working in our midst. As I reflect on this passage, I cannot help but see the spiritual exercise of the Daily Examen first put forth by Ignatius. There are many forms of daily examen, but they all are variations of the following five practices recommended by Ignatius to be practiced by the disciple of Jesus on a daily basis.

  1. Become aware of God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
  2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
  3. Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
  4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God or further away?
  5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with The Lord’s Prayer.

Like many modern evangelicals, I have bristled at the thought of such a structured prayer time, but when I compare these five elements against today’s passage, it seems to be a faithful way to participate with the Spirit of God in growing in joyfulness, prayerfulness, and thankfulness. And then when I think about the fact that the Apostle Paul gave this instruction to the community of believers at Thessalonica, I begin to imagine what would happen if we began practicing daily examen as communities of Jesus followers. It would be truly transformative.

David Curtis is the lead pastor of Salt Creek Baptist Church in Dallas, Oregon.