Warming up the (spiritual) muscles
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)
One of the things I have learnt from my gym membership is that warm-ups are a thing. Preparing the muscles, getting the blood flowing, enables the body to slowly adjust to the demands you are about to make on it. What is true for the body is true for the soul. Jumping straight into complicated spiritual disciplines, intense bible reading programmes or making life-changing commitments, is unwise.
Our first reading comes from 1 Thessalonians. This is one of the earliest writings in the New Testament and in it Paul explores a framework for living out the Christ-filled life. In a sense, what we are reading is a warm-up series of practices which are there to prepare the heart for the coming of Christ. In this Advent season, this is no bad training programme for any of us.
Rejoice always. A colleague of mine pointed out that when asked what the shortest sentence in the bible is usually reply “Jesus wept”. It is. But so is this. We may want to reject this. Some of the things that happen drive us to tears, lament or anger. Paul’s point is that a mindset of rejoicing comes not from our reaction to each and every event but from the confidence that God’s love and the work of Christ ultimately embraces everything.
Pray without ceasing. This is not a literal term either. There are monastic communities where this is done but most of us do not live in these places. Perhaps one way of making sense of this and practicing it is to spend some time each day in prayer. This means each day is shot through with our antennae alert to God. Keep it simple (stupid) [= KISS] as they say.
Give thanks in all circumstances. This is a tough one. Tough because it invites us to find God in whatever circumstances we face. Finding God can be challenging if we are in a dark place. Perhaps then we learn to give thanks because we discover that God is present with us, offering us grace, forgiveness and peace when life around us appears to be hard and painful.
Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. These practices might set us up nicely for Christmas.